Fox (n): carnivore of genus vulpes; crafty person; scavenger; (vb) to confuse; -ed (adj): to be drunk.
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Thursday 9 June 2011

I'm a foxy feminist.

PLAYBOY bunnies one minute and slutwalks the next: cue the outraged lining up to shout about something they just don't get.

The 'f' word. The dirty word. The word describing stuff that's taken for granted, is almost a joke, and used so often its power has eroded to almost nothing: feminism.

It's a subject I steer clear of, largely because I don't feel the need to do otherwise. I work in a job where being female is a bonus, where it gets you sent on jobs that males can't do and in which a flirty smile can get you stories. If someone else wants to be sexist I've always considered it their weakness and not mine.

That's not to say it's not around. Unlike my male colleagues I can't wear the same clothes to work every day; if I'm on a doorstep for 12 hours and need the toilet I can't go up against the nearest wall while keeping an eye on the front door; and I'm not even going to start on the logistics of menstruation. Yet I have to produce copy same as the men, and without any excuses. I don't much mind because it was my choice.

My grandmother was born in 1916, twelve years before all women had the vote. She was the first in her family to dye her hair and was thought 'fast' as a result; she bought a house when she married, which made her 'a bit above herself'; and she worked, while she could. And those three things were about the only choices she had.

When her husband came back from war a changed man whose random dark moods oppressed the house and her, who loved her until the day he died but still made her unhappy, she had no option but to be miserable at his side. She could not leave, she could not divorce, she could not get a job to pay her own way and raise her family.

My gran was one of the most brilliant, ballsy, fascinating and political women I've ever met. She was like Barbara Castle but without the privilege, so she got to sit only at the head of the dinner table rather than in the House of Commons. She taught herself to walk again after a stroke, but the one handicap she retained all her life was the belief that there were some things you cannot change. She was wrong.

When my mum left school in 1960 she was told she could be a nurse or a secretary. She didn't like shorthand so picked nurse, and on a night out with a friend from her first job met my dad. They married a few years later and thanks to the Pill she got to choose when and how to have children. But she never got to decide between family and career, or even whether to do both.

But when I left school in the 1990s the careers adviser asked me: "What do you want to do?" And that, right there, is what feminism changed. I got the right to choose.

My gran got the right to choose which politician to vote for. My mum got the right to choose when to have her family, and I got the right to choose my entire life. I can choose to get married, to get divorced, where and how to live, who to sleep with and when to do it.

There is one major wall I still hit my head against though, and that's the idea that women have to be one thing. That all women like pink, that they read books but not newspapers, that they are either whores or mothers and that if a woman asserts herself with any kind of spirit she is 'aggressive'; that a female must be passive, or she is not a proper female, never mind that every female icon in history has had balls of steel. If she ever uses the 'f' word to describe herself, she is a militant, hairy, lesbionic 1970s cliche.

Those descriptions do not fit me, they don't fit my mum or my gran or in fact any woman I've ever met.

Which brings us back to the Playboy bunnies and sluts. If a woman wants to dress in a satin leotard and get letched over by idiots that's up to her - I wish she had a higher aim in life, but so long as it's a free choice she can make it. The women protesting against it should - and largely do - remember it's not the bunnies they mind, so much as the 'dollification' of women in general. In this instance it's Hugh Hefner who is the anachronism, a man stuck in the 1950s with so little financial acumen he sold out his business empire and his mansion and now has to keep flogging his flaccid old man's dream simply to pay the rent.

We are not dolls, we are people. So if thousands of women, young and old, are going to assert the right to wear whatever the hell they like on a march through London on Saturday I think it's brilliant. I hope there's a bunny on it, and a woman in a niqab, and a hooker and some wannabe-WAGs. The slutwalk is not about being a slut; it's saying that rape is never justified, that women are many things, and that feminism is not a dirty word.

I can't go on the march, but I can say this: I am a feminist. I shave as necessary, dye my hair, flirt for a living, mong my feet up in high heels, enjoy fact as much as I do fiction, and am neither a whore nor a mother. Apparently I'm a member of the weaker sex, but I'm tougher and cleverer than most men I know.

I am many things, but in short: I'm a girl and I'm nails. And so are the rest of us.