Women’s Week: Read Q&A with founder of Suffolk Feminist Society
Women’s rights campaigner Helen Taylor, 46, founded Suffolk’s first feminist society in 2016. Reporter Gemma Mitchell has caught up with her to gain her views on gender inequality and how to tackle it.
• What are the biggest issues facing women in Suffolk today?
“I think the fact that Suffolk has a higher than the national average of domestic violence incidents is quite significant. The national average is that one in four women will experience domestic abuse between the ages of 16 and 60, but in Suffolk that’s one in three and it has been for a long time.
“I don’t know why that is but I think it is indicative of underlying attitudes towards women and children in Suffolk, and I think that alone is a huge issue for women.
“Also the fact that we score quite low on prosecuting those cases.”
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• What’s the most upsetting thing you have come across within your capacity as a campaigner?
“Most upsetting I think I have experienced personally is trolling. When you first start to speak out and fight for things it’s quite shocking some of the things that are said online.
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“I have had credible threats and have had to call the police before. It was someone who researched me, found out where I worked and called my work. I worried that they would then show up, follow me and find out where I live.”
• What’s the most inspiring thing?
“I am constantly inspired by the women around me that I have worked with and campaigned with. I think that women when they come together with a common goal are powerful, they can achieve anything.
“I am constantly touched and inspired by the genuine sisterhood that I have found through creating Suffolk Feminist Society. I have watched friendships, bonds and collaborations form and seen this ripple effect, it’s touched other organisations and charities.
“I talk about women like Laura Bates and Mary Beard, and yes they are inspiring because they are well known and prominent, but actually the most inspiring women are the women I have met in Suffolk. Ordinary women who make little changes and differences every day.”
• What does the word feminism mean to you?
“The word feminist to me encompasses a desire to achieve equal rights, equal opportunities, and to be able to live assuming the same rights and without the same vulnerabilities that men do. Men don’t think about having to walk down a dark road at night and are they safe and should they do this, and when we have achieved that, when we don’t have to think like soldiers to keep ourselves safe then we would have achieved our aims and feminism will no longer be needed. I hope that’s in my lifetime.”
• What are the biggest myths around feminism?
“That we hate men. That is the number one. The other one is we are hairy. Some of us are but that’s about choice. Having the freedom to make the choice and not to be judged or abused for making a choice that doesn’t fit society’s standards.
“Or it’s not about equality it’s about being better – no. We just want the right to have what you have, we don’t want to take anything away from you.”
• What needs to happen to achieve gender equality in Suffolk?
“I think it’s the fact we have such a significant level of domestic violence and are not addressing it.
“I have said to some MPs imagine walking down any street in Suffolk and every third door you count statistically, potentially there is a family behind that door who are living in fear and pain. It’s not always the woman sometimes it’s the man. 90% of those every third doors that you walk past have children who have witnessed or heard violences occurring.
“If it’s not physical violence and it’s psychological abuse and control then they are hearing that day in, day out. They are potentially either going to grow into adults who become the victim or perpetrator of violence themselves.
“So if that’s what they are living with at home then how are they supposed to know that’s not OK if we don’t educate them elsewhere? At school, in society, on television. If they are surrounded by television programmes and news stories that perpetrate the idea that this is OK, that women are somehow lesser than men, that women are objects to be sexualised, all of those things feed into more over-arching attitudes.
“If there’s nothing to contradict that, then they just perpetrate the cycle. So I think educating children is absolutely vital to somehow stopping these patterns from repeating.”