The working class girl who grew up in the shadow of a closed coal pit is not everyone’s cup of tea. But, as I stood washing dishes, I couldn’t feel anything other than pleased by Nicola Sturgeon’s meteoric rise through British politics.
The 44-year-old leader of the Scottish National Party has certainly captured the attention of Westminster’s male-dominated elite, particularly after her party’s landslide victory in Scotland in the recent general election.
“Good for her!” I thought, while pulling off my soapy pink marigolds. This charming feminist, this confirmed lover of designer heels and red dresses, makes me want to fall back in love with the F-word.
I’m talking about feminism, of course. But what does that word mean in this day and age? Decades of Germaine Greer’s militant, man-hating feminism, and the lofty feminist credo of having it all — marriage, children and career — has left the would-be feminists of today either scarred, scared or unsure how to embrace the shifting shape of modern day feminism. I’ve a touch of all three.
One of my girlfriends still blames her parents’ divorce on their cropped-red-headed next-door neighbour: “She bewitched my homely mum with her wild rice and veggie-medleys, served up with a copy of Greer’s The Female Eunuch.” Thirty years have passed, but the F-word and brown rice still make her feel “nauseous.”
I’ve not heard anyone shouting from the rooftops of late: “I am a feminist!” But equally, I’ve yet to meet a woman who does not passionately believe in equality for women, be it social, economic or political.
Post Hillary Clinton’s first pop at the US Presidency in 2008, we are apparently living in the “fourth wave of feminism”, marking the end of the “ladette” years spent trying to emulate men. It feels like a more instinctive, honest form of feminism revolving around pragmatism (we can have it all, but not at the same time); inclusion (we happen to love our men) and humour (like Sturgeon’s quick-witted rebuke to UKIP’s weasel-ly Nigel Farage during the election debates).
From Sydney to Paris, New York to New Delhi friends have shared what they feel “feminism” — ironically, a word coined by a man — means to them:
“Feminism today is a state of mind. It’s about equality and the freedom to make my own choices without the hangover of a patriarchal society telling me what my choices ought to be. I can be a rabid feminist if provoked, but I don’t want to burn my bra, oh, and I love make-up.”
Mother-of-two, former senior brand manager from New Delhi, living in New York City
“I’m the woman running in high heels to the office, to work that I find extremely empowering, challenging, rewarding and well-paid, with the flexibility required to allow me to get home early, maybe even make cupcakes with my girls. And I’ll be wearing my apron, for much like the journalist and feminist Annabel Crabb, I too find aprons ‘pretty and very practical’.”
Rebecca Sullivan, project manager, wife and mother-of-two, Sydney
“I don’t protest, nor complain to a weekly feminist gathering. Rather, I think the best way to achieve equal opportunities is to work hard and go get what you want in a constructive manner. I guess I believe most of all in strong women, with strong personalities.”
Dutch artist, wife and mother-of-three, Texas
“I don’t want to see women being oppressed. Women deserve the same rights as men even though we are acutely aware that the reality is far from the truth. It’s horrifying to me that even in nursing, male nurses make more than females for doing the same job.”
American nurse working and undertaking a PhD, mother-of-three, New York City
Fourth wave feminism appears to embrace the following behaviours:
1. Recognising the female holy grail of having it all, including age-defying beauty, comes with conditions, and a magic airbrush. Women can have marriage, kids and a top professional career, but not at the same time, at least not in today’s society. The former White House official Anne-Marie Slaughter discovered this the hard way and revealed all in Why Women Still Can’t Have it All. Those striving for the holy-ALL choose careers with built-in flexibility — part-time roles, teaching, self-employment, nursing — so that kids and marriages are kept intact.
2. Keeping the domestic show of unpaid miracles going — from conquering rampant nit-infestations to in-laws’ visitations — while simultaneously performing item 3.
3. Being both a night owl and an early-riser to perform item 2, so when the normal working day arrives we can, at least try to, pursue stimulating careers, the very ones that the BSc, BA, Masters, MBA and PhD qualifications adorning our walls envisaged.
4. Educating our sons to wash up, cook and sew as competently as their sisters to change the social expectations of men as breadwinners, and women as caregivers.
5. Accepting that we are our own worst enemy: belittling and devaluing the women who choose, not the big city job, but the even bigger job of raising bright, balanced and engaging children.
6. Carefully advising our daughters on their career choices and on the kind of parents they want to be; challenging them to succeed where we have not.
7. Using social media to promote the HeforShe gender equality campaign and to protest the horrific violations women suffer daily in patriarchal societies around the world from Afghan child brides and marital rape to India’s Daughter.
8. Moving from the sidelines to coach our sons or daughters’ football teams on weekends. Playing centre-back when your son is striker is never easy; but watching his team you coached win the league is something, very, special.
9. Congratulating frocked feminist Pope Francis for proclaiming it a “pure scandal” that women don’t receive equal pay for equal work. Then reminding him that the Roman Catholic Church doesn’t offer women equal work opportunities, let alone equal pay.
10. Admiring those who empower women and promote women’s rights — the Angelina Jolies, the Nicholas Kristofs.
11. Punching high-fives at the rise of women in the remaining bastions of male privilege — Hillary Clinton for US President 2016, Zanny Beddoes and Katharine Viner, first female Editors-in-Chief of The Economist and The Guardian, respectively — then wringing our hands at their rarity.
12. Often feeling the same sense of frustration described by feminists of the 1840s:
“Millions of women are in silent revolt against their lot, nobody knows how many rebellions… women feel just as men feel; they need to exercise their facilities, and a field for their efforts; but they suffer from too rigid a constraint, too absolute a stagnation.” Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre
I am the woman who is washing dishes, thinking of the next Nicola Sturgeon. This is the feminist in me.
 French philosopher Charles Fourier in 1837