Recently a younger colleague said she wouldn't call herself a feminist. She's smart, sassy, independent, and has a PhD and a penchant for trekking in Nepal. A perfect example of everything feminism has achieved, if you ask me!
Although I grew up in the 1980s, it may as well have been the 1950s in my family and in the small New Zealand towns I grew up in. My parents made it very clear that my sister and me, as mere females, would not be educated beyond the minimum, and needn't get any high and mighty ideas about university or careers. My dad spoke of getting us 'married off'. (Seriously.) Accordingly we both left school at sixteen to start full time jobs and start paying our parents for the privilege of living under their roof. We don't have any brothers so can't really say whether they would have been treated differently – allowed to finish school or encouraged to get a trade or profession – but I suspect things would have different for boys. There was an all-pervading attitude that girls were inferior and deserved less.
Fast forward a few years. I left that oppressive world, put myself through a degree (and then a couple more), and life is good. I have a job I love, a bank account to call my own, and a partner who treats me as an equal. I'm incredibly aware that had past generations of women not fought for basic rights – the rights to vote, to attend university, to obtain and retain employment, and to control their fertility – I could not have had such a rewarding and satisfying life.
So, back to my friend, the non-feminist. It has become fashionable for younger women to say 'I'm not a feminist', and seemingly fail to acknowledge our foremothers' efforts to achieve equality between the genders. I'm usually a meek and mild person, but I had to challenge her statement. She explained that it wasn't so much the concept of equality she objected to (phew!) but the word itself. She thinks the 'femin' at the start of 'feminism' is somehow anti-male. An interesting point, but let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater! Perhaps we just need a more inclusive term for people (male and female) who support equal rights. How about 'equalist'?