My hairdresser asked me last week if I was a feminist. I was flummoxed.
I am used to random questions from my hairdresser; she is a singular person with an unusual capacity for lateral thinking. And yet, on this occasion I found myself stuck for an answer.
Ten years ago, a teenage me would have railed at her. A feminist! Of course I'm a feminist, I'd have bellowed in my most unladylike baritone, and flung an Ani Di Franco CD at her for having the temerity to even ask the question.
Heading into my twenties, head full of Adrianne Rich poems and bons mots from de Beauvoir, my feminist credentials were as firmly established as my penchant for black velvet swing-coats and Rimmel Black Cherry lipstick. And yet, how we change.
A decade on and it is far harder to say whether the term still has any meaning at all for my generation, or whether it has simply been subsumed into the morass of labels and -isms that reek of days gone by.
In our post-modern era of fractured texts, virtual realities and multiple layers of meaning, the idea of having only one system, one theory through which one sees the world, is impossibly old fashioned, quaint even. Feminism, Bolshevism, pacifism, post-structuralism, dadaism. "Ism"s belong to a more innocent time, when people had the luxury (or the misfortune) to see things only one way.
We live - as we are constantly reminded by everyone from Paris Hilton to Barack Obama - in an age of irony. Irony is the most important filter in the way we see, and talk about, our world.
It's the reason John McCain can use a video of Paris to take a pot shot at Obama, and Paris can use a video of herself to take a pot shot at McCain. Parody, satire, self-reflexiveness. If I ever was a feminist, all of these things mean I can't be one any more.
Twenty years ago, or even 10, a sentence like the last one would have been enough to ensure a predictable deluge of what is euphemistically referred to as feedback.
The denial of feminism used to be a fairly dependable kick-start for a nicely rabid debate. And in between the "how dare yous" and the "good on yous" would have been many expressions of valid opinion on the issue. Because it was an issue that people - men as well as women - cared about. And now, I'll be surprised if there are any at all.
How many women of my generation would consider themselves feminists? Very few, I'd wager. It's a hopelessly dated term, and also, really, a given. Most of the women I know work, talk, and live in a state of equality with men.
They're paid as much, or more, and are just as ambitious, if not more. If single, they're likely to pursue exactly the sorts of sexual relationships that suit them, and ensure their own financial independence, rather than bet on Prince Charming ponying up when the time comes.
If they're married or attached, they're less likely to assume the traditional carer roles in the household, and more likely to share childcare duties in order to have a family and a career. This isn't a state of affairs that is endlessly pontificated on, or even discussed in anything beyond a cursory manner. Really, we just take it for granted and get on with it.
Anything else is just navel gazing, and we're far too busy lorrying back the pinot gris, blowing our disposable income and enjoying equally disposable love affairs to have too much time for that.
The equality enjoyed by women of my generation, and of the generations on either side of it, is a legacy of hundreds of years of thankless, fruitless-seeming juggling, grafting and struggling by all the women who came before us, and yet it is harder now than ever to identify with women's liberation as a movement.
Why? Because it is an artefact, because it has ceased to be contemporary and vital and real. That's not to say women aren't still struggling. The statistics don't lie; the lowest-paid workers in the world are women, the mothers and the daughters and the sisters who are still bearing the brunt of subsistence-level agriculture all over the world.
It is the women who work in sweatshops and the women who harvest the crops and the women who are trying to feed families in Sierra Leone.
But improving the lot of women like that is a question of global economics, rather than feminist dogma in action. Raising their consciousness and imbuing them with ideas of sisterhood are not the answer to the question of whether the developing world is owed a fair price for its labour.
I realise the iniquities and indignities that have been visited on my gender from the first witch ducking to headlines calling Britney fat. I know we live in an unfair world; it's the reason why, no matter how much money I earn, or how important my job, I won't ever feel comfortable asking a man out or splitting the bill on a date. Does that make me anti-feminist, or just confused and contemporary?
A retro-style Lady? And what the hell is a Rules Girl anyway? The post-Sex and the City generation can be forgiven for being confused about what exactly constitutes an evolved woman; we're told she can have it all, but all she really needs are the two "Ls" - labels and love.
I don't remember there being much about Vuitton in The Second Sex, but de Beauvoir's arrangement with Sartre was certainly a very modern sort of love. Alas history doesn't recall if he called her by Wednesday for a Saturday night date, so we don't know if she followed The Rules on that one or not.
De Beauvoir being de Beauvoir, I suspect she would have done exactly whatever the hell she wanted, which is really the only true feminist template those who wish to honour her legacy should be aiming to follow. That, despite what Andrea Dworkin or Germaine Greer would have you believe, is really all there is to it.
The legacy of feminism is freedom to choose, and it is that freedom that remains important and worth celebrating even though the term itself has gone the way of key-parties, macrame and fondue.