The millennial’s guide to feminism
Julie Bindel’s new book rescues modern feminism from its failings
It’s not easy being a feminist these days — especially if you’re in your twenties and deviate from the orthodox narrative being peddled on social media and in “progressive” news outlets. In recent years, the fight for women’s rights has become diluted and more demanding as numerous factors divide a movement attempting to cut across class, race, sexuality and gender identity.
With so many “new” feminisms — power feminism, victim feminism, post-patriarchal feminism, third-wave feminism and so on — to choose from, how are young women today meant to know what sort of feminist we need to be to achieve women’s liberation?
Julie Bindel is here to tell us how to do it properly. A veteran of the feminist movement with more than four decades of experience campaigning for women’s rights, Bindel dedicates her new book, Feminism for Women: The Real Route to Liberation, to “the young feminists that dare”.
Bindel is not a graduate of the school that believes that having achieved female suffrage, equal pay and maternity rights, feminism’s work is largely done. There is still much to do, she says: “although feminism has achieved huge amounts, we still can’t see the finishing post.” As argued in the preface of her book — “Right now, what passes for feminism is often anything but” — the modern feminist movement prioritises every other issue before championing its founding objective: women’s liberation.
From falling rape convictions to domestic abuse, to the “thriving trade” of trafficking women for prostitution and an “insidious” porn industry’s never-ending quest for cash, there is a lot left to fight against, and Bindel delivers a robust call to arms in every chapter.
Bindel’s feminist activism over the years has centred on male violence against women, so it should come as no surprise that this remains a burning preoccupation of Feminism for Women. Breaking the hold that male violence retains in the oppression of women is key. Given the Covid lockdowns of the past eighteen months — during which domestic violence in the UK has escalated — this book could not be timelier as the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic on women’s lives become more stark.
Instead, feminism has been rocked, divided and undermined by extreme trans rights activists, some of whom seem desperate to disregard women’s rights. While many radical feminists have faced criticism in recent years for their gender critical views, Bindel has been targeted since 2003. Standing strong day in and day out against such intimidation has become the feminists’ time of trial.
Many younger women have unfortunately become disillusioned and view second-wave feminism as immaterial or bigoted. This may be because of the hardened stance of activists like Bindel and their inability to compromise on what they believe in — or perhaps younger feminists find such dogma intimidating.
Feminism needs to restore women and girls as the core focus
Either way, young feminists — myself included — often fear being ostracised from friendship groups or dismissed as a “TERF” for believing that women’s sex-based rights and spaces need to be protected. While feminism thrives on debate, the current level of division has passed from productive to destructive — diverting feminism from its true purpose. But the support is out there, if one knows where to look, and Bindel extends an olive branch to those who don’t yet have the strength of their convictions. Far from being a depressing read, Feminism for Women should deliver hope to those who feel lost. Bindel offers not just a moan about the challenges modern feminism faces, but tangible solutions to get the movement back on track.
First, feminism needs to restore women and girls as the core focus (Bindel describes women as “an afterthought in our own political project”). To do this, there must be broad agreement on what defines being a woman. For many, this will be an “adult human female”, which seems the most sensible description. Nevertheless, settling this is an important first step — how else can feminists strive to liberate women if they can’t agree what a woman is?
Second, feminist activism remains key to women’s liberation. Progress for women has not always been achieved through the mere passage of time or “men’s enlightenment” — much of it occurred because of collective campaigns where power was demanded, not politely requested. While the arrival of the internet has helped build broad feminist networks with the dissemination of ideas and debate, it has also taken away much of the solidarity associated with organising marches, protests and meetings. The internet is a useful tool when it comes to campaigning, but we mustn’t underestimate the impact of a thousand women marching on Parliament Square. Ultimately, feminism needs to return to being an active political movement where women who share common goals and values can meet and exchange ideas freely.
Real feminists don’t apologise for working towards women’s liberation
For all the espoused idealism, Bindel is clear that there are going to be setbacks; sometimes there will be campaigns that flounder (such as the call for an amnesty for women in prison because of male violence). However, if women become disheartened and believe that patriarchal power cannot be overcome, then they already have an easy excuse not to fight for it at all. It is feminism’s obligation “to see beyond the daily reality and believe in that ideal world” where women live in a world free from rape, prostitution, domestic violence and all the other forms of male violence that women and girls face every single day.
In a word, Bindel’s new book is “unapologetic”: in her view, real feminists don’t apologise for working towards women’s liberation, no matter what the threat may be to their social status or the constant whining of brocialists dictating who to include in their fight. Today’s liberal discourse contradicts women’s best interests; some might want to pander to it for the sake of an easy life, but ultimately this silence won’t protect women from the types of abuse they try to avoid. This resilience is at the heart of Bindel’s work, and it’s difficult not to feel geed-up to join the fight once you’ve read what she has to say.
Feminism for Women is a considered deconstruction of some of the myths pervading the modern feminist movement, and how, by going back to the basics, it can be fixed. As a young feminist who has finally seen the light, I consider it essential reading.
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