Why feminism matters today as much as ever

Daily Echo: Nikki Brown, Joy Allen, Jess Haynes and Jenny Way Nikki Brown, Joy Allen, Jess Haynes and Jenny Way

DO you think half the population should have far less freedom and opportunity than the other simply because of their sex?

If not, you’re probably a feminist – this is the message of the Solent Feminist Network.

And, by the way, men can be feminists too.

Many people are still confused by what it means to be feminist. But, boiled down, it simply means believing in equality between the sexes.

“I meet a lot of people who are feminists and don’t realise it,” says Joy Allen, of the Solent Feminist Network. “I think a lot of people don’t know what feminism is.”

The women’s movement was born in the mid-18th century.

The first wave included the suffrage movement of the early 20th century, which campaigned for women’s right to vote, and was focused largely on rights. The second came about in the 1960s, with activists concerned with cultural and political inequalities. The third wave began in the early 1990s.

And the feminist movement is still alive and well, and holding a meeting somewhere near you.

The Solent Feminist Network has around 200 fans on Facebook and its monthly meetings in Southampton and Portsmouth are well attended.

It is very difficult to quantify how many feminists there are in the UK, as people do not necessarily choose to join groups to represent their beliefs.

The Solent Feminist Network was formed in 2007. It has grown rapidly from having just four people at early meetings and the group now receives enquiries on an almost daily basis from men and women wanting to get involved.

The women have different reasons for feeling feminism is important in their lives.

“My generation grew up being told that women were equal to men but, as I got older, I started seeing all these inequalities round me,” explains 26-year-old Jess Haynes, from Southampton. “Being a feminist for me means seeing sexism, inequality, power and privilege and fighting against it.”

Nikki Brown from Southampton grew up with a twin brother which, she says, meant she was always aware of the differences in how girls and boys are treated.

“I decided I had to do something about it. As someone who lives in a society where I can raise my voice I couldn’t live with integrity unless I was doing that, and trying to improve my own quality of life and that of other women.”

Jenny Way, from the Isle of Wight, adds that, for her, feminism means: “Striving for equality for women throughout the world. There are so many women in the rest of the world who don’t have any power at all. If we in the western world can’t achieve equality, what chance do they have?”

The women cite a range of statistics – that one in 20 women in the UK has been raped, that women still earn almost 15 per cent less than men in similar roles – to explain why, despite legislation, feminism is still important today. “We still have unequal pay and unequal representation,” says Jess.

“A big thing for feminists in the UK now is culture change,” says Joy Allen from Southampton. “We’ve achieved some rights but not the |attitudes which should go with them and not access to certain areas of life.”

As well as a meeting place, the group is also a campaigning organisation. They have held protests against pole-dancing clubs, marches and flash-mobs to raise awareness about issues such as violence against women and write to politicians about key issues.

They also feel men have much to gain from the feminist movement – and there are a number of men in the Solent Feminist Network.

“Fifty years ago, men weren’t part of bringing up children. Now you see men pushing prams, really enjoying being fathers and fighting for their rights to be fathers,” says Jess.

Nikki adds: “My brother didn’t like football, woodwork or any of the typical ‘boy’ things and he was teased and bullied for that. Putting people in boxes doesn’t just harm women – it harms men as well.”

For more information, visit solentfeministnetwork.co.uk.

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