We are all indebted to the Suffragettes and to the Second Wave Feminists, groups who fought for equality of the sexes, laying the foundations for the world we live in today. It is important to recognize these foundations and feel the weight of our feet upon them, but we must also notice the cracks, the spaces between bricks, where our ankles twist and we fall on the uneven ground.
Contemporary feminism is an unusual creature; some say there’s no need for her, no place for her in today’s ‘equal’ society, the term post-feminist is banded around, acting like a massive supermarket out-of-date sticker. Campaigns like the ‘Everyday Sexism Project’ and ‘No More Page Three’ imply the opposite. I think that as contemporary feminists, it is our task to bend down and look into the grotty spaces between the bricks, where mud, condom wrappers, and little bits of hair congregate. We need to focus on the materiality of our lived experience; the things that pass through our hands, wrap around our skin, and facilitate our lives. For example, street names, which generally celebrate masculine achievement, phrases like ‘man up’, the fact that I can wear trousers quite happily, but a man in a skirt is laughable, the newspapers where men in suits act, whilst underwear-clad women simply appear. We must recognize that the materiality of our lives is the reason we still need feminism, the newspapers, street names, phrases, and clothes are why we do not live in a post-feminist era. It is this materiality that builds us, it physically clings to our skin and passes through our hands. We need to focus on it and grab our beautiful, ugly, gentle, angry creature feminism and put her to our service.
Earlier this year, the Bank of England announced that Elizabeth Fry, the 19th century prison reformer would be replaced on the five-pound note by Winston Churchill. It is important not to get lost in a Elizabeth V. Winston debate, this conversation should not be about individuals. We must focus on the symbolism of the event and respond to the fact that this decision leaves our bank notes drained of female faces, with the exception of the Queen. Having the Queen on the reverse side of a selection of notes with an all-male cast of Great Britons, affirms the idea that the route to success is different depending on your gender. On the one side we have Churchill, Darwin, Watt and Boulton, who all gained their space on the money through personal achievement, the flip side of this is the Queen, who gained power through birthright.
Money passes through our hands and makes up a huge part of lived experience; we cannot underestimate the power its materiality has on our way of being in the world. How can we fool ourselves into thinking we live in an equal society, when scrunched up in our pockets is a physical embodiment of the inequality that squeaks through the system? Anything I buy or earn or sell hinges upon masculine achievement, a paper celebration of an all-male past. This is not about Churchill or Fry, or Darwin or Watt, but about us, how we are built by what surrounds us. In this bold move, the Bank of England’s decision leaves no space for female reclamation or for any positive female role models.
Caroline Criado- Perez led the Women on Banknotes campaign, and 35,000 signatures later, the Bank of England have confirmed that Jane Austen will be the new face of the £10 note. Triumphs like this is what contemporary feminism is all about. We may have the vote and are on our way to equal pay, but now we must focus on the subtleties of our material culture, what slips under our radar, living in the cuts of our clothes, on the tips of our tongues and sitting crisp in our wallets.
Reader submission by Alice Wroe