Headline with Jonny Mitchell: Feminism is about equal rights for all

Thornhill Community Academy’s straight-talking headteacher Jonny Mitchell showed the world what life in the classroom is really like in the award-winning TV documentary series Educating Yorkshire.

Monday, 29th September 2014, 1:07 pm
HEAD LINES Jonny Mitchell.

Now he writes exclusively for us.

Every week he will give us his take on life in and outside school from his hometown in Dewsbury.

I am a feminist. There, I’ve said it. Or at least I am now, after Emma Watson’s quite remarkable and magnificent speech at the UN Headquarters in New York this week.

For the human race to have reached 2014, when we can put a man on the moon – although we choose not to bother – we can make breakthroughs that would alter the course of crippling, heartbreaking and debilitating illnesses, and we can store tens of thousands of pictures, songs, videos and goodness knows what else on a hard drive the size of a pencil eraser, and to not have reached a time when gender equality is achieved is nothing short of baffling.

The statistics of teenage girls being forced into marriages across the world are absolutely terrifying, as are the statistics and horror stories of female genital mutilation, and although many of these stories are from many thousands of miles away, we have a major part to play as a developed, prosperous and respected society, to stand up to gender inequality and to treat each others as equal.

I spend my working life striving to make the life chances better for young people. People who I see every day, improving, bettering themselves, pushing the boundaries of what they thought they could achieve. Boy or girl, it makes absolutely not a jot of difference.

Girls are encouraged to achieve just as much as their male counterparts, but when the most recent statistics show the gap in the UK between male and female hourly rates in the private sector stands at 15 per cent and is growing, it makes me sigh a little, and wonder how we – as a society – are trying to set an example to these young people.

Emma Watson is being roundly lauded for the quite brilliant, moving and passionate speech, where she spoke rather jocularly of her own experiences at the age of eight, when she first showed her feminist roots. Boys would call her ‘bossy’ for wanting to direct the plays that they performed in infant school, and later, spoke of the sadness at her male friends being unable to talk about their feelings because it wasn’t ‘masculine’ to do that.

And this is where we arrive. For a celebrated young actress to stand in New York and deliver a speech that people nod about and applaud, both externally and inwardly, is great. But that’s not going to change the world, unfortunately.

What’s going to move things forward, and what stands at least a chance at making this sometimes horrible and unfair world just a tiny bit better is listening to the words she says, and the tone of her voice. The passion flows through. This matters to her; it matters that feminism becomes a movement not solely for women, but for everyone. Women can play football; men can cry and talk about their feelings; girls can direct plays in infant school.

Human rights are human rights, and male or female, man, woman or child, we all deserve the same opportunities. If that makes me a feminist, then great.