Feminist debate is trapped in the teeth of educated women, but for most, gender equality isn’t understood with noses down in heavy tomes on the intersections and queer theory. Whilst western populist feminism, recently embelemised by the controversial Caitlin Moran, has its latent and patent issues, it importantly caters for a mass audience. For many, feminism is tangled with twiddling thumbs in claustrophobic interview rooms, as unemployed women seek a rudimentary wage. Some want a fair footing in life for themselves and their children, and some are coping with extra fears about the prejudice of a transphobic society which is still on its way to accepting freedom of identity.
A popular movement for gender equality must understand the anxieties motivating women to subscribe to the feminism on sale at Waterstones, although a significant section of feminist opinion speaks dimly of recent best-sellers. Caitlin Moran frivolously and stupidly remarked upon gay sexuality as if were a kitsch accessory in How To Be a Woman, provoking righteous complaint. On Twitter, she showed hostility to a pluralist feminism which would accomodate the legitimate grievances of black and transgender women traditionally marginalised from the movement, demonstrating a dismissive and out of touch attitude. Yet women alienated by a fundamentally sexist and unequal society can keenly identify with mothers from Wolverhampton like Moran, who beat the odds, achieving prominence in her industry. Though her dismissive attitude should be challenged, we must understand why she is popular rather than hound her platform and alienate her readers.
Another popular feminist author, Naomi Wolf, has been recently beleaguered by criticisms of Vagina, a bad book full of bizarre claims about female sexuality, couched in the rhetoric of pseudo-science. It has been further criticised for echoing the sectional concerns of white, wealthy women. Nonetheless, Wolf’s career has been instrumental in stimulating interest about feminism in the mainstream, and doesn’t warrant some of the hatchet jobs published against her. The Beauty Myth, another of her books, highlighted the use of impossible beauty standards to oppress women socially, economically and psychologically. Girls who read it generally put it back on the bookshelf ready to take on arbitrary, disabling insecurities about their image, knowing how well these rigid ideals service a patriarchal system radically threatened by the gains and confidence of feminism in the twentieth century.
As shitstorms rage through Twitter and the media over the credentials of popular feminist writers like Moran and Wolf, rape crisis centres are closed, single mothers live precariously on the poverty line, whilst talented women are cut off from the labour force due to festering unemployment. They face wage differentials for gender, a cost in the rise of living, lower incomes and a disproportionate burden of the cuts. With scarce time and resources, women tend to go for books like How to Be a Woman. It speaks to their experience. A popular movement for gender equality will flounder until we accept the need for writers who appeal to women’s broad struggles, although our feminist ‘icons’ have much to learn about diversity and tolerance.