“A House in Flanders” by Michael Jenkins

I found myself in a fantastic independent bookshop a couple of weeks ago – one of those quirky old places full to the rafters with an array of beautiful titles, displayed in a hotchpotch of authors and genres. Squeezing past groaning stools and book-strewn chairs I discovered a small pile of Slightly Foxed Paperbacks in the corner of the room. I couldn’t resist the thick cream cover or the press’s brilliant name; eventually I settled on A House in Flanders.

It turned out to be one of those occasions when a book couldn’t have appeared at a better time. After the political division and bitterness of the past few weeks and months, I needed something gentle, and kind – a dose of nobility. Michael Jenkins’ account of his time in France was the perfect antidote to a bellyful of Trump and Farage.

Over the course of several summers during the 1950s, the young Michael was sent to spend his holiday with a houseful of French “aunts” in Flanders. They weren’t really relations of his, but, as becomes clear during the course of the narrative, the introspective English boy was bound to the family by a bitter-sweet history. The sprawling French home reveals a riot of colour, familial love and shared secrets which prove to be a world away from his repressed English parents and boarding school, and he soon finds himself fulfilling the role of a go-between – not to enable a doomed affair as in L.P Hartley’s classic, but instead to offer a much-needed ear for the village, in the way outsiders often can.

Each chapter tells the story of a different relation or neighbour, their history, and role in the house. Tante Yvonne is the wise, childless matriarch who dedicated her life to keeping her family united under one roof. Gentle Tante Lise has control of the garden, Tante Florence oscillates between placidity and bursts of activity, Tante Alice jealously manages her property and Oncle Auguste is the former soldier occasionally beset by episodes of dementia. Apart from the exquisite cousin Madeline who inspires Michael’s first experience of love, the members of the household are octogenarians – at the end of their lives just as Michael is beginning his. One of the many special things about the book is the fact that the generational divide isn’t any sort of barrier to Michael being absorbed into their lives – their age gives the tantes a wealth of stories to tell but it doesn’t feel foreign to Michael. They become his world.

There is a sort of Edenic quality to Michael’s golden summers in the village – he wanders through golden fields on his various errands, absorbing the glorious countryside around him and learning its folklore. The memory of the world wars is never far from the surface, though, making itself known through the aunts’ stories; the confusion inspired by the few German characters to pass through the book; and the private sorrows and divisions which still haunt the village. Michael’s boyish thoughtfulness and lack of judgment integrate these flashes of brutality into the otherwise dreamlike narrative, so that the recent violence is somehow managed by his innocence. Death, loss, love, permanence and hope – they all have a place at the table here, managing to exist in harmony within the beautiful story.

At the core of the book is Tante Yvonne’s desire for the villagers to rub along with one another and for her family to stay close to home. Looking at her through Michael’s eyes you feel all of her strength and humour, as well as glimpses of the hardships she’s endured. Yvonne may have lived through war, lost loved ones and suffered the cruelty of being forced out of her home by invading soldiers, but there isn’t a trace of bitterness here – all Michael sees is courage, wisdom and an enduring faith in her neighbours. She’s both a peace-maker and champion of justice, steadfastly refusing to be beaten by war, grief or the passing of time.

What more of an inspiration could one want as this ruthless year draws to a close.

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Article 50

Can you remember what it was like to read the morning’s headlines with anything other than dismay? The past few months have been truly grim – Brexit, Heathrow’s new runway; species extinction; Trump, the gang’s all there, making every new day feel slightly more precarious than the last. It’s difficult not to feel entirely defeated. After all, what can one person do in the face of such escalating madness? Take for example, this choice headline:

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The paper then decided to add the following detail to their coverage: “The judges who blocked Brexit: One founded a EUROPEAN law group, another charged the taxpayer millions for advice and the third is an openly gay ex-Olympic fencer.” “Openly gay”? When did voices like this become a legitimate part of our national dialogue? Where do we even start to un-do some of the damage caused by this sort of journalism?

This week, despite stiff competition from the past couple of months, has been particularly bleak. To recap:

(1)    A remarkable woman called Gina Miller took the government to court over Article 50. To be clear, her case had absolutely nothing to do with reversing the referendum on 23 June – yes she voted remain, but this was, and is, a question of constitutional law rather than politics.

Her argument is that Theresa May cannot trigger Article 50 (which sets Brexit into motion) by relying on Crown Prerogative (a centuries’ old right which essentially gives “the Crown”, acting through the Prime Minister, the right to by-pass Parliament). Instead, she ought to take the decision to Parliament – on the grounds that triggering Article 50 will remove some of the rights we currently enjoy as a result of a piece of UK legislation (the European Communities Act 1972).

The fact that the referendum ended with a victory for the Leavers should be irrelevant in this context – to quote AV Dicey:

“The judges know nothing about any will of the people except in so far as that will is expressed by an Act of Parliament.”

The judges ruled in Miller favour – not because they are part of a metropolitan elite trying to thwart Nigel Farage, but because this is a well-established rule of constitutional law. And it is an absolutely fundamental one – we fought a civil war over this. No King, Queen, or, as it is in 2016, Prime Minister, can go rogue and make crucial decisions about rights conferred by legislation without first taking that debate to Parliament. This is not a fascist state. Our leaders are held accountable by our MPs. And ironically, as lots of people have already pointed out, Parliamentary Sovereignty was precisely what the Leavers claimed to be fighting for.

For her pains, Gina Miller has been subjected to a barrage of racist and misogynistic abuse. I know the UK isn’t alone in being home to some pretty vile trolls, but what’s so particularly sickening about all of this is that that response has been legitimised – by the palpable silence of our Prime Minister, and by the conscious intervention of the right-wing press. Grim.

(2)    Gina Miller wasn’t the only victim of the Great British Public this week. Lest we forget, the Daily Mail chose to run that headline the day after the ruling was handed down by the High Court.

Leaving the bizarre personal attacks on the judges aside, the point is that they have done nothing other than uphold the law. They’re not trying to frustrate the sinking of the Titanic (heaven forbid) – instead, they are protecting a rule at the heart of our largely unwritten constitution.

Liz Truss eventually made some half-arsed comments about the ruling which fell far too short of calling articles like this out, and after a long silence Theresa May offered some mealy-mouthed comments about the freedom of the press whilst deciding to take the case to the Supreme Court.

That doesn’t just demonstrate a disappointing lack of leadership, it’s genuinely quite frightening: as Dominic Grieve said yesterday, the government’s response (or lack thereof) to the sorts of articles which incite a hatred of our judiciary is chillingly reminiscent of Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.  That’s an extraordinary thing to try to comprehend.

And Liz. Mate. The only things you’re responsible for as Lord Chancellor are protecting the rule of law and standing up for the judiciary. You’ve essentially just become the political equivalent of the Dinosaur Supervisor in Jurassic Park.

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(3)    And then of course, there’s the assertion made by the Mail et al that this judgment is the work of the “metropolitan elite”. Ah, the elite – the right’s target-du-jour. According to sections of Fleet Street, UKIP and parts of the Tory party, anyone who opposes Brexit is an elitist traitor ignoring “the People.” And for good measure we’re also guilty of tearing the country apart with our “Remoaner” resistance to Hard-Brexit.

Of course there’s some truth to the fact that university graduates generally fell into the Remain camp, and that by definition, the country’s most senior judges are at the top of their tree. But the hyperbole of the demagogue is an extraordinary thing.

Because according to that logic, the 48% of people who voted to remain in the EU are all part of some kind of “elite”. Now I don’t know about you, but if I got VIP tickets to something I’d be pretty hacked off to find sixteen million people coming along with me.  We’re not an elite, we’re almost half the people who turned out to vote – more than that, if you consider the proportion of Leave voters who (i) weren’t actually voting to send the UK hurtling back into the 1950s and/or (ii) think it’s important to respect the constitution. Not to mention the fact that the people actually calling us elitists are:

(I)                  Paul Dacre, Editor of the Daily Mail and landowner – who’s received £460,000 in EU agricultural subsidies since 2011

(II)                Nigel Farage who, back in 2009, was reported to have received £2m of taxpayers’ money in expenses and allowances as a member of the European Parliament

(III)              Arron Banks, the businessman and Donald Trump apologist who apparently pumped over £7 million into the Leave campaign

They might not be in the same intellectual league as the judges they’re vilifying so enthusiastically, but wealth like that looks pretty elite to me.

Ultimately, if the Prime Minister genuinely thinks she has any hope of reuniting a country wracked with division, suspicion, disappointment and economic uncertainty, she might want to rein this nonsense in. We need to be talking to one another to understand our differences, not sneering at the distraught group of Brits who lost the referendum and undermining the judiciary for good measure.

(4)    In the meantime, the natural world continues to get a hammering. While our newspapers are filled with endless political train-wrecks, stories about us being on track to lose two-thirds of wild animals by 2020 get relegated to the back pages. We need to be focussing on implementing the Paris climate deal; addressing the fact that scientists think we’re living through the Sixth Extinction; finding renewable energy solutions rather than burning through fossil fuels. If the nation’s attention is devoted to averting constitutional disaster, and if every new right-wing development compels us to extricate ourselves still further from global cooperation, then how in the world are we supposed to work together as an international community to sort these problems out for the next generation? The fall-out from Brexit is a disaster not only because of what it’s doing to our sense of national identity but because it’s preventing us from engaging in the issues that truly matter.

For now, I’m not sure what to do. I suppose staying engaged is the key – even if it’s deeply depressing – so that we’re ready to work towards a solution once this toxicity has abated. And in the meantime, as my Dad always used to say, don’t let the bastards grind you down.

Brexit: this is not a drill

Waking up to the referendum result on Friday morning is something I’ll never forget. It may well sound melodramatic but I felt genuinely heartbreak, and a vacuum replacing the cautious optimism and hope that had been there the night before. Of course there was the knee-jerk reaction too, the tears and the anguish over the fact that I no longer felt “English”. After three days, I can appreciate that grandiose statements about identity politics possibly aren’t helpful, but the feeling still hasn’t subsided. My values and political beliefs are based on the idea of global cooperation, and the idea that I will, over the course of the next two years, lose first my European identity and then my Britishness, fills me with deep sadness. My darling Dad used to say we were internationalists – he’d cheer a foreign team playing against the English if it would make for a better game of rugby – and I don’t think I’d appreciated until Friday how much that had influenced me.

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And images like this? That isn’t helping. I’m not ready for twee platitudes, gallows humour, being told to “keep calm and carry on” and that I ought to respect this democratic result and somehow live with the consequences. The Leavers in Westminster are claiming that they now have a “clear mandate” to extricate us from the EU, and social media is telling me that I ought to make the best of it.

No. I reject that absolutely. This was an advisory referendum, and the results are a confusion of prejudices, divisions and misinformation. 48% of the portion of people who voted want to remain. That is a significant chunk of the British population, particularly when you consider that Scotland was so pro-Europe (and that they were told to remain in Britain during the independence referendum in part because it guaranteed them EU membership). 75% of 18-24 year olds wanted to stay in the EU. Lord knows what British teenagers think – the generation which will inherit the consequences of this decision – because they weren’t asked. That doesn’t offer a clear mandate as far as I’m concerned, and neither does it smack of democracy.

Would I think the same if the 48/52 split had gone the other way? I don’t know, and I appreciate that there’s a level of arrogance in assuming Remainers should have the right to unpick this because they believe it’s the wrong decision. (Although for the record, it’s deeply frustrating to read world-weary articles about the sudden hysteria of the “leftie intelligentsia”. Really? The 48% aren’t even allowed a few days to grieve this nightmare scenario without snide mockery? Given that I’ve been bombarded with nonsensical Leave propaganda for months, that seems a little rich.) I know that for some there were genuine, rational, heartfelt reasons to Leave, buried in the mire of Nigel Farage’s 1930s manifesto.  And where those arguments can be made I’ll try to have the humility to respect them. I know that for a lot of people, Leave offered a way to rebel against a status quo which has failed them. That some voters were genuinely – rightly – disgusted by the prospect of the TTIP deal and the seemingly inevitable privatisation of the NHS. The EU, in its current form, is in urgent need of reform. But I also don’t believe that the majority of Leave voters could actually give you a clear, justifiable reason for wanting to go, based on something other than Boris’ absurd references to “Independence Day”, and Farage’s xenophobic scare-mongering. And the point is that when Cameron decided to hand this over to the public (in itself a ridiculous and irresponsible decision), it became incumbent on everyone who put a cross in the “Leave” box to be able to justify themselves with something other than sound-bites. When every financial, environmental and political expert is saying that Brexit could destabilise not just our British future but the future of the European project as a whole, you’d better have a damn good reason for wanting to go the other way. And if you don’t, then I think it’s fair to accept that the Remainers will be pretty hacked off with you for a while.

The environmental consequences of all of this are also utterly bleak. After COP21 in December last year, it seemed as though we were actually on the cusp of a unified, global response to climate change. Brexit will almost certainly de-rail that. Instead of helping to build a harmonised, EU-wide initiative to develop green technology and phase out fossil fuels, Britain has decided to go it alone. Which may not be so terrifying if we had a better track record, but we could soon find ourselves at the mercy of a Conservative government which fracks in national parks and slashes subsidies for the green sector. Lord knows what will happen to the EU legislation which underpins our already-inadequate national environmental framework. We’ve lost the right to sit at the TTIP negotiating table, and to block a treaty which would give corporations the right to sue European governments if environmental legislation threatens their bottom line. And instead of asking the EU to focus on climate change now, urgently, recognising it as the existential threat it truly is, we’ve ensured that the next couple of years will be taken up by protracted exit-negotiations and economic uncertainty. We’re wasting time, and turning our backs on the very idea of international cooperation and global leadership. “One just hopes that collaboration on these issues, conservation issues, will transcend political divisions,” David Attenborough said, post-referendum. Collaboration now seems wholly unlikely from where I’m sitting. So yes, I am frightened, and disgusted – and don’t you dare accuse me of self-righteous hysteria, or try to placate me by mauling A.A. Milne.

For now, I can’t just sit back and bask in the glow of democracy at work, just because a couple of old Etonians decided to play a game of chicken in Westminster. History is unlikely to look kindly on the last few months, and I don’t want to reflect on this period in the years to come and remember my apathy. There’s a time to be angry. This is it.Brexit(Image taken from: https://www.socialeurope.eu/2016/03/why-there-will-be-no-brexit/)

Brexit

Over the course of the weekend, David Cameron announced that there will be a referendum regarding the UK’s EU membership held on 23 June 2016. After his recent late-night negotiations in Brussels, the PM’s obviously hoping that he’s done enough to convince the on-the-fencers to stay in the union – people campaigning for the Brexit are unlikely to change their minds at this stage, and the pro-EUers are probably pretty settled in their views too. It’s all those people in the middle, who aren’t really sure what all this is about and whether they care, that will make the difference.

I’ve talked about this with various friends recently, and the general consensus seems to be that this conversation is confusing, complicated, and really difficult to get a handle on. The Scottish referendum was pretty straightforward – either they want to be British or they don’t – and although there were obviously layers of economic and political arguments, it felt like much more of an emotional decision. I’d never really thought about the implications of what it means to be English and a Brit before, but when it came to it I found the idea of us going our different ways really distressing. Partly because of the history – there’s so much Britain has done as a combined unit we can be proud of – and partly because the idea of us all becoming more insular seems crazy to me. I know my grasp of the details of the Brexit debate is still pretty ropey, but it’d take a lot to convince me that an individualistic mind-set makes sense in 2016.  Still, unlike being Scottish or English (particularly during rugby season) I get the sense that for most of us, being “European” doesn’t necessarily mean a great deal day to day. It’s such an intangible thing. Being British is part of my identity – being European can often just feel like geography.

That’s something I’m seriously beginning to challenge, though – because I genuinely believe our greatest hope for a fair, functioning, and environmentally stable world lies in being part of something bigger than ourselves. The island mentality just won’t cut it any more. Yes, I’m always going to get tribal about the Six Nations, the superiority of English ale, British rain, our humour, our countryside – I love my home. And yes, the EU is too bureaucratic, it’s deeply irritating when they interfere with what we eat and drink, and – let’s face it – the UK could enter Eric Clapton in the Eurovision song contest and still get a mauling. The EU has plenty of flaws, and homogenisation isn’t appealing. But that’s not what this is about – this referendum has to be about finding a shared ideology, not cultural differences. We live in a world of globalised capitalism, where markets are king, corporations influence politics and where free trade agreements like TTIP go so far as to give companies the right to sue national governments for adopting environmental policies which threaten their bottom line. We can’t look at political responsibility in terms of ever decreasing circles whilst also living with “capitalism sans frontieres”. There are no checks and balances in that model – no political bodies with the scope to curb the activity of international companies. If the markets are global, then surely the playbook has to be too.

We’re already facing an existential crisis as a species; if we don’t tackle climate change head-on and with incredible dedication over the coming years, then everything is going to alter irreparably. And we’re not going to be able to do that unless we coordinate, and feel a sense of global responsibility. At the risk of sounding corny, we have to become citizens of the world – international corporations sure as hell won’t save us (much as they might like us to believe otherwise), and in the UK we definitely can’t rely on our own government to step up to the plate; not with their appalling environmental record. As I’ve said before, the few environmental laws we have were essentially put in place to enact EU legislation. Without those two key Directives, British wildlife would be extremely vulnerable. The EU may be flawed, but it’s the greatest defence our countryside has.

Ultimately, and notwithstanding all the other reasons I believe in the union, it’s because I love the English countryside so much that I’m going to vote to stay in. Yes it’s imperfect, but committed international activism and enforceable environmental legislation are the best chances we’ve all got to protect our corner of the world (and at the same time, everyone else’s). If we peel off and stick our heads in the rapidly-heating sand then arguments about migrant benefits really will look parochial in no time at all; the months after COP21 literally couldn’t be a worse time to promote an “every man for himself” mentality. Brexit

Hadrian’s Way and the joys of walking

Neil and I arrived at the end of Hadrian’s Way on Friday evening, sore but very content. I am so fond of spending days walking through the countryside, pack on back, and am growing to love it even more as the years go by, and as I find myself caring more deeply about the English countryside. For a few days everything slips away in the rhythm of the trail, and the modern demand for distraction is replaced by attention to maps and stiles and aching feet. I can’t claim that I ever quite manage to forget about the difficulties of work, but it’s much harder to interrogate the wisdom of going to law school all those years ago when you are trying to make your way to the top of an exceedingly steep hill. People say hello to one another as they pass, and when you see a familiar face from the trail in a pub, nobody asks what you do – they want to know how far you’ve walked, whether you’re camping, and how many days you’ve been on the go. Apart from posting a jubilant picture of Neil when Australian wickets started to fall on Thursday, I didn’t go anywhere near Facebook, and I didn’t plug myself into my music – as I usually do every day to distance myself from the traffic or other people in the gym.

I have always had a tendency to drift about not really looking at things, and this holiday made a conscious effort to try to change that. As a result, I spotted scores of tiny frogs creeping through the long-grass at the edges of Cumbrian fields and plump slugs scattering the footpath – which I would certainly have missed in previous years. The new focus was a welcome development – every philosophy of happiness I’ve come across talks about the importance of living in the moment rather than worrying about the past or future. Forget mindfulness – slug-counting is the thing.

Lots has been written about the philosophy of walking and the importance it can have in people’s lives (I intend to read Frederic Gros’ book shortly) – for me it is the perfect way to quieten my mind; untangle worries; experience the world at a gentler pace; and to find that you can still walk for miles without seeing another human being, should you wish to. It is also the ideal justification for eating lots of custardy puddings.

Kilvert’s Diary is proving to be the perfect back-to-work antidote. From what I have read so far, Reverend Francis Kilvert spent a great deal of time yomping through the countryside around Clyro, with a flask of wine and some apples in his pocket. “Struck over the top of the Vicar’s Hill and as I passed Cross Ffordd the frogs were croaking, snoring, and bubbling in the pool under the full moon.” Even if I can’t strike out across the fields for a few weeks now, this lively diary from the 1870s is sure to keep my spirits up.
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Polly Higgins and Samantha Power

My copy of Polly Higgins’ “Eradicating Ecocide” has now arrived, and it is next on my pile of things to read. In anticipation, I have been exploring the “Eradicating Ecocide” website, and reading about the proposed law – which in brief (i) proposes that ecocide should be considered to be a crime against peace, and (ii) creates an international duty of care to prevent the risk or realization of damage to ecosystems. The idea of legislating for this has apparently been around for decades now, and Polly Higgins’ draft law has been with the UN since 2010. So far, no decision appears to have been made.

In making these early explorations, I was reminded of Samantha Power’s gripping book, “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide”, which in part charts the tireless campaign of an individual called Raphael Lemkin to make genocide a crime. Though Lemkin (who himself had lost 49 relatives in the Holocaust) first created the word “genocide” in 1943, and though the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide became law in 1951, the US did not ratify the Convention until 1988. As Power explains so vividly, the US prevaricated over the issue for more than forty years, and displayed a continued reluctance to take action when it was needed (including, very famously, over the heinous crimes committed in Cambodia).

I appreciate, of course, that new international laws must be scrutinised with the greatest of care before they are implemented – but as I think back on Power’s words, the sluggishness of Western countries over the issue of climate change seems to have many parallels with the way in which acts of genocide were handled during the last century. In both cases, unjustified delays had the potential to lead to catastrophe.

Power ultimately closes her book with the following – which I think I ought to keep in mind as I begin to read Higgins’ work.

George Bernard Shaw once wrote, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” After a century of doing so little to prevent, suppress, and punish genocide, Americans must join and thereby legitimate the ranks of the unreasonable.

Pondering feminism…

As I mentioned in my review of “All That Is”, I had a number of occasionally tricky conversations about feminism over the Christmas holidays. And as is so often the way, the process of defending something has crystallised my own views, and forced me to re-evaluate exactly what it is I mean when I cry “I am a feminist!” over the brandy butter.

The brandy butter might have been replaced by a miserable to-do list, but I should start by laying my cards on the table. I am a feminist. I support feminism – which the Oxford Dictionary defines as being “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of the equality of the sexes.” Essentially it’s a no-brainer – I’m a thirty-year old woman who has grown up at a time when it’s still acceptable for a national newspaper to print topless pictures of women; when a growing political force in the UK has spawned an MEP who is totally comfortable saying that, “no self-respecting small businessman with a brain in the right place would ever employ a lady of childbearing age”; and when it’s apparently an acceptable thing to threaten to rape women on Twitter or in a stand-up routine.

That doesn’t mean that I’m always totally comfortable with shouting my feminism from the roof-tops, though, or that I think it’s a flawless ideology. Not because I have an issue with the essence of the word, but because, culturally at least, it does have negative connotations for a lot of people, some of which I think we need to talk about more. Ultimately it also comes down to the fact that I would never usually try to define myself using an “ism” –  I’m with Ferris Bueller on that one – because any collective is always going to have elements within it you don’t really want to associate yourself with. Caitlin Moran is an awesome role model for any young person, but do I really want to align myself with pop-stars who now claim they’re feminists because they take their clothes off and writhe about on stage? Or a woman who wants to eliminate the male sex? No, not really. I also just don’t really think about my gender that much, or ever want to start sentences with the phrase, “as a woman.” I appreciate, of course, that I have the luxury of taking that approach because of the brave women in history who fought so hard to give me the opportunities I’ve had, but there seems to be to be a paradox in fighting for gender equality using such an obviously gendered word. I’ll come back to that problem in a bit.

So, what are these negative connotations, then? First, the man-hating chestnut. Being a feminist does not mean that you hate men, or long to subject them to centuries of a dominant matriarchy. That’s not always as easy to refute as you’d think, though. It doesn’t really help when feminists write articles educating men on “what not to do,” or when even moderate online feminists gleefully seize on any ambiguous comment made by a man and tear him to shreds. If a man wrote an article saying, “hey, all of womankind, let me teach you how not to act like a tit,” I’d probably be fairly irritated. I’m also not convinced it helps when feminists make films showing what it’s like for a woman to walk down a street as scores of men heckle and stalk her, and offer it up as the norm. I’ve had a few sticky walks home in my time, and certainly know what it’s like to feel intimidated – as I’m sure most women do – but I don’t run a gauntlet of cat-calls every time I nip down to the shops. I’ve had a very privileged life in many respects but I haven’t lived in a bubble, and my experience is that, in the UK at least, those kinds of encounters are pretty rare. That doesn’t make them any less shocking, or wrong, or frightening when they do happen – but we don’t need to ramp it up. The reality of it happening from time to time in 2015 is weird enough.

In a similar vein to the “man-hating” point, I get the feeling that for some feminists, there’s a certain enjoyment to be had in catching men out. Let me repeat that feminism has absolutely nothing to do with hating men – but that does not mean that some women who call themselves feminists do not seek out a kind of moral superiority. There are indeed some fairly middle-of-the-road feminists out there who approach conversations on the subject like carrion birds, eagerly pouncing on any slip of the tongue or misplaced word which can be used to evince sexism. It’s exhausting. Feminism was born because women were genuinely oppressed – they had no legal rights, no power over their own lives, no right to education or independently-earned money. So when middle-class women sit around a dinner table now, drinking white wine and berating the poor man who has had the gall to say something they view as being “off-message”, it instinctively makes me want to distance myself from the “feminism” they are using as a way to score points: female genital mutilation is a modern outrage against British women’s rights – being offered a seat on the tube is not. That does not, though, mean that the rest of us should just abandon ship. Just as there are some sexist men out there, there are bound to be feminists who don’t really like men. I don’t refuse to support democracy just because it’s a kind of political structure shared by some people whose views radically differ to my own, and I won’t abandon feminism just because I disagree with the views espoused by a handful of other feminists.

And then there’s the word itself. Thanks to the brilliant Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, many people now consider feminism to be the political, social and economic equality of the sexes. What that neutral definition misses, though, is the emphasis on female advocacy. This is a word which is totally rooted in what it is to be a woman – hardly surprising, when you consider why it was created and when. Now, though, as feminists are increasingly inviting men to join the party and wear t-shirts emblazoned with the phrase, “this is what a feminist looks like”, men understandably don’t always know where they stand. If this is about equality, then when does it just talk about the feminine part of the equation? How would women feel if men asked us to embrace “manism” as a way of articulating equality between the sexes? Those totally fair questions do not mean that the word itself has run its course, though – they simply highlight the fact that this is an historic term forged in the heat of dissent, when the only way to achieve equality was to advance the cause of women. Of course the parameters have shifted over time, and feminism (in the UK at least) is no longer about procuring the vote for women, or legal independence. Now, it’s purpose is to achieve fairness in a greatly-changed, but still flawed social set-up. The feminism of 2015 is not the feminism of 1890, or 1970 – of course it is rooted in the advances made by those waves of feminism, but it is not shackled to them. The fact that “female” is at the heart of the word is our legacy – a reminder of the stark imbalance that used to exist until very recently, and the fight believers in equality specifically needed to undertake. And, as Caitlin Moran points out, the ultimate aim of feminism is to cease to exist. The moment we have raised women’s rights to the same level as men’s, “feminism” will evaporate and we can brand the ensuing preservation of equality any way we want to. We’re just not there yet – so hold on, ye haters of the word, it shouldn’t take too much longer.

So no, I don’t agree with every branch of feminism. To those feminists who think it is a movement for women only I say good luck to you, but leave me out of it. To those people who think all feminists have it in for Andy Warhol, I’d say do your research. Of course there are outliers, but there’s a very good reason why misandry and feminism are two very different things. To those people who dislike feminism because women and men are biologically different – parity and uniformity are not the same thing, and we’re not trying to elide them. I know I’m never going to bench-press 700 lb, and I wouldn’t expect my other half to breast-feed our children. I simply want to live in a world in which I don’t have to risk penury in order to have a child (thanks for the offer, though, UKIP).