Right-on time

Beverley Briggs

It's the first lesson of the new term. I hand out fresh exercise books and the children scribble down their names and the word "English". Next I write "Ms Briggs" on the board. The students shift uncomfortably, wondering who will have the temerity to tell me I've made a mistake. Eventually, one of the bolder ones (who by next week will be making planes out of yellow Post-its and launching them at my head) sticks up his hand. "Miss, you've spelt Miss wrong." And there you have it - 100 years of women's suffrage mistaken for a typo.

I shouldn't be surprised. After all, before Caroline Criado-Perez's successful campaign to put a woman on a #163;10 note, the feminist movement in the UK had been as active as a dormouse in December. While elsewhere in the world, heroic young girls like Malala Yousafzai were risking their lives to fight for the right to an education, women here were busy depilating their bodies, bleaching their bumholes and swirling pink frosting on to their double-D cupcakes. Actually, that's not true. A few younger women bought into the comfort-fit brand of feminism popularised by celebrities, largely because it advocates doing whatever you fancy, then labelling it a militant blow for the sisterhood. This has the advantage of allowing you to feel morally superior while still wearing six-inch heels.

But that was before the radicals took over. In the 1980s fat was the feminist issue, but for the new breed of intersectional activists everything - race, religion, class, sexuality, gender and Twitter - is a matter for feminist debate. And although that's admirable, unless you're a cross between Boudicca, Mary Beard and Hit-Girl from Kick-Ass, you're unlikely to have the stamina to keep up. Their rallying cry, "My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit", puts the rest of us to shame. On a good day, with the wind behind me, mine stretches only to not washing the dishes.

Being a feminist in the 1980s was much less daunting than it is now. All you had to do was buy Spare Rib, take off your bra and grow your underarm hair until it doubled as a pashmina. There was a downside, of course: all those worthy books from the Women's Press and Virago (the literary equivalent of eating brown bread made of bricks). And you had to declare your undying love for Jeanette Winterson. In retrospect, this was getting off lightly since you now have to love every woman on earth.

I'm probably feeling disenfranchised because I'm getting old. Women like me are from the Palaeolithic age of feminism. Compared with the newbies, we're just a bunch of parochial Patti Smith fans with passive-aggressive hair. It strikes me that the only thing still tying me to this new generation of feminists is the shrivelled, umbilical "Ms". I decide to share this observation with the students but get distracted when a yellow Post-it flutters past my ears.

See pages 26-27

Beverley Briggs is a secondary school teacher from County Durham, England.

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Beverley Briggs

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