Many years ago, I went to a press conference involving the two then government women's ministers, Tessa Jowell and Margaret Jay, and their colleague Helen Liddell, launching some initiative on women I now forget. I asked all three of them whether they would define themselves as feminists. One by one, they all squirmed and wriggled and said something along the lines of, ooh, well, er, no I wouldnt say a FEMINIST exactly, but....
This is daft. I knew all three well enough to know that in private that's exactly how they'd describe themselves (in fairness, I guess they'd now be happy to do it in public: this was back in the late 1990s, the Labour government was new and very nervous, and I was working for the Daily Mail.)
But it's also very common. "I'm not a feminist, but..." is a mad thing for any thinking woman to say. (But what? But on the whole, I'm in favour of having the vote? But ideally, I wouldn't stone women to death for adultery? But I'm not a total idiot either?)
The problem is with feminism's image. To many women it equals killjoy, man-hater, harridan: it equals not being allowed to shave your legs, banned from appreciating fashion or fun, lacking a sense of humour. This American poll illustrates the problem nicely: 70 per cent of American women wouldn't call themselves a feminist, but when feminism is defined for them neutrally (and accurately) as 'someone who believes in social, political and economic equality of the sexes', suddenly 65 per cent of them are feminists after all.
Similarly while over a quarter think the women's movement made their lives worse, when asked what made their lives better, the answers - equal pay, or more choices in life - lead straight back to the scary old women's movement. We just don't like to give it the credit.
So for anyone still hesitating, here are some myths about feminism laid to rest.
1. It's rubbish that stay at home mothers can't be feminists. Yes, Germaine Greer argued that economic independence from men was the foundation stone of women's freedom. If you rely solely on a male breadwinner for the longterm, you need to know you're gambling your economic future on the risk of divorce, bereavement or male redundancy.
But feminism is also about the right to make your own intelligent choices: it's about saying that nurturing other people shouldn't be regarded as 'lesser' than paid work, just because it's women who more often do it. Feminism can be about attacking the way working life is organised (to suit men with a wife at home) rather than about forcing women to fit into a male pattern of work.
2. It's not compulsory to hate men. Mary Wollstonecraft, the 18th century philosopher and early feminist, said she did not wish women 'to have power over men, but over themselves'. You can live with and love someone without having to be completely subservient to them.
3. Feminists do wear lipstick. They just do it knowing precisely who they're dressing up to please (could be men, could be themselves, doesn't matter) and they don't torture themselves to unnatural and/or ruinously expensive degrees trying to meet some loony vision of female attractiveness (corsets so tight you faint, cosmetic surgery that leaves you maimed, a size zero figure that means you can't actually eat).
4. Stuff doesn't happen by accident. If you enjoy having the right to vote, to get a mortgage in your own name, to get contraception without requiring your husband's permission, to be paid the same as the man sat next to you, to get pregnant without getting sacked, to an education, to say no - then you should give credit where credit's due. Happy International Women's Day.