Why is David Cameron so afraid to call himself a feminist?

PM won't wear our feminist tee

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It should be simple. Do you believe that men and women are equal? Do you believe men and women should have the same rights? The same opportunities? Yes? Then you are a feminist.

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Not for our PM David Cameron, the man in charge of the country. When ELLE asked him, along with Ed Miliband, the leader of the Labour Party and Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats (and other influential men including Benedict Cumberbatch, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hiddleston) to wear The Fawcett Society’s iconic ‘This Is What A Feminist Looks Like’ T-shirts for ELLE’s inaugural Feminism Issue (on sale 30 October), he refused.

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Not once, but five times.

Naturally, this was very disappointing for Team ELLE. We think he is the one person who should recognise just how important feminism is. Why? Because, while things are better than they were in the 1950s (that isn’t hard), for every £1 a man earns in the UK, a woman earns 80p. Women make up only 35% of senior managers in the UK and an estimated 30,000 women a year lose their jobs as a result of pregnancy-related discrimination. In politics, fewer than one in four MPs is a woman, and there are only five women in the cabinet out of 22 ministers.

ELLE’s Editor-in-Chief Lorraine Candy says: 'We asked the Prime Minister five times if he would wear The Fawcett Society’s iconic This Is What A Feminist Looks Like slogan T-shirt and send us a snapshot (it would only take 10 minutes). Five times, he declined. This is a shame on so many levels, especially given he knew Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband had agreed without hesitation, alongside many other influential men who were more than happy to call themselves feminists. It seems the Prime Minister still has an issue with the word "feminist".

‘I was personally disappointed that we couldn't feature Mr Cameron in our Feminism Issue because it is ELLE’s aim to engage with men in the fight for equality: because of parliament’s current gender imbalance, it is men who have the power to make changes in every area of British women’s lives. When the man in charge doesn’t engage, it doesn't bode well. Given the huge international male support for UN Women’s #HeForShe campaign, it does rather make our Prime Minister look like the odd one out.’

Benedict Cumberbatch in his ELLE x Whistles for Fawcett t-shirt

This is not the first time David Cameron has been questioned over his support of women. When asked by Red magazine in September 2013 if he was a feminist, he paused before replying: ‘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.’

He sought to justify his stance, explaining later to Channel 4 News: ‘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.’

When we asked the PM’s team why he wouldn’t wear the T-shirt for ELLE – all profits from the sale of which go to The Fawcett Society – they said he’d rather give us a quote instead: ‘Whether you are a man or a woman, I passionately believe that everyone has a part to play in achieving full equality for women and girls. As a parent I feel strongly that my daughters should have the same opportunities as my son. As a society we have come a long way in gender equality – but the journey hasn’t finished yet, which is why I am committed to doing everything I can do to remove barriers for women and achieve a fairer society.’

But we say, where is the word feminism in that? (If you can spot it, we’ll send you a T-shirt for free!) It doesn’t need a caveat. It’s about equal rights and equal choice. It’s about women being able to achieve the same as men (and being paid the same wage to do so). It’s about freedom to live as we please. Simple, really.

Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt wears his

Daisy Sands, Head of Policy and Campaigns at The Fawcett Society said:

‘We are very pleased the leaders of the UK’s three main political parties have publicly pledged their support for advancing equality between women and men, and have endorsed the ELLE x Whistles for Fawcett collaboration, which has relaunched Fawcett’s iconic This Is What A Feminist Looks Like T-shirt.

‘However, we understand making a personal commitment to the cause of feminism is a matter for the individual to decide. As it stands, it would appear that David Cameron is not comfortable with identifying himself with the cause of feminism, which, given the huge contribution the feminist movement has made to advancing women’s rights, is unfortunate.’

Ed Miliband told us:

‘Feminism means striving for a world where power is something we share equally as men and women, a world where equal pay is a campaign our children learn about in history books and a woman in the top job is no longer a novelty; a world where girls are asked what they want to achieve, not what they want to look like, and women don’t fear violence for speaking out or wanting more. Feminism means a better world for us all and a battle yet to be won.’

Nick Clegg told us:

‘I support equality and choice – so yes, I’m a feminist. How on earth in this day and age can you not be? As a wiser person than me once said: “Men who actually treat women as equals are the ones with more cojones.”’

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