What did UK Feminism really achieve in 2013?

2013 was a year feminism saw a significant resurgence. There were safety issues, like the gang rape horrors in India and Egypt, and equality matters such as the sole female cabinet member case in Australia and the EU’s 40% company board quota. So what did the UK add to the global agenda?

Female Representation. The campaign to get a woman on a UK bank note met with  success. Jane Austen, a romance writer and certainly not a typical feminist, appearing on our £10 paper money was definitely a good move. The custom of depicting historical figures on the reverse began with William Shakespeare on the Series D £20 note in 1970. Since then, many other figures have featured on successive issues. As one of  the UK’s most celebrated authors, it is surely a fitting tribute. So why  the campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez received around 50 abusive tweets an hour for a 12-hour period as a result is still incomprehensible.

Sexless Supermarkets. Tesco became the target of ongoing protest about the pornographic lads mags issue (sexualisation and objectification of women) by feminist groups Object and UK Feminista. They staged a public protest confronting shareholders of the UKs biggest retailer over their stocking of publications like Nuts and Zoo. Apparently some lawyers specialising in equality and discrimination law believe that customers and employees would have a valid case to bring against stores on the grounds of harassment and discrimination. They won sympathy in that supermarkets are not barber’s shops and are frequented by children. However, it also raised the issue of tolerance of sexual differences and questioned what in fact constitutes pornography, extreme or otherwise.

Music. Around 20 University student unions banned Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines from being played in their bars because of concerns about the explicit lyrics. Despite the criticism,  it became the fastest selling digital song in history, reaching number one in 14 countries, including Britain and the United States. It also exposed the double standards of a generation who aspire to receive the same adulation as stars such as Beyonce, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Bjork who use highly sexual imagery in their marketing.

Gutsy Girls.The feminist group Pussy Riot hit the headlines and were almost martyred when they were sent to a penal colony in Russia and finally freed.  It is a shame, however, that their protest was concerning the unholy alliance between Putin and the Orthodox Church and not against the use of female circumcision in Dagestan.

Misogyny The Everyday Sexist project started by Laura Bates has given an effective social media voice to women who are otherwise unable to complain about sexism. Some of the grievances published  can come across as examples of over-sensitivity and political correctness, but overall the initiative highlights the severity of unacceptable abuse towards women on the streets, tubes and buses in the UK today.

Domestic Duties. The Lib Dem Equalities Minister Jo Swinson proposed fathers be able to share 12 months of parental leave after the birth of a child from 2015. The aim of this was to promote male bonding and chivvy women back into the office. However, it also highlighted the lack of chivalry in the House of Commons when she was left to stand during PMQs, despite being heavily pregnant herself. Rather than engender support, it drew attention to the ridiculous state of modern etiquette when the Lib Dem MP herself considered an offering of a seat would be regarded by her as a  sexist gesture.

Good achievements. Amongst the many other causes which most decent men and women tend to agree on, the issue of sexual violence seems to be a constant concern. By keeping it in the news, 2013 has been a proud year to emphasise the intolerance  and outlawing in the UK of forced marriages, honour-related killings and  the practice of female genital mutilation.

Feminist Failures. Degrees were first offered to women in the UK in 1878, as a means of advancing the cause of women. But apparently in the new official handbook for Universities UK, the body that represents vice-chancellors,  academic institutions should allow speakers the right to segregate genders if it is demanded for religious reasons. This has seen the emergence of a new and disturbing trend of `gender apartheid’ where men and women are forced to sit apart in lectures. This should be an area of non-negotiation for feminists.

So as we enter 2014, taking into account all of the above, are we moving backwards or forwards? Let’s hope the latter.

Happy New Year.


About Louise Burfitt-Dons

Writer and social critic
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One Response to What did UK Feminism really achieve in 2013?

  1. Sasha says:

    I’m not sure about the sentence ‘The aim of this was to promote male bonding and chivvy women back into the office,” at first reading I thought ‘male bonding’ was something men do with other men, but then I realised you mean fathers bonding with their children. Also, it sounds a bit dismissive when really we’re talking about something quite important: equality. Until we have equal mandatory paternity leave, women will always have a disadvantage in the workplace.


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