'Feminism Is Nothing More Than Treating People Fairly'

David Cameron refused to wear a T-shirt emblazoned with the words \'This Is What A Feminist Looks Like\' he refused.

Published: 29th October 2014 08:44 AM  |   Last Updated: 29th October 2014 09:30 AM   |  A+A-

David Cameron1AP

At the start of the 20th century some manufacturers appointed Chief Electricity Officers. It sounds ludicrous now, but at the time they were thought necessary to ensure that production ran smoothly on the exciting new power.

Unsurprisingly these CEOs' careers were pretty short-lived as electricity soon became part of the fabric of society. But the tale of the Chief Electricity Officer offers a simple answer to those men (and women, too) who find themselves stumped, or left feeling just a little uncomfortable, by the apparently simple question: "Are you a feminist?"

One of these people, it seems, is the Prime Minister. For when David Cameron was asked by women's magazine Elle to take a snapshot of himself wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the words "This Is What A Feminist Looks Like" he refused. Five times. Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg wasted no time in slipping into the natty grey number.

Instead of supplying an image, Mr Cameron's team provided Elle with a lengthy statement which, while making all the correct right-on noises, failed to mention the toxic f-word.

We already know that Mr Cameron is scared of calling himself a feminist from a cringeworthy interview with Red magazine last year. It is deeply odd that he suffers from such jitters. For the fact is that anyone decent should be a fully paid-up feminist. It's simply a byword for equality. That's it. Plain and simple. Even so, he was right not to kowtow to meaningless T-shirt sloganeering.

No one, least of all the Prime Minister, should pay lip service to feminism, in the same way you would to your favourite band or your home town when you were a student and still wore such cotton insignia. Moreover, political leaders should be concentrating on making the changes that will make all of our lives better, not squeezing in photoshoots at the drop of a hat.

Mr Cameron isn't flawless in the time-wasting department, it's true. We, the electorate, know far too much about his chillaxing habits, what DVDs he loves and his frightening penchant for karaoke. But with this T-shirt tantrum, he's spot on.

I recently interviewed Dr Helen Pankhurst, the great-granddaughter of suffragette leader Emmeline, who revealed that the one issue she believes her ancestor would have been up in arms about today is religious fundamentalism. Her great-grandmother, she thinks, would be outraged by the way in which men are misinterpreting religion to curtail women's freedoms, and would have seized it as a cause to campaign on.

Dr Pankhurst didn't pick a matter that solely affects women, as might have been expected. Instead she alighted upon one of the major issues of our time, one that is noxious to us all, and addressed the particularly iniquitous effect it has on women and girls being forced, say, into sexual slavery.

That is what we need our leaders, male and female, to do too. We need them to stop acting as though "feminist issues" exist in a ghetto, in and of themselves, and simply tackle inequality where it exists.
This is trickier than it sounds.

Pulling on a T-shirt is far too easy a gesture to make. It is far harder to address what Dr Pankhurst points out is the grim imbalance in the House of Commons, for example, where only 22 per cent of MPs are female.

Mr Cameron needs to do some heavy lifting and to borrow the Suffragette motto: "Deeds not Words" to make the world a more equal place for his daughters. Success would see the happy demise, not just of terrible feminist campaign T-shirts, but of feminism itself. Like Chief Electricity Officers dishing out advice on lighting after dark, feminists would then be looked back upon as reminders of an absurd past, where people really needed help treating others fairly.

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