In celebration of International Women’s Day, I decided to write something about feminism, sexual discrimination and misogyny. I picked up my pen and chewed the end nervously. Where to begin? How can I break the image of feminists as a bunch of humourless, self-righteous, boring lesbians who stomp around in Doc Martens drawing trousers on ladies’ toilet signs?
Here in Denmark, the whole gender equality thing is a different kettle of fish. Danish women are beautiful, strong and liberated, both in the home and in the workplace, so much so that Danish men are often described as tøffelhelte (literally ‘slipper heroes’, meaning downtrodden). One could almost feel sorry for these Viking men, surrounded, as they are, by smart, multi-tasking women in top jobs. Here all three government parties have female leaders, the prime minister is a woman and there is a queen on the throne.
The rest of the world can see it in the Danish TV series ‘Borgen’. The fictional prime minister, Birgitte Nyborg, wearing sexy, figure-hugging suits, and high-heeled shoes, strides confidently around the corridors of power. She is ambitious, brilliant, beautiful, honest and genuine, and while she carves out a political career, she has an empathetic ‘soft man’ at home who looks after their kids and sacrifices his career to do so.
While the other big Danish hit, ‘The Killing’, was successfully remade for American viewers, it’s hard to imagine that happening to ‘Borgen’. In fact, when they finished the series, the writer Adam Price was warned that the intricacies of Danish coalition politics, and particularly the heroine’s liberated family life, was not going to travel far. Even Norway and Sweden would only buy it out of politeness, he was told. But to everyone’s surprise, another series with the dreaded subtitles became a sensation.
Both series highlight feminist issues, but are written by men. It’s a sobering fact that brings me back to chewing the end of my pen. Why do I, a female, have such difficulty when it comes to writing an article about feminism? Even the theme of Women’s Day 2013 should give plenty of food for thought: “Time for action to end violence against women.” UK statistics on this matter are horrendous. Two women a week are killed by a male partner. One in five men think that abuse or violence against women is acceptable. And then there are the cases of sexual abuse and … but where should I start?
I continued to ponder this while I surfed the net. Suddenly, my eyes fell upon an advertisement: “BIC FOR HER. BIC biro pen in a series of pastel shades designed to fit comfortably in a woman’s hand.” I looked at the pen I had been chewing. In all the years I’ve been writing, I have never once thought: “This pen feels uncomfortable in my hand and … oh no! The colour is all wrong!” Then suddenly, I understood the cause of my writer’s block.
I am using a MAN’S PEN! Surely I would find it so much easier to write about feminism if I had a pink or purple gender-designed BIC FOR HER?
I pictured the three Brontë sisters at their house in Yorkshire writing their novels.
Suddenly Charlotte throws down her pen in exasperation: “Oh dash it! I can’t seem to write ‘Wuthering Heights’ today. There is something wrong with Heathcliff. What about you, Emily dear?
“I have the same dilemma, dear sister − Jane Eyre seems to be so one dimensional. And you, Anne?”
“It is true, my sisters. I cannot seem to write. Perhaps what we need is a pen made especially for women! If only someone would invent such a pen − preferably in a pastel shade, like pink or lavender − which would fit comfortably in our tiny lady-like hands, and then perchance we might become the most famous writing sisters in English literary history.”
They all sigh. “It will never happen in our lifetime so we must soldier on using a man’s pen and hope for the best.”
Perhaps this is a trivial matter compared to violence against women, but we should also not forget how products like these (and pink Lego for girls) create markets for things that women don’t need. It is casual misogyny. So I take up my big black plastic pen and write to you, my sisters: Stand up for social, political and economic rights for women and don’t believe that any of this makes you self-righteous, boring and frigid. Your husbands are to blame for that. BIC FOR HER cannot and will not be tolerated!