Last week David Cameron found himself in hot water after describing Britain as a ‘Christian country’ in an article in the Church Times, an Anglican newspaper. Countless people have put in their two penneth worth on the issue, some congratulating Cameron, others accusing him of fostering ‘alienation and division’ in a ‘plural’ and ‘largely non-religious society’.
Over a week later and the media debate continues; on Thursday the Most Rev Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, added his opinion to the mix, saying that it was the atheist protesters causing the divisions.
I, for one, did not welcome Cameron’s comments – I believe in the separation of church and state – but they did get me thinking… what would the reaction have been if Cameron had come out calling for Britain to be a ‘feminist country’?
So I got on google to see if Cameron has ever described himself as a feminist. It seems the f-word, like the C-word, has also caused problems for the PM. In October last year he was interviewed by Red magazine about whether he was a feminist. Apparently he said:
I don’t know what I’d call myself … it’s up to others to attach labels. But I believe men and women should be treated equally.
In another, follow-up interview with Channel 4 News, he said:
When I was asked that question, what I should have said is, if that means equal rights for women, then yes. If that is what you mean by feminist, then yes, I am a feminist.
The reason people seem to shy away from describing themselves as feminist is because they don’t really seem to know what it means and they’re scared of all of the negative associations attached to the f-word. In their minds they conjure a group of irate women, bra burners, man-haters, just waiting to pounce. I think the Oxford Dictionary a good place to start for a definition of feminism. Their definition is:
No bra burners, no scary man-haters… just equality. You’d think that was something the Prime Minister would be the first to sign up to. But, his ambivalence is clear in both responses.
One of the other perceived problems with identifying as feminist, is that feminists don’t always agree. They know they want equal access to political power for women but they can’t agree on quotas. They abhor the exploitation of women but they clash on prostitution. There are some feminists who are solely focussed on gender discrimination and others who are asking where race and sexuality fit into the debate.
For me that’s the joy of feminism, a lively, evolving debate about how to make the world a better place, for EVERYBODY. And actually, I’m not sure feminism is so different from Christianity in this respect. Christianity is a broad church. When David Cameron says we are a ‘Christian country’ I’m not really sure what he means. Is it a sheer numbers game? Is it about values? Is it about public policy?
There have been bitter battles within the Christian faith throughout history, but the recent debates over women bishops and gay marriage have risked permanent fractures, particularly with the Anglican church in Africa. If Christians can believe in different things but still identify as Christian then it shouldn’t be taboo for feminists to do the same. Neither David Cameron, nor any other politician should shy away from the label, or be afraid to say what it means for them.
The current media storm is a mere shower, compared to what would ensue if the Prime Minister called for Britain to be a feminist country.
But I say, let it pour.