Voices: I’ve been a feminist ever since I was old enough to be leered and sneered at
I am a feminist and I have always been a feminist, even though for decades I didn’t even know the true meaning of the word. As a 15-year-old, just hitting puberty, I despised being female. My bodily changes were embarrassing, and I had no desire to emulate my lovely mother or my six glamorous aunts. Instead, I opted to copy my father’s weekend attire: casual open-necked shirt, corduroy trousers, and flat brogues.
This phase of my life lasted approximately half a year. But when I embraced my femininity and entered the tricky world of showbiz, I was stunned at the absolute misogyny that rained down on not only me, but on all the other pretty starlets, as well as girls of the same generation working in fashion, retail, factories, and hospitality.
It’s sad to say that male interviewers, and in general men who were in a position of power such as producers, directors, actors and CEOs, were sneeringly condescending and patronising towards us, as were the attitudes in newspaper articles and TV shows. Some men delighted in leering down our cleavage or patting our bottoms. Then there were the constant passes which, when rejected, elicited responses like “Are you frigid?” or “A girl who looks like you should love it”. Or my favourite, “How do you like being a sex symbol?”.
Gritting my teeth through these often-demeaning interviews or meetings I secretly thought how absolutely ghastly these people were. But I couldn’t answer them back as I would be called “difficult” or “a bitch” – a label with which I was saddled for many years.
Therefore, what a glorious feeling it has been in the last four decades, when women have finally been allowed to put their heads above the male-dominated parapet and answer back, and how important to be celebrating this freedom of women and women’s rights on International Women’s Day. It staggers me that women and girls had to put up with being relegated to an inferior position and having no rights for thousands of years!
But it’s sad that in some parts of the world, this attitude still exists. And it’s also somewhat disturbing that, even in our progressive western countries, our hard-won freedoms could be subtly eroded. It worries me that we might be inadvertently subjugated with the censure of female-only spaces or words like “mother” and “breastfeeding” (and told we must use terms like “female parent” and “chestfeeding” instead.) We must beware that we are not being kicked back into inequality by politically correct stealth. And with the awareness that International Women’s Day puts into acceptable feminism, I truly hope that this will never happen.
Since Emmeline Pankhurst and her brave group of suffragettes fought to win the right to vote (and I’m so glad she lived to see it achieved just before she died in 1928) we have made great strides for equality. But we need to stay vigilant if only to honour the memory of Mrs Pankhurst and her brave dedicated followers, many of whom gave their lives to gain our precious liberty.
Dame Joan Collins DBE is an English actor, author and columnist