What is left for feminists to do? That was the question I was asked recently about the terrible situation for women in Afghanistan — the implication being that women in the West have achieved freedom and liberation, so what were we still complaining about? But even for women living under Western democracy, patriarchal violence and control prevails.
For example, of the tiny minority of rapes that are actually reported to police, only 1.4 per cent are charged by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). In 2018/2019, charges, prosecutions and convictions for rape in cases brought by the CPS fell to their lowest levels in more than a decade.
Cases where a woman was held at knifepoint, where a film of an attack was found on a suspect’s phone and where an alleged perpetrator admitted the offence in text messages were among those dropped by the CPS. Feminist lawyers claim there is a “secret policy” in dropping cases they believe won’t result in a conviction and are trying to force them to change direction.
A woman reporting rape five years ago had a much better chance of seeing justice done. How can it be that we have moved so far backwards in a crime that is so serious and does so much harm? Then there is the killing of women because they are women. Between 2009 and 2018 more than 1,425 deaths at the hands of men were recorded in the Femicide Census compiled by Counting Dead Women and the feminist charity NIA. Ten years ago, a woman died at the hands of a man every three days, which is more or less the same today. But I am not prepared to accept that we should merely be grateful that the numbers have not increased. These deaths, and the horrific levels of domestic and sexual abuse are one of the greatest public policy failures of the decade.
The past decade has seen a shift towards what I call “feminism for men” or “fun feminism”. Currently, what passes for feminism in universities and other elite settings is anything but. Prostitution and pornography have been rebranded as “choice” and “empowerment”, and harmful and degrading sexual practices have been rebranded as “kink” and liberating for women.
I decided to write my latest book, Feminism for Women, in order to explore how and why things seem to be going backwards for women, and make suggestions to get back on the road to liberation in the context of a vicious, misogynistic backlash against our hard-won rights. Working together across differences and seeking solidarity based on our experiences under patriarchy is vital. We need to cling onto our grassroots feminism and get back on the streets, rather than spending so much time as keyboard warriors.
Feminism poses a significant challenge to men, in particular sexist and misogynistic men. And the backlash against feminism, which takes various forms in particular times and contexts is fierce and constant. Right now, we are seeing women prosecuted for making false allegations of rape but barely any effort it seems going into prosecuting actual rapists; some family courts not recognising that rape in marriage has been a crime in England & Wales since 1992; and morgues filling up with the bodies of women who no one helped to escape violent partners.
We never used to hear about the men who commit acts of domestic and sexual violence towards women and girls, but thanks to feminist, we now do. Every time I hear the phrase, “A woman was raped” I want to hear someone say, “A man raped a woman”. The goal of feminism must be to end male violence, because while we live under fear we cannot reach our potential. Young women need to be offered the hope that in their lifetime, the streets and the home will be safe for them.
Feminism for Women will be published by Little, Brown Book Group on September 2