Home » Is Modern Feminism Starting to Undermine Itself: Jess Butcher (Transcript)

Is Modern Feminism Starting to Undermine Itself: Jess Butcher (Transcript)

Jess Butcher on Modern Feminism at TEDxAstonUniversity

Jess Butcher – TEDx Talk TRANSCRIPT

Good afternoon.

So I’m not sure if I can detect any bristling in the audience with my somewhat controversial title, given that we sit here in a diversity-themed event.

What I will say is just please bear with me, particularly because I’m going to be starting on such a positive note.

There has never been a better time to be a woman. Never have women had as many opportunities as they do now — to run countries, companies, to control their personal, financial and sex lives.

Girls outperform boys at school, more go to university. Women in their 20s and early 30s are frequently outearning men. We should feel optimistic. And yet we’re not.

In fact, sometimes it seems all womanhood is depressed, faced by an avalanche of information regarding the ongoing disparity and fortunes between women and men, by a narrative of disadvantage and societal patriarchy that runs through Me Too, the gender pay gap, the glass ceiling, and more.

But how crystal cut are these assumptions? And what are the possible implications for how women respond to both opportunities and challenges in their lives? So who am I?

A woman, yes, and a mother to three children under five. I’m a successful entrepreneur enjoying a career where I get to deal with some of the biggest thinkers and doers in the world today, in business, in politics, in media, academia.

I’m privileged, no question. My race, background and opportunities mark me as one of the privileged elite.

What do I know about disadvantaged? And what’s my agenda here?

Well, as a woman, I’m a minority in my field of technology and entrepreneurship. Hard industries to be a woman in – or so the narrative would have you believe. No. Not so.

I don’t believe that this has been a disadvantage, only the most incredible opportunity. One that has enabled me to stand out and get recognition. I describe myself as an entrepreneur, not a female entrepreneur, because I subscribe to a brand of feminism that told me I could be and do anything the boys could.

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And in fact, I’ve come to resent the move towards positive discrimination, that might imply that any of my achievements are due to anything other than merit.

If I look back at all my good fortune, I can honestly say that to a large extent, it’s been down to the love and support and belief of the men in my life. My father, my husband, the bosses, business partners, peers and mentors enabled my journey.

But of course, the biggest advantage I possess is self-confidence and belief. And it’s this that I want to look at in more detail today.

Why is it seemingly so much harder to find in women than in men? And how might modern feminism be further undermining it?

The talk of the gender pay gap is everywhere and actually incorrectly assumed by 70% of the population to refer to women being paid less for the same work. Not true. Illegal, actually. And also nonsensical, as surely businesses would prefer to pay a cheaper workforce.

The median disparity of 18.4% can to a large extent be explained by the choice of 42% of women to work part-time. The figure drops to 9.1% when you compare full-time to full-time, with this figure understandable to a degree by the fact that women are choosing different profession types.

Women in their 20s and early 30s, as we’ve heard, are frequently outearning men. The pay gap is negligible; it fluctuates; some years women outearn men. And part-time women actually outearn part-time men.

So in effect, the headline statistic ignores many of the complicated variable factors beneath it. And in particular a potential positive: that of female choice. The glass ceiling – it’s been shattered time and time again by female heads of state and business leaders, demonstrating that for those women that do aspire to that sort of career, it’s absolutely possible.

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But these are of course hard — masochistic almost — lives, filled with imbalance, politics, stress, long hours. We can hardly even whisper any suspicion we may have that this is a lifestyle that fewer women and mothers aspire to. And arguably, only the tiniest percentage of men.

Right now, I’m currently observing a large number of some of my highest-flying friends quietly leaning out of aspirations of making partner, away from 60-hour work weeks, with some choosing to quit altogether so as not to enjoy these early years of family life, myself included.

Two years ago, I made the decision to step back from the front seat of my business to spend more time with my three children. And it’s a decision I will never regret.

Having lost two friends recently, very early in their lives, it really brought home to me the fact that I will never get these years back. That’s too important.

But of course, women like me are partly responsible for the gender pay gap, and many of us may never go knocking on that glass ceiling because it’s simply not a lifestyle that we desire. This is just two of the big feminist issues of our time, with others including Me Too, online trolling, body shaming and objectification, and domestic violence — all issues you’d be forgiven for thinking were exclusively female.

Now, there’s been a lot of very well-intentioned campaigning behind these issues and some very positive by-products, such as the light being shone on some of the more insidious ways in which some men can mistreat and underestimate women, and of course, on abuses of power.

But my fear is that the broad-spectrum, expanding definition of prejudice and harassment is now something that almost any woman can associate with. And we simply can’t cry misogyny every time we’re called out or held back in some way.

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I fear for an ideology and a rhetoric that is starting to set women against men, that focuses on what we can’t do and haven’t got rather than what we can and have. My intention in seeking to shine light on some of the other sides of these issues is not to deny the existence of discrimination that may exist in some of them, but to question the cumulative net effect — that of female victimhood.

Feminism, like other forms of identity politics, has become obsessed with female victimhood. Whereas it once used to be about the portrayal of women as mature, equal partners in society, it now seems more to be about girl power. And yet it disempowers.

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