Woman On: Redefining equality for “the normal person”

Charlotte Vere is not a feminist, thank you very much. The former Conservative candidate and mother-of-two last shaved her armpits “this morning” and she’s definitely wearing a bra.

Huffington Post, 1972  2012

As I write this, not only I am wearing a bra –  a Debenhams “age-defying” uplift one, no less – but I am sporting a recently shaved area far more intimate than the mere underarm. Does this make me more of non-feminist than Charlotte Vere? Or is it not just what you do but what you don’t do?

Here are some things which I suspect Charlotte Vere, founder of the Woman On think-tank – which “campaigns for women, but not at the expense of men” – does not do: wear dungarees, shave her head, live in a commune, eat lentils for breakfast, act as muse for the Millie Tant strip in Viz. In addition, I’ve a feeling she also avoids the following: having principles, showing compassion, thinking “hard” thoughts.

Vere is a bit – well, a lot – of an idiot. According to the bizarre Huffington Post write-up, Woman On was “designed to highlight what the fairer sex think about issues from food prices to defence spending – and plenty in between”. Indeed, “the fairer sex” – what do they want? All sounds rather patronising, doesn’t it? But don’t worry – as Vere assures us, when considering what might make women’s lives easier, “it’s not going to be about lipstick or make up, it’s not as simple as that” (no, of course not. You need to add cupcakes and shoes to the mix. Although actually, doesn’t lipstick count as make up anyhow? That would be one less item to worry about).

Vere wants “to make it OK to talk about women”:

Because I find so often, in most places it’s not normal. If I go to a party and I say to people ‘I’m setting up a think tank about women,’ I can’t tell you how many people sort-of roll their eyes and expect me to become some Harriet Harman figure. They automatically assume that I’m going to start talking about very radical things. And I’m not, I just want it to be normal to talk about half the population, which any normal person does.

In her focus on “normal” people – or rather “normal” women – she’s not unlike Neil Wallis with his female Sun-reader and her mundane, utterly non-feminist concerns. Except there is one point of disagreement; while Wallis berates feminists for apparently not caring enough about female genital mutilation, Vere is keen to take a step back from such matters:

I think you can start getting into ever-more minority debates the second you start talking about women. It’s not long before people start talking to you about female genital mutilation. I just want to bring the discussion back to mainstream ideas.

Oh. So which is it, anti-feminists? Are we meant to be bothered about FGM or not? Since you can’t make up your minds, I’ll give you a hint: it is perfectly possible to campaign against the abuse of others while worrying about paying for the weekly Asda shop. Indeed, you can even have a ponder about DV or sexual assault while browsing the frozen veg aisle. The notion that our brains can only cope with mainstream – or rather, self-centred – thinking is ridiculous (or perhaps it isn’t if your brain can’t cope with too many pesky thoughts at once).

Vere doesn’t like the word “feminist”: “there’s a new word for feminists, I just don’t know what it is yet”. Here’s a suggestion: anti-feminists, since if the reason you’re not a feminist is because it’s too “radical” – or rather, too feminist – such a word would seem appropriate. Of course, Vere might want to run this past Amber Rudd and Andrea Leadsom, who earlier this year were claiming in the Guardian that “Conservatives make better feminists”:

At a recent debate on female genital mutilation led by our Conservative colleague Jane Ellison MP, we achieved a significant breakthrough when the minister agreed to implement health passports for “at risk” children travelling abroad. Not a single Labour MP attended.

Well, that’s just extra-confusing. So now Labour MPs are less interested in FGM – and hence more in touch with “the normal person”, as defined by Vere – than Conservative ones. How does this all work?

The answer is, it doesn’t. The lines that Vere, Wallis, Rudd and Leadsom try to sell have nothing to do with what is or isn’t “real” feminism or what is or isn’t a “real” woman. All of these people set up straw-man arguments and skirt around them, vying for votes and approval. They tells us nothing about what feminists are and do, and nothing about what can be achieved for all women (not just those who have, for the purposes of one particular article, been deemed “normal”).

We’ve reached a point at which whether or not one cares about the mutilation of another person’s sexual organs has become simply a debating tool – a smug means of identifying what sort of a person your opponent is and how best to mock him or her – and yet we can’t even get consistency on that. What a messed-up, callous, misguided gaggle of people these anti-feminists are. I only wish they were a bit less real.

16 thoughts on “Woman On: Redefining equality for “the normal person”

  1. Far from being an ‘idiot’, Charlotte Vere is an extremely bright and capable woman, very principled, and infinitely more prepared than feminists to think ‘hard’ thoughts. I hope she’ll be nominated as a Conservative prospective parliamentary candidate for the 2015 general election.

    It’s hardly for me to speak on her behalf, and she would probably wish I didn’t, but what she and her organisation seek to do is, in my view, highly commendable – to improve women’s lives whilst recognising the diversity of ‘real’ women’s experiences, ambitions, interets etc. It’s a long-overdue reaction against the misandrous collectivist philosophy of the brand of feminism which has been pre-eminent over the past 30+ years in the UK and in many other developed countries (third wave / radical / militant / gender feminism, call it what you will), and I wish her every success.

    Finally, to raise FGM in this context is a shaming tactic and, I respectfully suggest, unworthy of you.

    Mike Buchanan
    ANTI-FEMINISM LEAGUE

    http://fightingfeminism.wordpress.com

  2. Hello, erm, sorry, I don’t know your name and I can’t seem to find it on your blog, it’s ‘Idiot’ here. Nothing like a bit of anonymity to deliver an ‘ad hominem’ attack is there.

    So, let me see why you might be so cross:

    You start by quoting from the Huffington Post – I wasn’t a great fan of that paragraph either – but what can you do … journalists hey. But it does quite rightly say that I don’t call myself a feminist.

    Why? Not because I am an ‘idiot’ but because, along with the vast majority of men and women in this country and others, I see the term feminism as being toxic and unhelpful to women. It is a bandwagon that has been hijacked by women of a certain political persuasion and it is being used not to further the advancement of women, but to make a party political point.

    You go on to talk about bras/shaving/blah/dungarees – which is quaint, but doesn’t really add anything to your argument.

    So for the avoidance of doubt – I have principles, compassion and intellectual capacity. I am also able to be open minded and able to listen the arguments of others and so I continued with your piece.

    My point – appropriately edited by the Huffington Post – is that women’s voices are not heard sufficiently; that significant differences in polling do matter, and that political parties should sit up and take notice. Not by offering a women’s strategy, or anything quite so simplistic, but by recognising that when they claim to act for everyone, they might not be doing just that.

    ‘Mundane, utterly non-feminist concerns’?! Yes, you are right. I don’t care about women on boards, I am not interested in quotas, I am more concerned about the millions of women who go to work every day and are a vital and vibrant part of our economy, and who can’t quite make life work for them at the moment. This is of course not the concern of feminists who see employment as a threat and demand ever longer maternity leave, for women only of course, to what end? They entrench the gender divide, and make sure that dads can’t care for their newborns if they want to.

    The focus on FGM I think illustrates that point. Important as it is, is it OK that it is not my main focus? Is that OK with you? I believe that AS IMPORTANT are the lives of millions of women who I believe are under-represented. Where are the strident voices in the childcare and shared parental leave debate?

    So, whatever-your-name-is, you have confirmed my preconceptions with your post so for that I am grateful. I would be very grateful too if you could open you mind a little to see beyond the confines of your own life experience and appreciate the opinions of others.

    With very best wishes,

    Charlotte Vere

    1. Hello, erm, sorry, I don’t know your name and I can’t seem to find it on your blog, it’s ‘Idiot’ here. Nothing like a bit of anonymity to deliver an ‘ad hominem’ attack is there.

      Nothing like an entirely irrelevant point to start a failing argument. I don’t blog under my own name because I’m not a politician, journalist, writer or campaigner – I have a separate professional identity – plus I write about issues such as coping with a mentally ill sibling and it’s important to me to protect his privacy while saying things which I don’t believe are often said. Rest assured, if I was writing to a newspaper in response to your bizarre comments, I’d use my own name. There is nothing I am ashamed of here.

      You go on to talk about bras/shaving/blah/dungarees – which is quaint, but doesn’t really add anything to your argument.

      Did you also have a go at the Huff post about the bras and shaving references? If not, why not?

      My point – appropriately edited by the Huffington Post – is that women’s voices are not heard sufficiently; that significant differences in polling do matter, and that political parties should sit up and take notice. Not by offering a women’s strategy, or anything quite so simplistic, but by recognising that when they claim to act for everyone, they might not be doing just that.

      That point has been raised countless times before – usually by feminists who don’t then undermine women’s voices by deciding what “their” issues are and set the boundaries by proscribing actions which apparently “disadvantage” men.

      Yes, you are right. I don’t care about women on boards, I am not interested in quotas, I am more concerned about the millions of women who go to work every day and are a vital and vibrant part of our economy, and who can’t quite make life work for them at the moment. This is of course not the concern of feminists who see employment as a threat and demand ever longer maternity leave, for women only of course, to what end?

      What? “See employment as a threat”? I would seriously scratch my head about that one but I need to head back to work soon. In what way are the issues you highlight – if they are not feminist issues – particularly women’s issues at all? You seem to be suggesting that promoting equality for women isn’t a women’s concern, but ensuring women keep their heads down and are good little economic units is. I would consider myself to be “part of the economy” but could do without patronising references to my “vibrant” role and more genuine support in paying for things like childcare. Working tax credits were nice. I think feminists were quite fond of them, you know…

      They entrench the gender divide, and make sure that dads can’t care for their newborns if they want to.

      You might be interested in this post I wrote: https://glosswatch.com/2012/07/12/shared-parental-leave-is-it-really-that-hard/
      Then again, you might not, as it doesn’t reinforce your made-up version of what every single feminist believes.

      The focus on FGM I think illustrates that point. Important as it is, is it OK that it is not my main focus? Is that OK with you?

      You can focus on whatever you want but it seems pretty crass and callous to bring in such an issue simply as a means of showing what a minority focus feminism apparently has (when it’s not about campaigning for women’s rights at work and whatnot – which it doesn’t actually do, according to you. Ever heard of the Fawcett Society?)

      I would be very grateful too if you could open you mind a little to see beyond the confines of your own life experience and appreciate the opinions of others.

      Would that be my entirely fictitious “life experience” in which I don’t want women to work, don’t want my partner to look after our children and don’t understand everyday concerns?
      Would stay and comment longer but I had a “real” woman’s life to attend to.

      Best wishes
      Glosswitch

      1. As an American feminist I can tell you that here in the U.S. we’d really like to see paid PARENTAL leave. In case you’re unfamiliar with the concept, it means that BOTH parents can take time off before/after a child’s birth. In fact, my union is fighting for (very brief) paid parental leave RIGHT NOW.

        I believe parental leave works pretty well in Scandinavia, if you’re looking for examples of the concept.

  3. Yeah, I’m a feminist from a family of feminists, and like glosswatch I shave and wear a bra and own a waxing kit (and know how to use it). I also paint my nails all the time and eat yogurt for breakfast (but mostly just coffee). As usual this argument is actually sexist, as a lot of men are feminists and some (but not all) do shave. A couple of my best friends/feminists don’t wear bras, it’s true. One of them doesn’t even shave!! But since he (and the others braless of whom I speak) is a man this is pretty normal. And, of course, that idea of the braless 70s Second-Wave Feminist is also wrong — while I have indeed known some, my mother (second-wave) does not fit those stereotypes.

    Honestly, I shouldn’t be surprised that this old nonsense is being pulled out now as we seem to be sliding backwards through time — but I am very, very disappointed.

  4. Ooooh, anti-feminists have a LEAGUE now?

    Scary stuff…

    (Remainder of comment excised by author for possibly containing obscenity and slander and definitely containing farcical spoofs of masculinism , er, masculism, umm, damn, what are you calling it this term, lads?)

    1. Sally, many thanks. Outside the AFL headquarters in Bath there’s a quotation in wrought iron letters above the bomb-proof front gates:

      ‘First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.’
      MAHATMA GANDHI

      It’s always pleasing when feminists move on from stage one to stage two, going from being ignorant to being ridiculous. It shows things are moving in the right direction. Not before time, one might add. Thank you for making my week.

      Mike Buchanan
      ANTI-FEMINISM LEAGUE
      http://fightingfeminism.wordpress.com

      CAMPAIGN FOR MERIT IN BUSINESS
      http://c4mb.wordpress.com

      1. Outside the AFL headquarters in Bath there’s a quotation in wrought iron letters above the bomb-proof front gates:

        ‘First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.’
        MAHATMA GANDHI

        These days it’s also the opening lyrics to the Robbie Williams song Tripping. People might just assume you’re a devout Robbie fan.

  5. I can almost (almost!) sympathise with her about “the F-word”.
    Self-proclaimined “Feminist Tories” are forever being asked about
    “compatibalism” of the very concept, or their “credentials” as such.
    Though (as you point out) several of the recent Tory intake are loudly
    such, you’d think they’d have a meeting and come up with some sort of
    common strategy, or at least, an agreed pool of glib terminology. (I
    guess as Vere is “non-intake” (out-take?), maybe they did, and she
    didn’t get an invite.) I’d be hard pressed to say why, for example,
    Mensch considers herself a feminist and Vere a non-/anti-feminist, for
    all the difference it seems to make in practice. Well, other than that Vere goes out of her way to attack feminists, and in the most clichéd terms — perhaps elements of a “distancing” strategy?

    But just saying ‘we’re from the neo-liberal end of liberal feminism:
    social justice can go down (as well as really far down)’ presumably
    isn’t the best career move if you’re a jobbing, shouty, wannabe
    Conservative PPC, plying your trade on the Mail’s rentaquote circuit,
    and fronting whatever arms-length Tory campaign comes along. (I
    double-dare her to say something similiarly “helpful” as her comments
    about the Green Party in the Scottish independence referendum, or indeed
    as her disgracefully lowest common denominator, disingenuous conduct of
    the anti-electoral reform effort.)

    Perhaps we should concur with MB’s dearest wish of her do-over
    candidacy. (I assume he has in mind a slight more successful one next
    time.) That way she’d be having to compete with the even-shoutier
    parliamentary rentaquotes, like Bone and Shapps, rather than aimlessly
    roaming TV and press initiatives on her own initiative.

    And I realize it’s not fashionable in the (non-Boris parts of the) CPUK
    to admit to knowing any Latin these days, but is it too much to hope for
    a degree of accuracy in the use of “ad hominem”? The OP may (or may
    not) have been a personal attack; not the same thing.

    1. The idea of ‘Tory feminism’ is laughable. For 30+ years the only form of feminism exerting any political power is the militant feminism espoused by such people as Harriet Harman, surely the most undemocratic politician of the modern era. In 2008 she introduced legislation allowing parties to employ all-women PPC shortlists fot the coming five general elections i.e. 25 years. It need hardly be said that the 2005 general election manifesto had made no mention of this matter. We must be grateful that all-women PPC shortlists weren’t in place when Winston Churchill decided to go into politics, or we should all be speaking German now. All-women PPC shortlists automatically make the most stupid woman in the country more eligible for a political career than the most intelligent man. All this in the name of equality?

      I worked for the Conservatives over 2006-8 but resigned my party membership in 2009 when Cameron introduced all-women PPC shortlists for the coming general election. I believe Mensch was selected from one of these (she was certainly an A-lister).

      I argued in ‘Davis and Goliatha: David Cameron – heir to Harman?’ that Cameron is feminist to his core. His pro-female and anti-male instincts result partly, in my view, from his having a female-pattern brain, while Margaret Thatcher obviously has a male-pattern brain. The most interesting books on gender-typical brains are Simon Baron-Cohen’s ‘The Essential Difference’, Steven Pinker’s ‘The Blank Slate’ and Louann Brizendine’s ‘The Female Brain’. Oh, Anne and Bill Moir’s ‘Why Men Don’t Iron’ (1998) is good too, Out of print but available from Amazon for a song. ‘Delusions of Gender’ by Cordelia Fine argues (I understand) against gender-typical brains, but people who’ve read it describe it as incredibly lightweight in comparison with books arguing the opposite. Only the other day a leading psychologist said to me, ‘To believe in the ‘blank slate’ theory of human nature in 2012 is as scientifically illiterate as believing in the Biblical account of creation.’ Yet the theory is a cornerstone of feminism. I think the denial of gender-typical natures may be the single most damaging aspect of militant feminism. It poisons relations between the sexes. But then it’s meant to do that.

      Where was I going with this? Oh yes. Tory feminism is a contradiction in terms. Women who are in the centre ground of politics (or right of centre) should do as Charlotte Vere has done, and declare themselves non-feminists.

      Well, must dash, I need to feed Harriet, our bad-rempered Rottweiler.

      Mike Buchanan
      ANTI-FEMINISM LEAGUE
      http://fightingfeminism.wordpress.com

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