NOT many women can say that football was the first focus for their feminism. I was 10 when the Sex Discrimination Act came in. And I decided that meant I was entitled to board Hutchesontown Rangers Supporters Club bus, hitherto a bastion of the brotherhood. The president of the club was my Dad.
To my indignation, I was banned from the boarding the bus. Not for my increasingly left-wing views, but because of the sex I was born as. And my Dad put the patriarchy before his daughter.
That was my first conscious challenge to oppression. Today, the right to board a Rangers supporters bus doesn’t seem like the most worthy cause. But it was a metaphor for the barriers that confront women every single day of their lives. That day has stuck in my memory, along with countless other days of exclusion, discrimination and abuse that I’ve experienced — solely because I am a woman. The flames of my feminism don’t ever have to wait long to be fanned.
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For a long time, the f-word was guaranteed to provoke either scorn or hostility. Even the more progressive men tend not to see it as a priority, while at the other end of spectrum, personified by President Donald Trump, it is viewed as a dangerous ideology that has to be destroyed.
Even women who understand oppression have often been reluctant to define themselves as feminist for fear of being accused of man-hating extremism. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a feminist,” they will sometimes add apologetically as a caveat when expressing sympathy with the idea of gender equality.
But the times they are a-changing. A poll of 2000 people published last week found that almost half of 18 to 34-year-olds are happy to describe themselves as feminist. Remarkably, among the 25 to 34-year-olds, almost as many men as women were happy to call themselves feminists.
Alas, just as with independence polls, conservatism seems to grow with age. Among over 65s, fewer than one in five were happy to identify themselves with the term.
And 91 per cent of all those polled agreed that men and women should be treated equally and enjoy the same rights, while five per cent disagreed. So everything in the garden is rosy, then? Well, not quite. Not even near it.
I’m glad that the revolutionary idea that women are equal human beings is supported by an overwhelming majority of the population. But it still takes my breath away that one in 20 people does not.
And it’s easy to support equality when it’s an abstraction a million times easier than relinquishing a bit of power and privilege in the real world.
Even within the left-wing Scottish Socialist Party that I used to be a member of, all hell broke loose when we tried to turn fine ideals into reality. It was not long after the millennium and a proposal was brought forward to ensure that candidates’ lists were balanced equally between men and women. We succeeded — but men who had expectations of electoral office fought tooth and claw against it and probably remain resentful to this day. Imagine then the scale of the opposition and backlash when feminism starts to rock the foundations of the whole of society.
As the feminist American civil rights lawyer Gloria Allred said: “Male privilege and entitlement will die a very painful death — no one gives up power without a struggle.”
In South Africa and Zimbabwe, the privileged white minority communities clung to power until the bitter end, even as the two countries went up in flames. In the USA, it took decades of civil disobedience, marches and riots to end legalised segregation and discrimination. Closer to home, in Northern Ireland, a movement for equal voting rights for Catholics in the late 1960s ran into brutal opposition from those in power, and spiralled into a quarter of a century of armed conflict.
WE know too that women in this country did not succeed in winning the vote by heartfelt pleas and eloquently worded petitions. It took mass action and a thousand political prisoners to force the male establishment to even begin to consider the extension of the franchise.
And that’s why feminism is important. To identify as a feminist means going beyond formal sympathy. It means recognising that privilege doesn’t just wither away of its own accord. It means organising, educating and agitating to make change happen.
Feminism is ultimately about transforming the way we live. It is about tearing down the old hierarchies, not to achieve female supremacy but to create deeper levels of humanity that will allow men as well as women to flourish as never before.
The world we live in has been built and shaped by men. Generation upon generation of women and girls have suffered unspeakable atrocities as a consequence of political decisions over which they have had zero influence.
Tens of thousands were burned at the stake as witches in 17th century, in a frenzy of misogyny. Since the industrial revolution, millions have been turned into commodities in a gargantuan prostitution industry whose owners, managers and customers are almost 100 per cent men.
In the 20th century, as the example of the home in Tuam, Galway horrifically demonstrates, women were enslaved and their children starved to death – or worse – before being thrown into mass graves for sinning against religious institutions whose moral codes were devised by men.
Every day, since time immemorial, women and girls in one corner of the world or another have suffered massacre and mass rape as victims of never-ending procession of wars declared by men. In their millions they have watched their children starve to death and perish of curable disease because of an economic system run by men, which is incapable of efficiently distributing food, water and medicine to those who need it most.
Feminism is a global challenge to those who have messed up. Over the centuries humanity has achieved phenomenal scientific and economic progress, but the world remains ugly, violent, divided.
My support for feminism derives from the same political ethos as my support for Scottish independence, and my support for radical wealth redistribution. It is not about doing to men what has been done to women but about equality – gender equality, social equality and national equality.
Anyone who seriously wants to build a fairer, equal Scotland will not succeed if feminism is not at the heart of that struggle.
There are many currents of thought in the feminist movement. It is not a monolithic bloc, but a vibrant and diverse ocean. What unites us is, in my opinion, more important than what divides us.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is one voice. She was interviewed for Channel 4 news a few days ago. Not everyone will agree with everything she said. But the main message from the Nigerian author of the Feminist Manifesto should be taken to heart by everyone who wants to build a progressive new future.
Feminism, she said, is not about being self-righteous, or about creating an exclusive club. It is about changing the world — and the ultimate goal of feminism is to make itself redundant.