How can feminism claim to be seeking equality for all?

I feel that I should start this post with a clear statement that I have nothing intrinsically against feminism. It has had, and still does have, a role to play in advocating equality and human rights for oppressed women throughout the world. There – I’ve said it. Now to the but…

There are a couple of common misconceptions propagated by, or about, the “feminist movement” which, I am afraid, really get my goat. In case anyone wonders why I used quotation marks in the previous sentence, it is because there is no such thing as a unified feminist movement: feminism is an umbrella term covering a very wide range of views and actions, ranging from the highly laudable to the downright absurd. Back to the buts…

Misconception 1. Feminism is defined as the struggle for equality for all: if you believe in gender equality, you are a feminist – wrong

I often have discussions with feminist friends and colleagues, who gleefully throw this back at me, pointing to an article quoting the above, and saying “There, told you so! Feminism is about equality for all”. Sorry, just not true, at any level. While individual feminists may, and occasionally do, believe in equality for all, the “struggle” is strictly limited to instances where women are the ones disadvantaged. This is reflected in the way feminism and feminists are defined in the most commonly used English dictionaries (my bold).

The advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes. – Oxford
1:  the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes – Merriam-Websters
2:  organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interestsMerriam-Websters


These definitions reflect the reality of the situation: feminists claim to be something they are not when they say they are seeking equality for all. The danger of allowing a misrepresentation like this to go unchallenged is that it leads to completely unfounded accusations such as the one I saw on a blog a few days ago saying “If you are not a feminist, you are sexist”. I resent this because I believe very much in real gender equality, but I would absolutely deny being a feminist, as feminism is only half the story.

We need a new word to describe the unbiased search for equality: “humanism” may have been a good candidate, but unfortunately has been appropriated for use in a religious, or perhaps anti-religious context. The word “feminism” is not bad, it just describes accurately what is inside the box. If we really want to search for successful, sustainable gender equality, we need a new word to describe a new movement that tackles men’s issues as well as women’s. Even Emma Watson’s famous speech, in which she broke the feminist mould by daring to admit that perhaps men had problems too, is not reflected in the content of the Heforshe website, which merely calls on men to support women’s issues and ignores men’s issues completely.

Misconception 2. Feminism benefits men as much as women – wrong

It is true that feminism may benefit men indirectly in some ways. For example, having more women exercising their talents in the workplace, politics and public life has to be a good thing, provided they are there because they are the best people for the job. Men also benefit from the fact that they are slowly becoming a little less likely to be perceived as having the main responsibility to provide for the family, which may well be a contributing factor in the slow narrowing of the life expectancy gap between men and women.

I accept that there are examples such as these arising from the general trend towards gender equality, but I haven’t yet been able to find any examples of feminist organisations actively campaigning to correct an inequality where men are the ones disadvantaged. Maybe you have examples you can send me.

Examples of feminist organisations fighting for equality when men are disadvantaged compared to women.
(send them in a comment and I will put them in the box after verification…I can always make the box bigger if you send me lots…Go on – chase the flying pigs away!


There have been a very limited number of specific examples of men benefiting directly as a result of the move towards gender equality, although they can hardly be attributed to direct action by feminists. One example is the equalisation of state pension ages (in the UK), which was pushed through by the Department of Work and Pensions and opposed by the then Minister for Women and Equalities. Even now, we still have the unbelievable situation where (at the time of writing) a 63 year old man pays around 25% more tax than a 63 year old woman on the same salary.

Don’t believe that men can be so disadvantaged? Check it out. For every £100  of salary, the woman pays £40 income tax: the man pays the same plus over £10 National Insurance. She pays £40, he pays £50, 25% more)

This would not be tolerated for ten seconds if the situations were reversed, but the inequality will not finally disappear until December 2018. Where is the feminist outrage on behalf of the male victims? Why is the Minister for Equality not jumping up and down and screaming about this deliberate, legally enshrined discrimination? Which gender is being discriminated against, I wonder?

In another example, Norway has recently become the first European country to extend its military service laws so that women now have exactly the same obligation to do National Service as men. It is about time that this became a burden which no longer automatically falls only on male shoulders and, if equality means anything at all, should become the norm in those countries that still have obligatory military service. This move to end a huge discrimination against men was opposed by the Norwegian Minister of Equality. Two examples of Equality Ministers, who would no doubt claim to be feminists, resisting clear moves towards equality in cases where men are disadvantaged!

There are many other examples of men being at the sharp end of gender discrimination, but they are for previous or subsequent posts.

So what, in my humble view, is feminism? Feminism is exactly what it says on the box. It serves a useful and necessary purpose, especially when it comes to helping seriously disadvantaged women in some parts of the world. It is not generally anti-male or man-hating, although some extreme forms of it certainly are. However, the movement in no way represents the interests of men, and fights for equality only when those disadvantaged are women. That does not make it a bad thing, unless it misquotes facts or misuses statistics to do so,  but it does mean that feminists are being dishonest and hypocritical if they claim that their movement is synonymous with the struggle for equality for all. Perhaps one of you can prove me wrong, with concrete examples. I believe strongly in gender equality and I think that some feminist causes are just and laudable. I am not, however, a feminist.

Biggest shake-up of UK care homes for 60 years – conscription of young women to care for the elderly

Changes announced to the care system in England have been heralded as the greatest shake-up for more than 60 years. The care act 2014 details the rights of those receiving care, those who pay for it and those who provide the care. It covers standards of service to be expected from care homes, as well as announcing innovative measures to provide care at minimum cost to both the guests and the taxpayer.

There are five major changes:

  • The clarification of national eligibility criteria covering entitlement to care, This removes the role of councils in setting their own criteria.
  • Councils will be made to offer loans to pay for care, which will be repayable from the estate after death
  • New criteria for assessing the role of carers
  • Councils will be made to provide information on private care homes
  • Young women between the ages of 18 and 21 will be made to spend 18 months providing basic cover in a care home.

These moves, which have cross-party support, and include a cap of £72,000 for the over-65s, were largely expected.

The surprise move to oblige young women, but not young men, to provide cover in care homes was met with outrage by women’s rights groups. The girls, who will be allowed to postpone their duty if they go to university, will receive six weeks training before being sent to a care home. They will receive the minimum wage during the time of their secondment. A government spokesperson stated “this capitalises on the natural physical, mental and emotional resilience of young women, who will, by and large, be pleased to be given this opportunity to serve their country”. When asked why young men were not to be given a similar obligation, the spokesperson replied “Women are natural carers and the public would expect this role to be filled by women. The man, or woman, in the street would not be prepared to see young men serving in a role like this. This move is perfectly legal and is not counted as gender discrimination by the European Charter of Human Rights“. This document guarantees freedom from forced labour and from gender discrimination, but a little publicised clause (Article 4, 3d) excludes any form of national or civic service from the charter. The spokesperson went on to say that without this imposition on women, the country would not be able to recruit sufficient carers to look after the elderly in the future.

Women’s rights group WaCow (Women Against Conscription of Women) says that this move to forcibly recruit women is a flagrant and shameful act of gender discrimination. Their spokeswomen said “It is one thing for the Charter to permit young men to be forced to join the army to defend women, but this exclusion clause gives nations the right to force women to serve their country too. This is clearly gender discrimination and this clause should be removed immediately. Women who do not wish to be recruited to this service should write without delay to their MP or MEP demanding that Article 4, Clause 3 of the Charter be repealed.”

The government spokesperson pointed out that such appeals were unlikely to meet with success as that clause is currently used by half a dozen European countries as an excuse for the gender-discriminatory conscription of young men, but not young women, into the armed forces.

Please note date of article!

Letter to Emma Watson – Why not “HeforShe and SheforHe”?


Dear Emma,

I sincerely congratulate you on your courageous and heart-felt speech to the United Nations a few months ago. I was particularly impressed by your even-handed approach and the way in which you highlighted the fact that men, too, experience discrimination. I recently reread the transcript and, filled with optimism and enthusiasm, went to the website ready to sign up. Unfortunately, at the point when I should have been clicking the button, I didn’t feel able to do so. I truly want to join and support a campaign that is genuinely and actively seeking equality for both men and women, so I thought I should tell you why I was so disappointed by the complete lack of any support for men on the HeforShe website.

I am prompted to write this letter now by recent events in Lithuania, which demonstrate the fickle and one-sided nature of feminism. In that country, conscription was abolished around ten years ago. They have just re-introduced it – for men only. Lithuanian feminists have been quite vocal in recent years. Where are they now? Why are they not demonstrating to be conscripted along with the men? I won’t go into the arguments against male-only conscription here as they are set out in another post. Suffice it to say that it is just another case of feminists showing their total lack of commitment to seeking genuine equality. The female president is a supposedly equality-seeking feminist!

We have a European Charter of Human Rights that guarantees freedom from forced labour and gender discrimination for all: unless you have the misfortune to be a young man, that is. Several European countries still have military service for young men, with no similar obligation, of any kind, for young women. This is both forced labour and gender discrimination (but check out Article 4, Section 3b). Where are the feminist demands for equality? Feminists are quick to demand the right to equal opportunities in the armed forces, but slow to demand equal obligations. Norway, bless its equality-driven cotton socks, is the only European country to have military service with exactly the same obligations on both men and women.

In a similar vein, we all know that women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, this is widely publicised and quoted as an example of suppression of women’s rights. What is less widely known is that many states in the US, men are unable to apply for a driving licence without registering for Selective Service (“the draft”). They also face many other draconian sanctions, such as being banned from applying for federal jobs, being liable for massive fines and being refused student grants. The obligation to register for Selective Service does not apply to women. Read the details and remember that these penalties apply only to men: those outside the US will find it difficult to believe that gender discrimination of this magnitude still exists in the Land of the Free. Where are the vocal feminist groups campaigning to end this scandalous gender discrimination? I would suggest that if the army boot of discrimination was on the other foot, this particular anachronism would have been kicked into touch many years ago.

From the content of your speech, I thought that, at last, we may have a movement that would be focused on acting to correct discrimination against both men and women: that would look at both sides. That was the optimistic thought that led me to go to the HeforShe website. I don’t, as you suggested in your speech, hate the word feminism, nor the movement itself. I do not hate feminists. I support many of the aims of feminist groups. However, I reject the notion that feminism is, in any way, a voice raised in the defense of men. It is simply what it says on the box: a movement to end discrimination when the victims are female.

As you so rightly said, men, too, are the victims of discrimination, but this discrimination is rarely discussed, certainly not by politicians and others with a high-profile, who are afraid to stick their head over the parapet and risk a feminist backlash. You mentioned in your speech some examples, such as the much greater rate of suicide among men compared to women, but there are more. I don’t want to labour the point too much, so I will give just three examples where there is an ignored male dimension to a popular cause:

The week before the kidnapping of over 200 schoolgirls by Boko Haram, with all of the accompanying media outrage and very laudable “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign, 59 boys were burned alive by the same terrorist group, this merited about one column inch on an inside page of my national broadsheet newspaper! Only a short time ago, around 40 boys and young men were kidnapped by Boko Haram to be forced, we assume, to be child soldiers: to kill or be killed. Again, about one column inch on an inside page. Where are the high profile celebrities heading a “Bring Back Our Boys” campaign? I suppose there were only 40 of them and they had the misfortune of being only boys!

We know that FGM is an abhorrent act, and is rightly and widely condemned. It is, quite rightly, the subject of various campaigns and is illegal in many countries. I wholeheartedly support every effort to wipe it out. However, every day thousands of boys, often babies, undergo genital mutilation, often in unhygienic conditions and without anaesthetic. This agonising process (warning – not pleasant!) is legal and unchallenged in most countries. Why do we not campaign to end “Genital Mutilation”, rather than just leave these male babies to their fate?

On International Women’s’ Day last year, the Home Secretary announced Clare’s Law as if it were something that applied only to women. One-third of the victims of domestic violence are men and Clare’s Law allows men, as well as women, to seek information about new partners. You wouldn’t know this from the way it was launched. Male victims must have been left feeling completely unsupported. At least one national newspaper was forced to publish a correction following gender biased reporting of the law.

I am afraid that I do not agree with your basic premise that feminism is the struggle for equality for all. Feminism works towards equality in cases where women are disadvantaged: occasionally men may benefit, but this is by happenchance rather than design. I accept that this is the case, that the feminist movement has a very important role to play, and that there are very many cases throughout the world where woman are severely disadvantaged. My only complaint about feminism is its false claim to be seeking equality for all.

So, Emma, I hoped from your speech that your campaign was going to be genuinely even-handed and I was keen to support it. I have to say that I was hugely disappointed to find that it was just more of the same old story: support the women, forget the men. What a missed opportunity!

Instead of words to the effect of “He for She: I agree to take action against all forms of violence and discrimination faced by women and girls.”, why not “He for She and She for He: I agree to take action against all forms of violence and discrimination ”? It seems to me that this would have reflected much more closely the content and sentiment of your speech.

Yours sincerely

P.S. If you make it “HeforShe and SheforHe”, I will join AND buy the cufflinks AND the pin…

Are Lithuanian women fighting for equality now?

Is male-only miltary conscription fair in today’s “equal” Europe

Lithuania has announced the reintroduction of conscription in the face of a perceived threat from Russia. All men aged between 19 and 26 will enter a ballot to decide who will be called up. Apparently, and not surprisingly, this has led to petitions to the Lithuanian Equal Opportunities Ombudsman claiming that men are being treated unfairly compared to women. The actual law, from 1998, says that the following do NOT count as discrimination:

* special protection of women during pregnancy, childbirth and nursing;
* compulsory military service prescribed by the law exclusively for men;
* different retirement age for women and men;
* requirements for safety at work applicable to women aimed at protecting women’s health owing to their physiological properties;
* specific work which can be performed only by a person of a particular sex;
* special temporary measures foreseen in the laws, which are applied to accelerate the implementation of de facto equality between women and men and are to be cancelled when equal opportunities for women and men are realised;
* different rules and conditions when implementing specific punishments.

In other words, the exclusions work entirely in favour of women. The two greatest examples of institutionalised discrimination against men, conscription and greater retirement age, are excluded.

There are a number of other European countries that still have compulsory military service. Of these, only Norway has exactly the same obligations on young men and young women. Israel also conscripts women, but their service is a shorter, watered-down version of that imposed on the men. All other European countries with conscription impose it on men only, with no comparable obligation on women. We have a European Charter of Human Rights which bans forced labour and gender discrimination: unless you have the misfortune to be a young man, of course, in which case military service slips through the net (see Article 4, Section 3b)

Going back a few decades, social attitudes were different. In general, men worked, women stayed at home: a man forced to join the army came back to civilian life and was not particularly disadvantaged in the workplace. Today things are entirely different. Women’s rights at work are protected by a whole range of European and national laws. Young women get jobs on an equal footing with men, and both genders compete in the workplace. A few years ago, when Germany still had conscription, a German colleague of mine left university at the same time as a girl on the same course. He had to go into the army, she did not. When he was allowed out, he got a job in an electronics company: the girl who left university at the same time as him was his boss! To rub salt into the wound, at around that time feminists in Germany, in the name of equal opportunities, gained the right for women to do military service if they wanted to, but without the obligation to do so. The woman’s right to choose: the man’s right to do as he is told. What strange ideas of equality we have.

Issues like this in the workplace will become more and more commonplace if male-only conscription is not outlawed. Women today fight alongside men in most branches of the armed services, and there is no real reason why this right should not be matched by a similar obligation. That said, even if the women are not forced into the army, surely the concept of common fairness suggests that they should at least do a similar period of compulsory civilian national service.

I know that some feminists will say that many women lose time in the workplace to have families. That is true. but the difference is that this is a lifestyle choice: conscription is compulsory. Also, the fact that young women now earn more than young men will see more women forced to remain at work to be the family breadwinner. More and more men will become stay-at-home dads, so even that dubious argument against female conscription will become more and more invalid.

It will be interesting to see if Lithuania follows Norway’s lead and extends its new conscription laws to women, or just ignores the whole concept of equality and imposes this forced labour on men only.