Edinburgh International Book Festival: Fifty Shades of Feminism

Review by Rowena McIntosh | 28 Aug 2013
  • Lisa Appignanesi- Fifty Shades of Feminism

Unusually the chair of this event Kate Mosse, author and co-founder of the Women’s Prize for Fiction is also one of the contributors to the book under discussion. She is joined by the co-editor of Fifty Shades of Feminism Lisa Appignanesi and author and reviewer Kamila Shamsie, whose mother contributed an essay.

Appignanesi describes how the book “came out of a big long moan.” She and some colleagues were lamenting the surge in negative attitudes towards women - the government discussing “legitimate” rape, the Rochdale scandal, the rise of everyday sexism - when they decided they needed to stop talking and start doing. Thus Fifty Shades of Feminism was born. Appignanesi states that they wanted the book to showcase the opinions of fifty different women, with very different jobs, life experiences and attitudes to feminism and ask them to describe what it is to be a woman and to maybe take on the F word. They wanted it to be an inclusive work that showcased varying attitudes towards womanhood and feminism. Mosse describes how for her feminism has always been about fairness and allowing people to feel differently. She uses the example that two men debating in parliament don’t have to feel or think the same, so why should women or feminists.

Several of the essays in the book are concerned with First World feminists' attitudes towards women in developing countries. Shamsie, originally from Pakistan, emphasises that we need to address how we frame the debate about the treatment of women in other countries. She argues we shouldn’t blame religion or politics but the men who abuse: “Show me the country where women don’t suffer sexual harassment, show me the country where there is no rape”. Patriarchy is worldwide and so feminism must be too, but we need to work on how women of different classes and ethnicities can talk to each other about it.  

A male audience member questions the role men should play in modern day feminism. Appignanesi replied that they shouldn’t see feminism as against them, that it has always been a two way conversation and they should be more involved in the discussion. Shamsie states that men don’t need to declare “I’m a feminist” but should show it through their actions, citing her father’s equal role in parenting as an example. Mosse adds that they shouldn’t wait for women to notice their absence but should take it upon themselves to highlight gender inequality in the work place.

The discussion concludes with Mosse’s poignant point about what both genders can do for feminism. She highlights the prevalence of rape jokes in modern culture, acknowledging that not wanting to be called a boring feminist causes us to shy away from calling people out. She argues that to be a feminist we don’t all have to be reclaiming the night but it is those tiny moments when you speak up that will ring the change.

Kate Mosse, Lisa Appignanesi and Kamila Shamsie appeared at The Edinburgh International Book Festival on 20th Aug. http://www.edbookfest.co.uk/the-festival/whats-on/fifty-shades-of-feminism