I’ve been thinking a lot recently about feminism. I haven’t written a straight out article about feminism for a long time. This doesn’t mean that I don’t think about it or believe in certain aspects of it. I live feminism – it is part of my perspective and the way I see the world. I felt jaded about it all for a long time. I let myself be overly angry and sometimes that anger would consume me and send me into despair at the futility of fighting such insurmountable things. Sometimes I come across things on blogs or in newspapers or comments people make and I think: hold on a minute, that’s sexist. Whether or not people understand that is another matter.
For me, feminism isn’t a cult or something that stops women from doing whatever they want to do with their life. It is a tool and can be incredibly empowering; it can make your relationships with people better or worse, depending on how you deal with it. For a while, I had to work through a few things: and I’ve come to the conclusion that it can make life better if you let it. You make the rules – you don’t have to agree with everything within one movement, or accept all the things that have been written about or within the feminist movement.
There seems to be a misconception that feminism forces women to be high powered career women who mustn’t enjoy being a housewife or making a home or whatever. I come across this a lot. It was never feminism that said this – this sort of thinking is more to do with the ideals and culture that came through the 1980s. I for one, don’t want to be a high powered businesswoman – some women do, and that’s okay too. Each to their own. I’m a creative person – I think I would feel stifled in a environment that isn’t about creating or researching something interesting to me.
It also isn’t about being the ‘same’ as men – equality doesn’t mean being the same. It means being respected as a human being, with thoughts, feelings and autonomy. I feel like I’m on the periphery of the online movement – I don’t engage much any more. It isn’t because I don’t care – but there is sometimes only so much you can devote your time to. For the most part, I try to educate those around me and write about it; it is present in all my writing even when something I’m writing isn’t overtly feminist. As a writer, I try to create well rounded, complex characters, whether male or female (or both!!). I understand that some of my characters will be more feminine or masculine, but at the same time I recognise that all human beings have the capacity for many different traits. Just because you’re a man doesn’t mean you’ll be masculine; and just because you’re a woman doesn’t mean you’ll be feminine. I object to people believing that feminine means inferior, too. People are a mix of both, usually.
What makes me annoyed is when people make a joke out of my feminist perspective. I know when to laugh at something, particularly the irony of stereotypes; but our forebears fought for our rights, were imprisoned and force fed because they believed women had the right to vote. They were strong, didn’t back down and understood the importance of sticking to your convictions. I often see the word ‘post-feminist’ in the media, when the truth is that men and women need that kind of thinking more than ever. Everyone can learn from social rights movements – not just feminism. Multiple movements and ideas are important to me – body acceptance, disability, children, gay and lesbian (and bi), women and men of colour, trans…if you’re one (or two, or three), sometimes you understand the importance of all the others too. I recognise that I have a lot of privilege, but I also have a lot of empathy and try to understand how I can be better and understand other people’s identities better.
When I look at the world around me, sometimes I feel sick with worry about how things are going to turn out. I love that the UK generally accepts many different identities, that perhaps in some ways our islands are more tolerant than other places. Yes, there is still a long way to go, a lot of educating to do, a lot of tolerance needed. Yet I’ve met some incredible and inspiring people, people who make me want to know more about the world, who give me the courage to keep going. When you’re low and don’t know how to manage all the sadness going on, you just have to remember that there are amazing people out there who care, and give a damn. There are other people feeling the same way. The internet sometimes brings them together. I find it less helpful now to debate things and get into arguments – I prefer not to do that. A human only has so much energy they can spend on certain things – sometimes you need to be more selective and its fine to do that. I had to learn that the hard way. You just have to remember that other people are doing things too, that if you can’t necessarily do something because you’re doing too many things, they will do it. If you’re aware of certain things and want to know how you can help, sometimes you can do that by donating or spreading the word. The smallest little shout out into the virtual world catches on sooner or later.
I believe that radical feminism is still worthwhile. Some people don’t agree. I understand – its the negative image of it and misunderstandings that make it seem scary. Radical feminism is, pure and simple, looking at the roots of something to find out why it is that way. For example, looking at the roots of why women wear make up, or why some women feel bad about the way they look. It looks at the big picture and the roots of things, much like sociology or psychology examines the origins of social behaviour or the human psyche. For me, it is all connected. I don’t look at everything from a feminist viewpoint – I can watch a film without shouting at the screen if something is sexist, but I understand it as sexist and see that it is a sexist depiction. It is kind of like taking the pill in the Matrix and waking up to see the world as it is. Understanding why things are that way. Trying to find ways to make the world better.
So much of feminist doctrine is about analysing though – and I think once you get past the analysing, you can start to be constructive. It took me a while to fully ‘get’ feminism, and I had to go through a lot before I started to see nuances and grey areas and understand that nothing is black and white. I feel that every feminist goes through that – the initial ‘hell yeah, that’s wrong, lets go on marches to protest about it, lets argue about the finer points of gender definitions’ – to get to the subtler understandings of the world. I had to completely step out of the feminist community to sort out my own feelings about feminism and to get away from unhealthy anger. Its great to be angry if you do something constructive and positive with it, but I hated the arguments amongst feminists, amongst people who were narrowminded and refused to understand that sometimes, things are more complex. Or that just because you’re younger than them, they have more right to speak. There was a lot of ‘shouting’ and not many people being heard.
This is the opposite to what I experienced when I did my Women’s Studies MA. It was one of the best years of my life – women who understood, who all listened to each other and accepted difference. We didn’t all feel the same way about everything, and it was an education in itself to be learn that you don’t have to agree to feel sisterhood. Feminists sometimes have to agree to disagree about lots of things – about the best way to approach something or the best way to analyse something. Its the same with any kind of group or movement. It restored my faith in people, and made me feel less cynical about feminism.
So yeah – feminism. It is probably something that everyone feels differently about, but for me it is generally a positive thing, and something that can change, for the better, the way you feel and see the world.
Because women’s work is never done and is underpaid or unpaid or boring or repetitious and we’re the first to get fired and what we look like is more important than what we do and if we get raped it’s our fault and if we get beaten we must have provoked it and if we raise our voices we’re nagging bitches and if we enjoy sex we’re nymphos and if we don’t we’re frigid and if we love women it’s because we can’t get a “real” man and if we ask our doctor too many questions we’re neurotic and/or pushy and if we expect childcare we’re selfish and if we stand up for our rights we’re aggressive and “unfeminine” and if we don’t we’re typical weak females and if we want to get married we’re out to trap a man and if we don’t we’re unnatural and because we still can’t get an adequate safe contraceptive but men can walk on the moon and if we can’t cope or don’t want a pregnancy we’re made to feel guilty about abortion and…for lots of other reasons we are part of the women’s liberation movement. ~ Author unknown, quoted inThe Torch, 14 September 1987