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Webinar — 22.02.21

Difficult Women with journalist Helen Lewis

Well-behaved women don't make history: difficult women do. Feminism's success is down to complicated, contradictory, imperfect women, who fought each other as well as fighting for equal rights. Helen Lewis argues that too many of these pioneers have been forgotten in our modern search for feel-good, inspirational heroines. It's time to reclaim the history of feminism as a history of difficult women.

Helen Lewis is a staff writer for the Atlantic, and a former deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has written for the Guardian, Sunday Times, New York Times and Vogue. She is a regular host of BBC Radio 4’s The Week in Westminster, and a regular panellist on The News Quiz and Saturday Review.

Helen joined us in February to talk about her career in journalism as well as the unvarnished - and unfinished - history of women's rights, as revealed in her Sunday Times bestseller, Difficult Women: A History of Feminism in 11 Fights.

'All the history you need to understand why you're so furious, angry and still hopeful about being a woman now' Caitlin Moran

'Compulsive, rigorous, unforgettable, hilarious and devastating' Hadley Freeman

Our 10 key takeaways:

1. Helen’s book ends in a manifesto: a positive note that reminds us that feminism has worked. So much has changed as a result of all the fights women have had on behalf of feminism. Women are powerful and some people hate feminism because it gets the job done.

2. Feminism has opened conversations on tricky, previously ‘shameful’ topics such as infertility and incontinence. However there are topics such as divorce that continue to be embarrassing to talk about it in some circumstances - we need to keep the conversation going.

3. When asked how to disagree well with someone: you need to remember that arguments have to be about the principle not the person - don’t argue with someone whose opinion you don’t respect. You’ll only waste your energy. Rather, create a connection. Find common ground so relationships become about more than just the issue.

4. In relation to online abuse or ‘trolling’: The barrage of online hate that something can receive is in reality only a tiny representation of a tiny number of people and their negative opinion; people getting worked up and who have been granted a voice because of online platforms.

5. Don’t measure your success by comparing yourself to other people. Rather, question yourself is this the best version of my own life?

6. Despite having interviewed tricky people it’s apparent that most people are nice! Namely Sidney Alford and Sue Black, whose respective jobs were incredibly challenging in different ways but they had both found an enthusiasm and cheerful zest for life within it. Isn’t that the real purpose of life? To do good and really, truly enjoy it.

7. Who has done the most for feminism over history? The creators of both the contraceptive pill and the washing machine have to be celebrated. The pill gave women control over their fertility granting them a freedom that was previously impossible. Likewise being able to pass over the labour intensive and time consuming tasks such as clothes washing to a machine freed up our time.

8. What are the next steps in the feminist movement? Care work. The pandemic has revealed and unravelled complex child and elderly care issues where the care role has defaulted to the women. This has to be addressed.

9. Everyone must read: Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado-Perez; We should all be feminists by Ngozi Adichie - available as a Ted Talk or transcript.

10. And finally, going to the library is restorative for the soul. Especially if you can find one like the one in Glasgow where you’re brought cups of tea!


Online Event, £10


Monday 22nd February 2021

7.30pm to 8.30pm


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Helen Lewis

Journalist, The Atlantic

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