After my post applauding Lily Allen’s association with feminism in her last single ‘Hard Out Here’, I’m pretty disappointed by her latest statement: “the word feminism shouldn’t even be a thing anymore”. In the interview with Shortlist magazine (a men’s lifestyle magazine, I should point out), she went on to say, “We’re all equal, everyone is equal. Why is there even a conversation about feminism? What’s the man version of feminism? There isn’t even a word for it. Menanism. Male-ism. It doesn’t exist.”
The reason there’s a conversation about feminism is because we aren’t all equal. Far from it. Only 21% of the world’s managers are female, 9% of judges are women, UK women in part-time jobs earn 42% less than men, more than a third of women will experience sexual violence in their lifetime, every year 60 million girls are assaulted on their way to school, approximately 85,000 women are raped in England and Wales every year, women perform 66% of the world’s work but only earn 10% of it’s income. That’s why we need feminism. We don’t have ‘menanism’ because every day is filled with ‘menanism’.
Every woman experiences sexism in different ways, and I’m sure Allen has experienced enough misogyny and sexist comments in her time, particularly in her public position. Which makes it all the more surprising that she says sexism doesn’t exist. It seems easy for Allen to claim ‘we’re all equal now’ from her privileged position. She’s achieved the ultimate postfeminist, neoliberalist ideology: a successful, working mother. Of course from her position we’re all equal, she’s earning more than most of us put together, on a daily basis. Problems about having to work to pay the mortgage but not being able to afford rising childcare costs isn’t a pressing problem for Allen. But that doesn’t mean the problem doesn’t exist. Allen admits herself, “it’s hard out here for a bitch”… why isn’t the working-class single mother struggling to make ends meet with low-paying part-time work not one of these ‘bitches’?
Just because you don’t directly experience these issues, doesn’t mean you can’t stand up for them. In her current tour, ‘The Mrs Carter Show’, Beyonce stands up for feminist credentials. As well as being all-round amazing in general, during one of her costume changes a voiceover asks why women are subordinate, stating ‘we tell girls to be successful, but not too successful’, before displaying the word ‘FEMINIST’ in bold lettering and defining what the term means: equality for all. Fifteen thousand people in the arena were privy to this, and whether they agreed or identified as feminists or not, they were exposed to the movement. They were made aware that the incredible woman on the stage was proud to call herself a feminist, and that it’s acceptable to do so. You won’t become a social recluse, you won’t end up a bra-burning lesbian. Rather, you could be one of the most successful women in the world.
Allen goes on to say “But I don’t think men are the enemy. I think women are the enemy”. With talk around ‘feminist infighting’ rife at the moment, Allen’s comments only serve to illustrate the relationships between women. By naming women as the enemy, Allen plots women against each other. Rather than working together to fight a common enemy (not necessarily ‘men’, rather patriarchal society as a whole), Allen is encouraging ‘infighting’ which distracts from the overall goal. It’s not helpful to pit women against each other when they should be a united front.
It’s wrong to purport that Allen’s position in the public eye means she must be a good role model, because that’s fuelling the fire for wider feminist debates about pressure on women. But Allen’s accessibility does mean her opinions matter, and the opinion she has exercised here only works to cast doubt on feminist movements which millions of people have worked for hundreds of years for. There is no escaping the facts: feminism is important, whether you agree with the exact word ‘feminism’ or not, and we are most definitely not ‘all equal’. To suggest we are is damaging to the millions of women suffering oppression every single day all around the world.