Do you know what the problem with feminism is, in 2013? Sadly, it’s the feminists. Time and time again, these women just keep… screwing it up.
Sheryl Sandberg started as chief of staff at the US Treasury Department, is now second in command at Facebook and is regularly voted one of Time’s “100 Most Influential People in the World”.
But this year, when she published her book, Lean In – encouraging more women to take up positions of high power in business – she targeted an audience that is already well educated: wholly neglecting to address such issues as childcare and housework, which hold back so many other, less privileged women. Ultimately, she screwed it up.
Lena Dunham, 24, writes, directs, produces and stars in one of the most talked-about shows of the past 10 years – HBO’s girls. She tackles abortion, STDs, pornography, masochism and her generation’s parlous reversal of fortune. Her grasp of the moment is equal with Tom Wolfe’s.
But as the first series began to air, it became sadly apparent that Dunham hadn’t included a single non-white character in the show.
“They should call it White Girls,” was the common payoff to angry pieces about it. Dunham screwed up.
And what about Beyoncé? Another woman who does that rare thing of openly describing herself as a feminist, Beyoncé has an all-female band, manages herself, co-writes rogue suffragette anthems like Independent Women, Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It) and Run The World (Girls) and has made having a big, fantastic arse and thighs aspirational.
But then she got married to Shawn Carter, aka Jay-Z, and named her current world tour The Mrs Carter Show. Women have campaigned for decades for the right to keep their own names – and then this sexy chick puts back women’s rights by 30 years. Yeah, thanks, Mrs Norman Maine.
Indeed, thanks to all the “feminists” out there who keep screwing it up. Because every time you make some error, or miss something out, you’re making feminism look foolish.
That’s the presumption, anyway. I’ve lost count of the pieces I’ve read in the past six months or so, bewailing previously loved feminist icons who’ve done something that has supposedly caused an immovable stain on themselves, and their movement. Whenever I read about Sheryl Sandberg, Lena Dunham or Beyoncé, the core complaint seems to be: Why haven’t they done everything? Why haven’t they addressed all the problems women face? To put it in the most succinct terms possible: why haven’t they been able to simply and inclusively address the concerns of every one of the roughly 3.4 billion women on Earth?
But, of course, if the infallible guide for being able to detect the presence of sexism is, “Are the men doing this?”, as we can see, the men are resolutely not expecting one single dude to rock up and solve all the problems of every man on Earth. Men are happy when Jeremy Clarkson merely tells them if he thinks a car is “gay” or not. Men didn’t stand at the bottom of Mount Everest, arms folded, waiting for Edmund Hillary to come down, then greet him with, “Yeah, nice one, Hillary – but when are you gonna invent the internet?”
But this is what we do – repeatedly – with our female pioneers. Understandably over-invested in any woman who does begin to succeed, we load a million hot, desperate expectations onto them, then enter a weird world where we become immensely peevish at a thousand things they haven’t done rather than taking a moment to be joyful over the stuff that, against all odds, they actually did do. Imperfect but useful achievements that, even as we sigh over their failings, will inevitably be inspiring others to follow in their wake, with their specific quests.
You know what – it really is OK if a woman comes along and does just a little bit of pioneering. Encourage childless university graduates to run global companies! Write brutally honest sitcoms about self-obsessed girls! Stand on stage in front of 250,000 people and make them sing, “All the women who are independent/ Throw your hands up at me”! Because, let’s face it, no one else is doing that. These are still hardly overcrowded arenas of activity.
We’re all working on a massive patchwork quilt called “A Better Future” here – anyone can pull up a chair and have a go. The only rule of Feminism Quilt Club is that we don’t expect one woman to sew the entire damn thing herself, while bitching about her to her face. Oh, and crisps. You have to bring crisps.
I would like to say this useful thing, in the summer of 2013: if we’re waiting for some kind of feminist Megatron to appear who will solve all our problems, we will be waiting another 100,000 years. I don’t have that long. I’m happy to make feminism a team sport.