2007 - 2022

Print Your Own Labels

Every six months or so I meet my friend’s son for a catch up. He’s twenty-one and has left home in the highlands for uni in Edinburgh. The last time we met he took his new girlfriend and the three of us went for coffee and a wander at the meadows. I asked his girlfriend if she’d joined any feminist organisations through her uni and, before she could answer, her boyfriend snorted loudly and interjected a loud, ‘AS IF!’

We stood then, each of us a corner in a triangle of confusion, pointing angles at one another. I looked at her, shocked at what I’d heard from him. She looked at him, shocked at her hitherto perfect boyfriend. He looked from her to me and back again, shocked that what I’d asked wasn’t a sneer and was something his girlfriend was clearly waiting to answer in the affirmative.

‘Aren’t you a feminist?’, I asked him, breaking the dissonant, triangular stunned silence.

‘Hardly!’, he replied, still half laughing, head still flicking from side to side, brain trying to compute how the right answers could be being received as the wrong answers.

His girlfriend’s easy smile headed south at a rate of turbo injected knots, ‘you’re not a feminist? You don’t believe I’m equal to you?’

My turn to head flick.

He reddened immediately. He said he absolutely knew she was equal to him – cleverer, in fact.

‘So why aren’t you saying you’re a feminist?’, she asked, consternation written all over her brow.

His thoughts pin-balled then spilled over, ‘because feminists are, like, mad. And they hate stuff, like, irrationally’.

Sometimes silence is the golden thing, isn’t it? A penny dropped for my friend’s son that day. We started walking again and I asked if he remembered his Mum was a feminist – and his Dad. He didn’t. A label proudly identified with at home had somehow passed him by. Perhaps it had become so normal in his family context it had stopped being acknowledged. He was more than used to living in an egalitarian household – I’d seen it with my own eyes – but he’d somehow picked up a hideously inaccurate meaning for a word that’ll massively shape his generation’s impact on society.

In different ways, that conversation was a wake-up cue for us all.

Last week I had a builder round to quote for replacing the warping glass lean-to at the back of our house with a structure less likely to kill people in a storm. He was a lovely guy, we chatted amiably and he asked what sort of things I wrote about. I told him and, at the mention of feminism, he sucked his teeth and shook his head.

‘I’m not a feminist’, he said, sudden air settling between us of halted, damp awkwardness.

Then he told me he had three daughters and a wife and that he told them constantly there was no glass ceiling for them if they were willing to work harder than everyone who’d try to push them down.

‘Then you are a feminist’, I said, tentatively relieved. ‘You see challenges for women and girls that aren’t there for men and boys and that they have to work harder to achieve stuff. That’s, like, the backbone of feminism.’

He shook his head again. He couldn’t wear the word.

For me, the realisation resonated as I contemplated my own dangerous glass ceiling and prayed to replace it with the luxury of a roof and a Velux window; holy shit, I thought. A bone-fide innocent word has been well and truly hijacked by hate.

I have a proposal, to help us all claim it back and sort out the confusion. It goes like this;

Print the definition of feminist and stick it to your noticeboard at home or at work (preferably both) and thoroughly acquaint yourself with smiling at its meaning. Behold the definition, for it is simple and glorious.




Release the stereotypes and hijacking of a word that made it scary. Nothing to fear there, is there? Now, let other people notice the definition. Many will be confused. In most cases, it’s not their fault, so bear with them. Respond calmly to confusion and any offensive, shameful utterings about feminazis. With a supporting hand on an arm when appropriate, help lost word souls through the moments of realising there is nothing in the definition that says the following;

feminists hate men
feminists are unhappy
feminists rant incoherently and sporadically spew bile at a cruel world.

At this point, perhaps offer a chair and a cup of tea to people seeing the definition who might be Daily Mail readers. Facts rather than propaganda will be especially hard for them and in moments of shock a seat, a kind transitional partner and a hot drink can be comforting. Stay with them as their foot hits the bridge and finds it’s their own leg that’s shaky rather than the structure they’re standing on.


There. No capes involved and lives were changed. It’s useful to have a fellow libertarian on hand afterwards, to help you decompress from the trauma of front-lining an intervention to hate and misinformation.

Lastly, despite the difficulties, there’s always light. I overheard a conversation on a bus at the weekend and it made my month. Two teen girls sat in front of me and one said to the other, ‘Jack T says he’s not a feminist, did you hear that?’ Her friend screwed up her face and had the most perfect response I think I’ve ever heard; ‘what even is he then? A greasy sexist? Gads.’

I almost called the builder. Then I thought how perfect it would be if one of these girls turned out to be his daughter. It’s a small world after all.

It’s time to turn the tables on making folk feel odd for being happy to wear a label stating women and men are equal. It’s time to start othering people who aren’t feminist. Because, as the smart youth so aptly nailed, if you’re not a dictionary definition feminist, what even are you?

Comments (22)

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  1. dougie strang says:

    Thank you. A great piece of writing: wonderful and funny and true.

  2. David Fee says:

    This article reminds me a bit of a previous life.

    I used to be a Christian. When I was one it was considered vital for evangelical, born-again christians, to “not be ashamed” of testifying to the fact. Ironically my behaviour, and fundamentally my attitude, is arguably more “christian” (i.e. it’s the behaviour I aspired to when I was a christian) now that I’m an agnostic atheist. Which as it happens is another misused, abused, confused label.

    The key parts of your article, the parts that should make you rejoice and dance a jig, are these:

    “He said he absolutely knew she was equal to him – cleverer, in fact”.


    “He told them constantly there was no glass ceiling for them if they were willing to work harder than everyone who’d try to push them down”.

    None of which is to downplay the work of people who are happy to embrace the feminist label. But I think you might need to ask yourself what the end game is supposed to be.

    Does the world need more feminists? Or does it need more people, like the “culprits” in your story, who act like feminists.

    1. David Fee says:

      I’d be grateful, if the “dislikers” to my comment are around, if they’d tell me what they “disliked”. And to Bella, it’s always helpful to get feedback, but not at all helpful (because there is no other information) to simply be told that somebody doesn’t like what you said.

      PS. As an aside to my above comment, if push came to shove I would describe myself as a feminist too. I just think the label is the least important part, and to induce feelings of guilt in people, like the young man and the builder in the article, who to all intents and purposes are on your side, is in my opinion very unhelpful.

      1. SleepingDog says:

        I think your question about “what the end game is supposed to be” is important although if we are talking about open-ended progress (and in the long run even a successful human species will surely give way to successors), we may take continual improvement instead. So maybe we can imagine a post-feminist world?

        Also, your point about behaviour rather than self-identification seems valid, but the author talks about negative reactions to the label ‘feminism’ and this seems to be a problem (at least in achieving mutual understanding). Inducing a bit of guilt and self-reflection is not necessarily a bad thing, and philosophers like Socrates would use such pointed questioning to enable people to draw out their own realisations.

        Perhaps feminist perspectives rather than feminist identity are an essential component in achieving the empathy, insight and historical understanding required for societal analysis. I am reading Miriam Gebhardt’s (translated to English) Crimes Unspoken: The Rape of German Women at the End of the Second World War, and the value of feminist theory and methods is clear in resolving some of the past problems in dealing with such a serious and (for there are survivors) delicate matter. For example, dealing with the biases of the preponderances of male voices in the historical record, and casting light on the nature of the awful crimes, taking into account the different Soviet, US, French and British contexts.

        PS, I did not dislike your post, and I thought your comparison with your religious label was interesting and deserves further contemplation.

        1. David Fee says:

          Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

          I suppose I’m a bit of pragmatist when it comes to progressive ideas and ideals. I am interested far more in the efficacy of an idea, than whether people buy in to the “religion” from which it originated. I think most people (all of us in one field or another) don’t give enough thought to the wider historical context of any particular area of life. Or to the people who paved the way for change.

          In the context of issues to do with equality for women those people are the people who label themselves feminists. We are deeply in debt to them.

          I am deeply in debt to them. But I think their reward, it’s the reward that I would treasure if I were them anyway, would not be recognition for “the movement” but the value of a changed society. Though of course it is great when the folk who put in the work are appreciated.

          I think, as I said, that the author of this article was giving us a wonderful window into some changes that have happened. Albeit that there needs to be more. Her decision to educate those two feminists who, not uncommonly, wanted nothing to do with the label, was a side issue. It was not the story.

          I agree that guilt has it’s place. But it should be used to make us uncomfortable about our attitudes, not about our knowledge or lack of education.

          As far as I’m concerned the two fellas in this story had a first class attitude. At least it seems so from what the author has told us.

  3. kailyard rules says:

    Does one have to be a feminist to believe women and men are equal?

    1. Darby O'Gill says:

      No, simply a rational human being. Sadly, because of a shortage of these we need feminists to remind us.

    2. Patrick says:

      “Does one have to be a feminist to believe women and men are equal?” Only in political and economic right. By natural Law, there are huge differences . However, in sociology y religious women always will be in disadvantages. If you want to protect them, we need to do huge changes in Law beside all written law are so ambiguous and general that violence against women is hard to stop. The law to protect women shall be according to the particular cultural customs and evolved of traditions.

  4. Kevin Williamson says:

    Good article, Heather, but maybe there’s another factor at play. Surely you can support all the ideas of gender equality without wanting to label yourself with an -ism? If the -ism fits snugly wear it with pride. But not everyone wants political labels hung round their neck. Just a thought.

  5. John B Dick says:

    My grandfather couldn’t have known the term ‘feminist’. I treasure my grandparent’s wedding photograph.

    At the time they got married (about 1900) the custom was that the couple would visit a photographer’s studio for a formal portrait, either a few days before, or a few days after the wedding.

    The photographer indicated to my grandmother to sit on a chair. Before she could do so, my grandfather rushed forward and sat down, and nothing his wife or the photographer could say would persuade him to leave it and stand alongside, in the conventional manner.

    1. Peter Burnett says:

      At the time my own grandparents got married (about 1930) the custom was that the wife would have all her teeth removed and she would be given a set of false teeth, in order to save on a lifetime of dental bills and I guess ensure in fact she rather dramatically, had no dental problems at all.

      1. Patrick says:

        Remember that at (about 1930) the Universal Declaration of Human Rights not existed. However,
        Nowadays is the same,not all can afford is a luxury, and even some nation use the practice as Torture. For example: North Korea, China, Cuba, and even U.S.A

  6. Frann Leach says:

    Your graphic is completely illegible

  7. Alf Baird says:

    Women now seem to be doing well in many areas of life in Scotland. But there remains numerous equality and discriminatory impediments hindering both men and women in Scotland, for instance: elitism/class constraints limiting opportunity for most, whilst rewarding the privileged; the state oppression of indigenous (Scots) language (and hence Scottish culture), and; institutionalised discrimination against Scots, e.g. the practice of ‘elite’ universities allocating ever more student places to higher fee paying students coming from outside Scotland (in the process reducing places available for Scottish students), coupled with the long-established policy of recruiting the majority of ‘our’ academics from outside Scotland whilst meantime funding very few Scots PhD students (i.e. thus few Scots will become ‘future’ academics). Compared to many other ‘developed’ nations, Scotland is clearly a bit of a human rights basket-case as far as inequality/discrimination affecting most of its population is concerned, with much of this a consequence of British unionist-elite control and the reality of colonial rule. Oor fowk are haud doon aw weys, and I am sure others will have more examples aside from the elites, language and higher education issues that I raise here.

  8. Fay Kennedy. says:

    I agree with you Alf what a tonic you are in your clear communication. Everything you say about the many discriminations that exist in Scotland thrive here in the land down under.

    1. Alf Baird says:

      A’m gey thankfu tae ye Fay fer yer kind wuirds fi awfu fer awa an doon alow thair whaur ye noo bide; ma mither uised tae telt me A cuid spik Englis nae coorse ataw tae.

  9. john young says:

    Ma da wore the troosers,ma ma wore the crown.

  10. Patrick says:

    The struggles waged by nations are weak only when they lack support in the hearts of their women.
    Never forget it. I have a profound respect for Scottish women.

  11. Patrick says:

    feminists hate men.
    feminists are unhappy.
    feminists rant incoherently and sporadically spew bile at a cruel world.

    Well, Kids, none of the above qualification are true, moreover are unjust analysis.
    after a lot of time spending in the study of feminism movement, I realize that is a huge manipulation of women. Feminism is the must cruelty movement in the modern world. And it respond to an economy
    reason likewise was the abolition of slavery in both case following the same result, Supply vs. demand or labor shortages;
    and nothing has to do with humanism.
    Do you agree?

  12. Chris Downie says:

    This is the kind of grievance politics that only handicaps our movement. Modern feminism is set up in direct conflict with the traditional family unit and as such, women who eschew the social marxist dogma of modern feminism in favour of devoting themselves to their families are looked down up (I’ve no idea how many times my mother in law was sneeringly called a “lady of leisure” – I don’t think raising 5 kids full-time while her husband ran a family business is leisurely, albeit very rewarding) and even vilified.

    I also see little comment from the ultra feminists regarding the fact women live longer, but can claim retirement at a younger age than men, or how they lobby for more female representation (even enforcement of the oxymoron that is “positive discrimination” to achieve it) in professions that are traditionally male-dominated, yet ignore the fact male primary school teachers are often overlooked for promotions, or how despite the shrieks of how we are “all equal” they are strangely reluctant to fill positions requiring physical labour, with more and more women.

    Equal but not the same. This is why every root and branch of social marxism will always fail.

    1. Patrick says:

      Downie: there is not grievance and not only marxism fail, politicians, and religious people.
      The work Law need to be more flexible becaus raising 1 kids full-time job that only a women can do best and satisfy the needs of her husband is also a good job, for not to mention that satisfy her with all the strest of modern life is not to easy for her husband.
      Beside the domestic abuses, is not very dificult to solve, what we need to do is stablish that matrimony is a social contract, and this contract must be renovable each five years, if one of both part agree. Of course some protection shall be implement if product of the union there are child.

      On religion I don’t want to express now later if you need my opinion.

  13. Patrick says:

    This example is the labor of the feminism In Latinoamerica imported from North America and Europe, and both side of the Atlanty support the regimen.

    On September 23, in Havana (No-fiction)
    More on CUBALEX
    Injuries to the soul
    A seat of human defenders was raided

    And a lieutenant colonel gave the order

    That four women and one man undressed

    Take your clothes off!

    Was the phrase heard,

    My lips pressed tightly,

    My brain refused to process the order,

    I watched his hands on tonfa and revolver

    While repeating his words,

    -Dawn, you have to do it!

    I still remember his words

    I felt my chest tighten,

    A jump in the stomach

    My face was burning,

    My lips trembled

    I already knew humiliated and abused

    But she was the law,

    Power all on your side

    They had given him an order,

    And fulfilled it

    The damage done did not matter to them

    Shame, anger, impotence

    Made my movements heavier

    “Nothing you can do, I told myself then,

    That is not to endure this outrage sobrado ”

    While I was feeling life I was breaking

    Three other women undressed

    And between them, my daughter was

    Knowing it, I felt a lump in my throat

    Rage ran all over my body

    My jaws with rage I was squeezing

    I felt lioness prey and caged

    Which his puppy defending could no longer,

    The hate within me burned my soul

    Pride became the master of my body

    The anguish the soul kept me

    When the pain left me without tears

    Damage suffered, accumulated fury

    They left us injuries to the soul

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