On Tuesday night, for International Women’s Day, I saw Caitlin Moran and Jude Kelly (the founder of Women of the World festival at the Royal Festival Hall and the Artistic Director of the Southbank Centre) talk about Caitlin’s new book, Moranifesto, feminism, and politics in general. It was a brilliant evening, not least because it was fully accessible for deaf people with Stagetext providing a palantypist for captions, and because there were two BSL interpreters. Caitlin Moran’s ideas and thoughts were extremely thought-provoking, and often hilarious. Most of the talk, everyone was crying with laughter. She has an excellent sense of humour and talks about things in a way that feels relatable, accessible, and with a genuine sense of passion.
She spoke about a lot of things, amongst them the internet, bodies, self esteem, the experiences of teenage girls and her work with them, and she did a number of great readings from Moranifesto. Mostly though, for me, the biggest revelation was her thought that revolution has two definitions. The first one is violent, disruptive, rioting, an overthrowing of the system (that often ends in bloodshed and pain), rarely ending well for women and children – or, indeed, anyone.
The second is defined as seachange, transformation, a cultural and political shift, the changing of minds and the way we think about things. This second one – seachange, the changing of the way we do things on a groundroot level, is not a new idea. But it has so much potential. It is how we try to do things when we write about them, talk to each other, come up with ideas, and change the status quo. Working together in a non-violent, thoughtful way, in order to educate, inform, and think about new ways of doing things.
Ideas do have the power to change the way we see the world and the actions we take. Change takes a long time. If you look at how things have changed for women – our right to vote, reproductive rights, property laws, careers – things are far better, at least in the West. But. They are not entirely better, otherwise there wouldn’t be any need for feminism, there wouldn’t be the newly formed Women’s Equality Party. I wouldn’t see the need to write about or read about it. It would be easy for me to put the blinders on, after my early experiences with feminism, but I haven’t. You can’t raise your consciousness about something and then switch it off. It’s easy to find statistics about the state of gender equality across the world. Women are still the gender that suffers the most in war, with poverty, with sexual violence: the point is not that men don’t suffer too, but that we all suffer when women are not equal.
So, we have this idea that revolution is about transformation in attitudes, and cultural change. Feminism, at its heart, is about exactly that. It is the simple idea that women are people, that we are neither more or less important than men. It is about correcting the idea that men have more right to safety, good health, wealth, autonomy, and the freedom to choose how to live. We all have those rights in the UK and US, but for women, they are constantly being challenged, either by cultural bias and ignorance, or by the male dominated establishment.
Feminists don’t just support feminism. We have other causes and quite often you’ll find that feminists are more likely to be passionate allies for LGBTQ rights, or disability rights, or the rights of people of color. I know that, being a deaf woman, it means I’m far more aware of nuances and different isms. I don’t know everything, and I have a lot to learn, but I try my hardest to listen and be an ally. The thing is too, that men have a major part to play in the change of attitudes towards gender and women’s rights. Women being equal to men will be different, but in a good way. It means that, perhaps, gender will be more fluid, and there will be less need for stereotypical gender roles – for both men and women.
The major point that got me thinking was about how we talk about politics. Twitter (and perhaps Facebook) has completely changed the way we talk about politics, but not necessarily in a good way. There is too much fire-fighting, not enough listening, not enough time or space to talk about politics in a thorough, open way. You are forced to take sides, to defend, and not have open conversations about what is wrong with the world and what ideas we could have that might make things better. I rarely talk about politics. I’m partly afraid of getting things wrong – or of offending someone.
Caitlin Moran said something that stuck with me – that the language of politics – the lofty, inaccessible language, that you need to have a politics degree to understand – is scary and offputting. Politicians have lost our trust and being an MP is seen as a comedy role, where we are either afraid of their power or laugh at their ineptness. She made the point that people often used to talk about politics in pubs – and they are all closing down. Everyone ends up in a cramped one, with loud music and not enough space to sit down and have a good chat about what is going on in the world. We don’t make enough space or time to do that in our fast-paced, frenetic 24-7-on world.
She visited Greece with her husband (who is Greek), where there is so much political upheaval, and people were gathering outside bars and cafés to talk about politics. Greece was the birthplace of democracy, and I feel that change will only come if we find the time, space, and confidence to talk about politics with our friends and family, with colleagues, with allies. In an informal way, to change the idea of politics as something inaccessible and lofty, steeped in dusty textbook language, to something we can change and get involved in. You don’t have to have a degree in politics to be passionate about a cause. It will take patience and listening to each other, for a dialogue to emerge.
‘And revolutions are, most of all, made up of ideas. You can whittle away at reproductive rights, as conservatives have in most states of the union, but you can’t convince the majority of women that they should have no right to control their own bodies. Practical changes follow upon changes of the heart and mind.’ – Rebecca Solnit, Men Explain Things to Me.