Photo Credit: Victoria Adamson
Welcome to our feminism issue. Often when I’m asked to explain why I feels so passionately about women’s issues, I say it’s because I’m the mother of three young girls and I’m obviously concerned for their future. But that isn’t where I should start the story of this: ELLE’s first-ever Feminism Issue. Instead I’m going to begin by explaining I’m also the mother of a son. He is where I’m going to start today, because true equality can only be achieved if he demands it too.
But what needs to change? And why have we devoted a whole issue of your fashion magazine to feminism? I believe we are at a tipping point in the history of women’s rights and – as this is a magazine for and about smart women – your voice and the voice of those who inspire you should be heard.
In the November 2013 issue of ELLE, we ran a feature asking if feminism needed a rebrand – the response was overwhelming. We reached over 187 million of you on Twitter and we made headlines across the world. Initially, this surprised me, but as the months passed, I witnessed a groundswell on the issue of women’s rights. Now this, the so-called fourth wave of feminism, has developed an urgency that cannot be ignored, and I believe it should be of interest to you.
I sense it’s a new, more playful and hopefully more inclusive brand of feminism – one that says everyone is welcome. This is not a club you must pass a test to join – there is no such thing as the wrong or right sort of feminist.
My instinct that we should enter the debate was confirmed as I witnessed our cover star, UN Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson make her passionate #HeForShe speech in New York on 20 September. (See my interview with her on p196).
The response was as positive as it was contagious. Not only did Watson’s watershed words make the fight for equality relevant for a new generation, the #HeForShe campaign she launched delivered the debate directly into the hands of men. You can only have a truly equal society if both halves of humanity want it, and so they feature prominently in this issue. I’m particularly proud to see decision-making politicians, actors, musicians and directors wearing The Fawcett Society’s ‘This is what a feminist looks like’ T-shirt, which we have redesigned with Whistles for you to buy (100% of the profits go to The Fawcett Society). It is such a shame that Prime Minister David Cameron was one of the very few who said no to our request (we did ask five times, just to be sure). For me, his refusal is disappointing, as it feels so out of step with the worldwide and high-profile support of #HeforShe.
So back to my son, who I know would be proud to wear a T-shirt supporting his sisters’ human right to be treated equally. Whatever my son wants to do in life will be markedly easier for him than for my daughters. This is not fair.
When he grows up, he will earn almost 16% more than my daughters if he does the same job, he will get the choice to be better skilled and more educated. He is more likely than my girls to be on a board of directors or in parliament. Yet studies consistently prove that both individual business and the wider economy substantially benefit by having more women involved. Their input guarantees a more successful output.
During the making of this issue, I met some extraordinary women (See my interviews with Diane von Furstenberg on p222, and Jenna Lyons on p232) and I discovered some uncomfortable truths. Today it can be more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in areas of conflict. As primary carers, women worldwide are more likely than men to bear the brunt of epidemics (60% of Ebola cases in West Africa are women). We are less likely to stay in secondary education and, in universities around the world, the number of men studying digital skills outweighs women 80:20, which means we risk only having men skilled for the jobs of the future. Equality is not a women’s issue, it is a human issue.