Feminism differs from women’s liberation

Mary Kenny is a ‘women’s liberationist’

I was asked, on International Women’s Day, if it was “still a feminist”: and my answer was that I am still a “women’s liberationist”.

Feminism, in my youthful years, was called ‘women’s liberation’, and that’s what I liked about the idea: emancipation from the fetters of archaic or absurd social restrictions.

Silly limitations were placed on women’s lives – prissy articles in women’s magazines lectured women on the necessity of wearing white gloves on formal occasions – and unfair blocks were placed women’s development, in education and careers.

Young women were sometimes given a limited view of career choice, and some careers could be also hedged about with narrow notions about class, as well. I was reliably informed, as a schoolgirl, that you had to be a doctor’s daughter to qualify as an Aer Lingus hostess (then a hugely glamorous and prestigeous job).

The attraction of ‘women’s liberation’ was in breaking these fetters, and in that sense I remain absolutely in favour of women being free to fulfill their lives as they choose, and to be encouraged to do so.

Where I am out of sympathy with contempory ‘feminism’ is in its unscientific and obsessive insistence on ‘equality’. ‘Women’s Liberationists’ believed that men and women are different – a belief wholly supported by the advance of neuroscience. Modern feminism’s emphasis on equality lays claim to men and women being the same.

And yet, not only science, but common observation, daily disproves the contrary. Currently, there is a Europe-wide debate about prostitution – some countries now ban it (as in Sweden) and some countries legalise it (Germany). There is much talk about the need for ‘gender equality for ‘sex workers’.

But the facts are these: men buy sex from women: women hardly ever buy sex from men. How can there be any ‘equality’ in a trade where young girls always are and always have been the desired merchandise?

Some advocates of feminism demand that women should be as sexually free as men, completely ignoring the biological differences, which range from pregnancy to sexual transmitted diseases. STD (formerly called venereal disease) is more easily cured in men because the plumbing is more straightforward: STDs can have much more serious consequences for women.

Moralists have suggested that perhaps men and women should try to be as sexually continent as one another, but that is now commonly shot down.

Women’s Liberation was an energetic movement whose time had come, and freed generations of women from outdated restrictions. Interestingly, many of the women who became involved in Women’s Lib were taught, and encouraged, by nuns, who often forged a path of educational emancipation.

But we must distinguish between freedom, which derives from free will, and the kind of mechanistic pursuit of equality which denies individuality, difference, complementarity and biological science.


The cult of celebrity

The historian Diarmaid Ferriter has been writing that today’s sports stars and celebrities of screen and the music world have pushed aside the fame once accorded to “Popes and politicians”.

Well, that’s a point of view, but I fancy that a historian might take a more historical perspective, if I may make so bold.

I recommend to Professor Ferriter a terrific memoir by Stefan Zweig called The World of Yesteryear, in which the Austrian writer recalled growing up in the early 1900s in the Hapsburg Empire. Young people, Zweig wrote, were obsessed with celebrities from stage, arty crazes and athletics. Celebrity beauties and opera stars were mobbed.

And once the movies came on the scene –  Charlie Chaplain was a world celebrity, and women in their millions wept bitter tears when Rudolph Valentino prematurely died.

Celebrities from the performing arts have always attracted a huge following. It’s nothing new.

It could be suggested, however, that the present Pope Francis is just as much a recognisable world figure as most celebs. He attracted a greater crowd to Copacabana Beach in Brazil than the Rolling Stones. I have read that he has some 12 million followers on Twitter. He has appeared on more magazine covers over the past year than any other celebs. He’s not doing badly at all as a ‘brand’ leader!


Modern methods of offending

George Bernard Shaw, who was a master of controversy, advised commentators to decide what they wanted to say and then “say it as offensively as possible”. That, said GBS, was the way to get your message across.

No shortage of acolytes who have followed this counsel, and yet I wonder if even the robust GBS would give that same advice today, or if, in the age of the shoals of hate-mail delivered via the internet, even he would sustain the consequences so blithely. He should have added a coda: “Be sure you develop the hide of a rhinoceros when you venture into the public arena.”


Follow Mary Kenny on Twitter:  @MaryKenny4