Domestic violence. The extortionate cost of childcare. Period poverty. The horrifying treatment of rape complainants. The lack of women in politics. Sexual harassment at work. Discrimination against trans women. The abortion ban in Northern Ireland. And on and on. And more and more.
When the National Women’s Council of Ireland asked people to share their thoughts on “unfinished feminism” this week, there were plenty of suggestions. Ireland has repealed the Eighth Amendment, but there is much more to do if we are to achieve true equality. The difference between now and a month ago is that, now, we believe we can do it. Now, we look at the problems, not with resignation, but with fire in our bellies and ideas for change whirring in our heads. Women in Ireland – and beyond – feel buoyed and hopeful and brave. We believe we can change things for the better.
We also know, though, that the reasons for the “unfinished feminism” are complex and manifold. On Instagram this week, the former editor of British Vogue, Alexandra Shulman, shared two pictures of features from the magazine, dating back to the early 1990s, soon after she took the helm. The first, from November 1994, was a look at sexual harassment in the workplace. The second, from May 1993, was a feature about how the beauty industry discriminated against women of colour by failing to cater to black skin. Shulman captioned the photos with “Sounds familiar?”.
It’s horrifying to think that, in 25 years, it could all seem almost quaint – we could be posting a #throwbackthursday pic to a #MeToo moment, while living in a world that is no better for women
Shulman was, of course, referring to the fact that, if updated with 2018 facts, both articles could easily have appeared in a magazine published this month. Sexual harassment at work has become one of the most talked-about subjects of the past year, following the allegations against Harvey Weinstein and the subsequent #MeToo and Time’s Up movements. Meanwhile, since the launch of Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty, we have once again been reminded of just how poor the beauty industry’s offering for darker skin is.
Perhaps, by posting the articles, Shulman wanted to prove how ahead of the game she was in the 1990s. Or maybe she wanted to remind us of the important role women’s magazines have always played in advocating for social change. At a time when so many magazines are closing, it’s worth remembering that, amid the fashion pages and the sex advice and the perfume ads, there have always been editors and journalists working to raise awareness and make change happen, running campaigns and articles on abortion rights, domestic violence and a whole host of feminist issues.
It’s possible, too, that Shulman wanted to warn us against complacency. Maybe she was saying: don’t think change has been won just because we’re having the conversation. There is, after all, something deeply unsettling about seeing those articles and realising that they were written around a quarter of a century ago. The reason that #MeToo felt so significant is that it did, actually, seem to have consequences for the men who were accused of assault, harassment and rape. Weinstein has been charged – and could face jail. Louis CK’s movie was dropped by its distributors. R Kelly had a series of concerts cancelled. And yet there has also been a rehabilitation underway. Louis CK is apparently planning a comeback. Spotify briefly removed Kelly’s music from some of its playlists, but later reversed that decision. Kevin Spacey has a new movie on the way. It’s horrifying to think that, in 25 years, it could all seem almost quaint – we could be posting a #throwbackthursday pic to a #MeToo moment, while living in a world that is no better, or even worse, for women and minorities.
That’s why the notion of “unfinished feminism” feels so important. We’ve got to keep remembering that, even when one battle is won, it doesn’t mean the war is over. We’ve got to see our victories as stepping stones, looking around us to make sure that we’re taking other marginalised groups with us, too.
Donald Trump’s July visit to London will be a huge opportunity for British people to tap into the power of unfinished feminism. In January 2017, women-led marches took place all around the world, including in London, with people turning out to show their disdain for a president who had preached hate and misogyny during his campaign. The scenes witnessed this week – the images of babies and children ripped from their parents at the US-Mexico border – are worse than most of us could have imagined back then, and anyone who took to the streets in 2017 must surely take a stand now. Feminists have unfinished business with Trump – and it would be unconscionable to pretend that the job is done, when it has only just begun.