What does a feminist look like?

Ed Miliband wearing a feminist t-shirt

Ed Miliband wearing a feminist t-shirt - Credit: Elle.com

Ellen Widdup’s 2.4 Children

Ed Miliband wearing a feminist t-shirt

Ed Miliband wearing a feminist t-shirt - Credit: Elle.com

To be a feminist or not to be? That really is the question of the moment.

In fact, the whole issue of who identifies themselves with this label is suddenly hard to escape – thanks in no small part to a campaign designed to reignite the debate of male female equality.

On the back of this, we have learned what a feminist looks like.

Now, I’ve always thought that someone who believes in equal rights would look pretty normal – a bit like me.

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But luckily for those of us who needed clarification Elle Magazine, in conjunction with the Fawcett Society, provided a pictorial guide of some men posing in a grey t-shirt with “This is what a feminist looks like” daubed across the front.

A feminist, it would seem, looks like Nick Clegg, Harriet Harman and Ed Miliband. But nothing like David Cameron.

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No wonder really. We are talking about a leader who told a female politician to “calm down, dear”.

But this is also a man who posed with blacked up Morris dancers and leaned in for a selfie at Nelson Mandela’s funeral. How could he deem donning this garment to be one step too far?

As it turns out however, he made the right choice.

Last weekend allegations surfaced that the top was in fact made in sweatshop conditions by female workers paid just 62p an hour in a factory where machinists sleep 16 to a room.

Curious that here in the UK we can purchase said T-shirt for £45 a pop at fashion retailer Whistles with the knowledge that all profits go to promote women’s rights. Lord knows what happened to the rights of the women making them.

Investigations are ongoing and, if the allegations prove true, the garments will be pulled. But sadly, the damage has already been done.

Which leads me to ask why we needed such a T-shirt in the first place?

Yes, there is a massive problem with gender inequality worldwide.

As it happened, the Clegg and Miliband T-shirt photos were released on the very same day that a report by the World Economic Forum found that the UK had slipped out of the top 20 countries for gender equality.

But regardless of finding this news distressing, I still can’t see how cajoling an MP into wearing a T-shirt as a publicity stunt will help rectify the situation?

Surely if the Liberal Democrat leader really were a feminist, he would have done something to promote greater gender equality in his party, which has just seven women among 56 MPs?

And if Ed Miliband is so proud of his feminist credentials, why are only 32% of Labour MPs female?

If you ask me, by wearing their T-shirts they were just making a hollow pledge to be part of a cause their actions don’t actually support. I suspect they agreed purely in pursuit of popularity and votes.

Well it’s not good enough just to be seen in 100% cotton, Nick. You need to get off your backside and do something, Ed. Otherwise it’s pointless – and we can all see through you.

And let’s not pretend that Cameron is any better than them simply because he refused to join in the photoshoot.

He claims he doesn’t like labels and believes in equality - but his cabinet currently contains five women and 16 men so make of that what you will.

Having said that, his reluctance to join the feminist movement might say more about the idea of feminism than feminists might like to accept.

I mean let’s face it, for quite some time now it has had a bit of a branding problem.

It should be simple. Do you believe that men and women are equal? Do you believe men and women should have the same rights? The same opportunities? Yes? Then you are a feminist.

But in reality it’s a term that is easily distorted and often viewed as anti-man.

In fact, research has revealed that the word can actually turn people away from an idea that they largely support.

According to a recent poll only 20% of people identify as feminists, while 82% believe that “men and women should be social, political, and economic equals,” which is the widely agreed upon definition of feminism.

These sorts of statistics lend credence to the notion that the word “feminism” conjures a bad taste in the mouth.

Is it outdated? Perhaps we could rebrand the movement for all people who fight for gender equality - maybe “Equalism”?

But what’s in a name? Unfortunately, not the answer to the feminist movement’s problems.

After all, while things are better than they were in the 1950s, for every £1 a man earns in the UK, a woman earns 80p.

On top of this women make up only 35% of senior managers in the UK and an estimated 50,000 women a year lose their jobs as a result of pregnancy-related discrimination.

It’s a massive issue – huge. And sadly one that won’t be solved overnight with an image overhaul nor by a bunch of middle-aged MPs wearing T-shirts.

Women don’t want to be men - or be better than men. But they do want to be recognised by their own merit and not by their sex.

So feminism, equalism… common sense. Call it what you will. But let’s drop the gimmicks and continue making steps toward change.

Join me for a live Q& A from 8pm Monday as I host Suffolk Women’s Hour at www.eadt.co.uk.

Find me on Twitter @EllenWiddup.For more from Ellen, see her webpage here

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