Life Lessons: How to be a Feminist

I have wanted to write to my children – especially my daughter -about feminism for a long time. Since I was first targeted by a handful of women who decided that I was sickening, because of the way I write this blog. The trouble is, when a woman writes about feminism, there’s always the chance that a feminist will pitch up and attempt to put her in her place. So I wimped out and asked a man to give me his opinion.

Stuart Heritage writes for the Guardian, amongst other gigs, and if you can get past the fact that he never misses an episode of X Factor, he’s also incredibly cool. Here’s his advice to a 9 year old girl with everything to learn and a will to change the world:

How to be a feminist

Ugly confrontations. Open booing. Such a vulgar display of all-out antagonism that everyone involved should probably feel quite ashamed of themselves. This is what happens when you book Toby Young to speak at #Blogfest instead of me. I hope we can all learn from this horrible lesson and move on with our lives.

Oh, right, my mistake. The ugly Blogfest hoo-hah wasn’t about me after all. It was about feminism; specifically whether or not somebody can be a mummy blogger and a feminist at the same time. I didn’t attend Blogfest myself, but I saw how petty and nasty things got on Twitter. And that’s Twitter, for crying out loud. Twitter’s default state is petty and nasty, so for something like this to stand out, things must have got incredibly bad tempered in there. 

You mummy bloggers clearly can’t reach a consensus on this issue by yourselves so, as a man, I’ve decided to tell you what the truth really is. And I’ll do it by using nice short words, so that I don’t confuse your pretty little heads.

(This is a joke, by the way. Don’t come and fight me. I’m a man, so I’m much stronger than you and I will win. Oh, I’ve done it again. That was a joke too. Right, look, let’s start again. Helen asked me to write this, and told me that she was compiling a series of life lessons for GG, so I’ll address this next bit directly to her).

Dear GG,

I think your mum got in a fight the other day. It was a silly fight, and she didn’t win it. But nobody else did, either. Nobody was right, and nobody was wrong. Like I said, it was a silly fight.

The fight was about what makes you a feminist. Someone said that if you raise a family and enjoy making jam, you can’t be a feminist. Then some other people said that if you tell people that they can’t be feminists because they have families and enjoy making jam, then you can’t be feminist either. It’s quite confusing. If you listen to everyone, then nobody gets to be a feminist.

The problem is that everyone has a slightly different idea on what feminism is, and everyone really REALLY wants everyone else to agree with them. For some reason, people enjoy thinking that they speak on behalf of all women when they talk about feminism. The fight your mum got in the other day proves that this isn’t true.

So it’s up to you. If you think it’s feminist to work hard and raise your children to be smart and conscientious, then you’re right. If you think it’s feminist to start your own business and make a professional success of yourself, you’re right too. If you think it’s feminist to have a job that involves writing lots of angry columns about feminism where you furiously disagree with everyone who doesn’t agree with your precise definition of feminism… well, that seems a little bit counterproductive, but you’re still right.

Anyway, that’s just what I think. You might disagree with me. And that’s fine. It’s like an English exam – there’s no right or wrong answer (it’s not like a maths exam, by the way. There are definitely wrong answers in maths exams. You should probably study harder for maths exams). When it comes to feminism, you’re allowed to believe whatever you feel happiest with. The trick is to try and be as inclusive as you can, and not to get angry when someone disagrees with you.

Anyway, I’m a bloke. I’m the last person who should be telling you any of this. You’re a smart girl. You’ll figure out your own path.

Yours sincerely


PS: Your mum is very cool. Be like her and you’ll probably be fine.

So, feminism. I know what I think. But I want to know what YOU think. And thank you Stu for the great advice. I hope my girl – and my boy – takes it x

43 thoughts on “Life Lessons: How to be a Feminist”

  1. Stu sums up my idea of feminism very well. Much like yourself Helen, I can’t make my mind up about yesterday although one thing is very clear. That panel was designed to cause controversy; heck even before it started it was controversial thanks to the title.


  2. I’ve been reading all of the twitter posts too! My conclusion is …. I think my partners EX wife is a feminist. She calls me disgusting and shouts a lot!!
    Oh but a message for your darling girl – feminists are a bit boring in my opinion! And they gossip too much!

  3. This is such a hard one to understand for us adults let alone teach our daughters. Feminism in’t something that I take much notice of but after reading a few posts I am more confused than I was before! Well done for standing up for what you believe is right Helen.

  4. There it is – ‘you’re allowed to believe whatever you feel happiest with’ – something you’d never have heard 50 years ago or even 20 years ago. Heck, my ex-husband couldn’t say it now and mean it! Feminism, which I think is equality, is working!

  5. I cannot even comment as that man *points at Stu* brings me out in the love-sweats.
    As for feminism I’ve decided I am happier to live my life without a label for my beliefs and thoughts -SMASH THE SYSTEM *drop kicks jar of jam*.

  6. Im also sick of being told that because I like baking and pretty things, because it doesn’t annoy me when I man holds a door open for me, because I took my husband’s surname…that I am not a feminist.

    The fact is I love and respect so many women, women are amazing. I believe in supporting women, in sisterhood, in raising children to fight for equality, in encouraging girls to be who they want to be. To me this is feminism. Feminism isn’t rejecting one lifestyle for another, it’s doing what makes you happy and proud regardless of your gender.

    Good advice Stu *swoons a little like Mammasaurus*

    • It is exactly this, and in my opinion it’s about equality for men too. Far too many women use feminism as an excuse to be hideously disrespectful to men as a whole, when many of them want exactly the same as women.

      • I wholeheartedly agree with this comment! So many feminists use their cause as a justification for their own bigotry towards men/ housewives/those who enjoy traditional roles etc. Equality should be for everyone. Transferring your own self-perceived oppression onto somebody else, whose ideals you disagree with, is not the answer.

  7. I think it is a shame that women spent years fighting for equal rights so they can be equal to men and now don’t seem happy for all women to be equal.

    Who on earth is anybody to sit in judgement on another human being? Whatever choice we make it is our choice. Don’t tell me how I should feel for wearing high heels or because I can or can’t make jam. Because I do or don’t have a degree etc.

    Whey do we have to be be anything? Why can’t we just be happy to be. And let others be happy to just be?

    If feminism is now about fighting for equal rights then that makes my husband a feminist too. He wants the same for me as he has, he wants my daughters to have the opportunities my son will have. Is he a feminist?


    Let’s just all agree we can be ourselves and be equal and brilliant and stop being shouty.

    • I agree that feminism has unfortunately become an excuse for angry people to get their chips off their shoulders occasionally. It’s a shame

  8. I love baking. I love wearing make up and high heels. I love it when a man holds open a door for me. I love it when he takes me out to dinner. I also love being able to take him out to dinner, because I have a job, and a profession, which means I have money to pay my way. I love that I have a first class degree, and a masters. I love that I’m buying my own house. I don’t love that I was called a bimbo because I make a lot of effort to look nice for work. I believe I am the equal of any man, and any woman. I believe there are things that some men are naturally better at, and there are some things that women are naturally better at. I also believe that there are thousands upon thousands of men and women who subvert that very idea on a daily basis. And more than anything, I believe that we should all try to have a little more respect for one another.

  9. This debate reminds me of some of the absurd musical dust-ups I’ve seen regarding who qualifies as a “real” punk. To my way of thinking, anyone who supports the elimination of gender-based barriers and the maximization of individual freedom is a feminist. Nobody gets to tell anyone else what’s right for them, and nobody gets to make any life/career path more difficult based on gender.

    Anyone who uses gender, or parenthood, or any other demographic criterion to exclude someone from a group or discourage them from choosing whatever path they desire is flat-out wrong.

  10. I am so relieved there is a man around to tell me how to do feminism. Phew. Might be in danger of actually offering an opinion and (please forgive me) getting angry with the way society is loaded against women. For example how many women are killed for just being women. Not any more though. I’m liberated.

    • “For example how many women are killed for just being women. ”

      A pretty similar number to the number of men killed for just being men, and significantly less (proportionally) than the number of trans-gendered people killed for being trans.

      So your point is?

  11. LOVING this post. Love the tone of it. Tongue in cheek but hits the nail so very well on the head. Really like Wendy’s comment.

    What a great *different* take on THAT session.

    Liska xx

  12. Well thanks for your input Stu, I think you sum it all up pretty well.

    I asked my husband when I got home what he thought feminism was and after his definition he then told me that he thinks much of the issue comes about as so many women think they are feminists and actually they are quite confused and are seeking female supremacy/ superiority.

    Cheers Helen, Mich x

  13. I can’t believe that we’re still having the discussion in this day and age that certain leisure interests mean you can’t be a feminist. What about a man who loves making jam? Does that make him an uber feminist because jam-making is seen as traditionally feminine?

    Or cooking? Cooking at home (traditional and therefore non-feminist) vs. cooking in a restaurant kitchen (in a macho restaurant environment therefore feminist)?

    Oh let’s call the whole thing off and just fight for equal pay and equal rights.

  14. Great post, Helen/Stu. I was at Blogfest, and just felt the whole thing was a collection of misunderstandings, and confusion born out of an adversarial start to the discussion. Feminism is about allowing women to make the choices that are right for them without being judged. So whatever your idea of feminism is, as Stu says, its fine and dandy. Not everything a Feminist does in life needs to be a “feminist act.” I can’t make Jam, but probably should be allowed to if I actually want to, while looking after three kids and hold down a job, if that is my choice. Women need to live and let live and stand together to fight for and with each other. The End. (Thanks for joinin in with the parenting pin it party by the way too ;-))

  15. Here, here, Stu and Helen. What a load of bollocks that was on Saturday; live and let live, treat others as you’d like to be treated yourself, be respectful of other people’s choices without feeling the need to label them and drink wine I say 😉 x

  16. i missed all the fury but can only imagine……nothing like women fighting each other to make us all look totally powerless..
    oh and grab a few hundred miles of PR 😉

    • Exactly! This is what I’m angry about – not the differences of opinion, but all the bitching and name calling that has gone on online since. Just makes us look like none of us know what we’re talking about!

  17. I think true acts of feminism are those that have made a positive difference for all women. For example the suffragettes actually made a difference for all women. I don’t think it has anything to do with how people live their individual lives in terms of career choice/staying at home/making jam/burning bras.
    I also think that Proverbs 31 is a great place to start if you want to be a feminist. A woman who serves her family, is an excellent example to her kids, a good wife, oh and a business woman to boot. Christian or not, it cannot be argued that she is anything but kick ass!
    Great post 🙂

  18. Great post – I am reading Caitlin Moran’s “How to be a woman” at the moment, and (if I remember rightly from the start of the book) she basically says that any woman that is happy to have the vote and be recognised as her own person, not just an extension of her husband, is a feminist. That sounds about right to me – why did our mums, grandmothers and great-grandmothers fight so hard for these things, for us to throw them back in their faces? What feminism means to me is the choice – to be a SAHM, WAHM, full-time professional, to make the most of our looks (or not), whatever, but to CHOOSE what we want for ourselves, and not have them chosen for us. That’s what I’ll be teaching my daughters. Thanks for this post.


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