Magazine article The Spectator

Here Come the Humanists

Magazine article The Spectator

Here Come the Humanists

Article excerpt

'Women's issues' are for everyone. So feminism is obsolete

Like all right-thinking lefty men who came of age in the women's liberation movement of the 1970s, I always thought of myself as a feminist. But now, thanks to Meryl Streep, I've been liberated from the label. Last week I heard her on the radio promoting her new film Suffragette . Asked why the story of the suffragettes hadn't been made into a film before now, she said that in Hollywood the men with the power to get films made didn't see this subject as anything to do with them. 'It wasn't their fight,' said Streep. But now things were changing. 'Increasingly we think that women's issues and women rights are men's issues,' she said. 'But it belongs to all of us to right this imbalance.'

Last year the actress Emma Watson in her address to the United Nations General Assembly made the same case. 'Men, I would like to take this opportunity to extend you a formal invitation,' she said. 'Gender equality is your issue, too.'

Thanks Emma! Cheers Meryl! I would like to take this opportunity to accept. And a lot of men will too. But I don't think most self-styled feminists will be too happy about your invitation. For if all those 'women's issues' that feminists have always considered belonged to them now belong equally to men, where does that leave feminism and the idea of being a feminist? I'll tell you: in the dustbin of history.

You can't, on the one hand, maintain a distinctly female/gender-based view of certain issues and at the same time argue that those issues should be the concern of everyone. Put simply: we all believe in equality now, for everyone. We're not just feminists, we're humanists.

You don't have to call yourself a feminist to believe in equal pay for women. It has become the common wisdom of the age because feminism has won the battle of ideas. When I was growing up in the 1970s it was not uncommon to hear some rabid reactionary -- male or female -- talk about a woman's place being in the home and her function in life limited to raising children. Nobody in the West now makes a serious intellectual, moral or religious case for denying women their civil rights.

Even Hollywood -- that bastion of blatant sexism -- is showing signs of change. Who says? Well, Meryl Streep for one. She said in that interview that when she made The French Lieutenant's Woman -- this was in 1981 -- the only women involved were in hair and make-up. 'It was an all-male enterprise,' she noted. But when she came to make The Iron Lady (in 2011), 'It was half and half. …

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