Women versus feminism: do we all need liberating from the gender wars?

Saturday 28 October, 10:0011:30, Pit TheatreThe politics of the personal

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Girls do better at school than boys, the gender pay gap at work has all but disappeared, a woman is running the UK, and women are in positions of leadership all around the world. In many ways, it seems there has never been a better time to be a woman. But many women consider themselves disadvantaged and vulnerable; a new generation of feminists complain that women are victims of rape culture on campus, cat-calling on the street and ‘mansplaining’ in the office. So has women’s liberation basically been achieved, or is there still a long way to go?

Confusion persists partly because there is no agreed definition either of sexism or of feminism. If the former means systematic oppression, such as being denied the right to vote or equal participation in public life, then in much of the West, at least, it seems to be a thing of the past. But many insist sexism lives on in misogynistic attitudes and especially in the treatment of women as sex objects or fair game for harassment. Some even believe we live in a ‘rape culture’ in which women are systematically demeaned and threatened with violence. Such is the range of perspectives that ‘feminism’ can mean anything from ‘the radical proposition that women are human beings’ to the belief that Western culture is a thoroughly oppressive patriarchy to be resisted tooth and nail.

In her new book, Women versus Feminism: why we all need liberating from the gender wars, Joanna Williams looks at the battles fought and won to give women today opportunities in work and life that were not enjoyed by previous generations. She asks why, instead of taking full advantage of the freedom gained, the focus of much feminist campaigning seems to be logging complaints about how bad women feel and promoting the idea that women and girls are victims of a misogynistic world outlook. So do we need to be liberated from the gender wars, or are they an ongoing fight for liberation? How equal are women and men today? And is there still a role for feminism?