Feminism tells a different story and we need it more than ever

As the west worries about the future of liberal democracy, there is plenty of analysis on how the competing ideologies of fascism, communism and liberal democracy battled it out in the 20th century, leading to what looked like a secure win for liberal democracy. This now looks far less certain in these turbulent times of wealth inequality, neo-nationalism and climate breakdown.

What I haven’t been reading about is the political movement that also hallmarked the 20th century, changed the lives of billions, and whose aims and values are the best ally of liberal democracy: feminism.

Last year in the UK we celebrated 100 years of women’s suffrage. This was a century in which women in the western world were at last allowed an education on a par with their brothers, to take degrees, to enter the professions, politics and the church.

In the 1970s, sex discrimination became illegal in the UK, and women were, for the first time, allowed credit and mortgages in our own names. We were supposed to be awarded equal pay for equal work too, but more than 40 years later we are still in an almighty row about women’s pay as companies are forced to report their gender pay gaps. Those pay gaps are not there because men are worth more than women; they are there because we are still stuck in a system that values men more highly than women.

Education, socialisation, vocation, expectation, risk and reward come with an inbuilt gender bias. The genius of feminism was to call this out. Far from being a loose collective of single-issue campaigns, feminism strikes at the core of the problem — one that Mary Wollstonecraft nailed in 1792 in the pages of A Vindication of the Rights of Women.

The problem is this: why do men discriminate against women simply because they are women?

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