I have called myself a feminist since I was about 13 years old, introducing the role of sexism in job roles in a GCSE English lesson.
Most of my adult life I feel I’ve been banging on about some feminist, sexist or downright misogynistic issue or other, happy to debate the plight between the sexes or women’s place in society with anyone who would engage.
This was fine within the confines of the lecture theatres. It was fine introducing the concepts to the young women groups I ran at the beginning of my career in youth work. It was fine during my four year involvement in V-Day activities.…
But now I am a 40 year old, educated, white women living in the UK with a salary and the means to be financially independent. This sometimes makes it hard to justify my feminism on an individual level – what do I have to moan about, huh?
I see many of my friends and colleagues look askance, roll their eyes, get defensive when I start to talk about what I’ve read, heard or think – and that’s just the women.
My simple response to this is, despite living in a capitalist, consumerist, ‘I’ culture, I still feel the ‘we’ and I don’t need to look very far to see the injustices towards women and girls around me.
Here’s a few examples:
barely dressed women on the cover of magazines aimed at men
women’s magazines financed by ad after ad after ad calling us to be obsessed with our looks
the Twitter response to a recent rape case involving footballer, Ched Evans
the implicit limited expectations in the toys, books, TV, films and clothes marketed at girls
girls not participating in activities to avoid ridicule about their looks
young women in care more likely to be victims of sexual exploitation
…and that’s just in our privileged society…..don’t even get me started on the plight of women and girls in other parts of the world. It makes me upset. It makes me angry. It makes me rant….and I won’t apologise.
So I’m 40 and educated and financially independent; I can make sense of the conflicting messages fed to me on a daily basis; I can avoid what I don’t like and embrace what I do… but then I had a daughter and have had to re-evaluate all I think, feel, say and do about my personal feminism.
I now need to find a discourse which helps me to raise her believing that her life chances are not limited by her sex; that she doesn’t need to use her sexuality to get what she wants; that her body is her own and capable of amazing things. She will also need to learn how to be resilient and the confidence to reject the rest of our culture which is already telling her that the opposite is true.
At the same time I don’t want her to develop a complex, I don’t want her to feel guilty for enjoying the odd Disney princess or dressing up like one from time to time, I don’t want her to feel like the odd one out. I want her to be who she is, to like what she likes, to grow up with an inquisitive and challenging mind that isn’t limited by choice or her gender.
Which is one of the reasons I started to write this blog. I needed a space, a forum, to explore my angsts. I feel like a lot of the time I am a lone voice, that people look at me like I’ve gone slightly mad and are bored with my rantings. Or they get defensive, believing my rants to be a personal attack – I just want to change the world with some support to do it, to talk to like minded people so we can move these very old issues forward.
I can’t pretend that things are all better now, the goal posts may have changed slightly – a glossing over of some of the issues to make them less explicit, a subtle cultural campaign that has all but succeeded in making Feminism a dirty word and pitched women against each other.
This puts me in mind of Germaine Greer’s acid response to Eve Ensler’s play,The Vagina Monologues. Amongst some of the criticism she throws towards it came her claim that:
.. there are serious and important points to be made about women’s attitudes to their own bodies, but feminists were making these points 30 years before Ensler clambered on the bandwagon.
If they are still relevant 30 years on, surely we should still be discussing them?
Greer concludes her article with the following statement:
“Misogyny is real and pervasive….Our whole culture needs to acknowledge its deep ambivalence about femaleness and take aggressive measures to raise women in their own and others’ estimation but the way to go about it is not to replicate a much-hyped and fundamentally unchallenging piece of buffoonish American hoop-la.”
She seems to be missing the point that the play continues to engage women, and men, throughout the world in a way that is accessible to the masses than a more intellectual kind of feminist discourse.
She also fails to mention that Ensler has been using the success of the play to empower women and raise money at grass roots level for many charities and organisations who work with women and girls who are victims of the misogyny Greer talks about.
So there it is, a bit of a rant on the state of my feminism. I needed to do it, to clear my head, to stop feeling angry with the people around me for shaking their heads and rolling their eyes because I bring it up whenever I come face to face with the perpetuation of damaging myths and stereotypes.
I ask one question back…. why bloody shouldn’t I?