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Has feminism gone too far? (No)

Is this a stupid question? (Yes)

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By Lynn Enright on

What would the world look like if feminism went too far? What dystopian possibilities can we imagine if feminists really went the whole hog? Parliaments with more women than men? Films in which the female characters speak more than the male ones? Obituary pages with genders equally represented? Equal pay?

Actually, hold up, we don’t need to imagine a hellish future in which feminism has gone too far; we are, according to most British people, living in it. Yes, according to a new survey carried out by Sky News for International Women’s Day, 67 per cent of British people think feminism has either gone too far (40 per cent) or gone as far it should go (27 per cent).

So, here we are: the gender pay gap, when part-time and full-time workers are considered, stands at 18.4 per cent. Each week, two women are murdered by a current or former partner in England and Wales. Half of British women have been sexually harassed at work. But feminism has gone too far.

How can a movement aiming for equality be considered to have gone too far while equality has still not been achieved?

It is, of course, preposterous – how can a movement aiming for equality be considered to have gone too far while equality has still not been achieved? It sounds like a joke or a thought experiment – I mean, it’s impossible to ask “Has feminism gone too far?” without acknowledging the misogyny inherent in the question. But it’s a notion that’s been knocking about for a while, having become a particular concern since the #MeToo movement got underway.

For years – decades and decades – feminists had been drawing attention to the vast inequalities women face and, while their work had been invaluable, it had sometimes felt like it wasn’t a mainstream concern. After the Harvey Weinstein allegations broke, however, there was a shift. Women being undermined and abused in the workplace was suddenly front-page news on a daily basis. Women everywhere began examining their pasts, considering the ways in which they had been subjugated or abused – from creepy compliments to rapes and assaults they had never reported. Men finally began facing consequences – being publically named or being fired from their jobs – for sexually harassing women. There was a sense of progress.

Perhaps inevitably, amid the progress there was a resistance – and, pretty soon, the cries of “too far” could be heard when anyone said “me too”. The combination of Me Too and Too Far made for a neat little headline and variations were used by numerous media outlets, from The New York Times to ITV’s Loose Women. Most of the time, it wasn’t even announced as a statement but posed as an innocent-seeming question. But there is a disingenuity to the question, because everyone who asks it must surely know that, no, it has not gone too far; in the UK, conviction rates for rape remain far lower than for other crimes, with only 5.7 per cent of reported rape cases ending in a conviction for the perpetrator. Only around 15 per cent of those who experience sexual violence choose to report it to the police in the first place – presumably because they are so aware of the scepticism and difficulties they will face.  

Similarly, “Has feminism gone too far?” is never a genuine question because the answer is so blindingly obvious. Feminism cannot be considered to have gone too far because we don’t live in an equal society. So, when someone asks that question, we must realise that they aren’t looking for an answer. It’s not a genuine question; it’s a provocation, an attempt to undermine the feminist reckoning we are living through.

It is actually impossible for a quest for equality to ever go too far – and so, every time the question is posed, every feminist must point out its uselessness. For our own peace of mind, perhaps. But most importantly for the 40 per cent of British people who this week answered, Yes, feminism has gone too far.


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