This year hasn’t been going that great for me so far. A lot of shit has been hitting the fan, and when that happens I find I spend time considering a LOT of things and one of them has been where my feminism comes from.
Of course, it probably may also have something to do with all the Kathy Acker and Susan Faludi I’ve been reading.
For as long as I can remember, apart from the weird time when I thought girls wore pink and boys wore blue (a stage which highly perplexed my lesbian mother), I have been a feminist and I have never been ashamed of it. I guess the unusual nature of my upbringing encouraged this. Not everyone has a lesbian mother, and I was surrounded in my formative years by the big community of lesbian friends that she and her girlfriend had, and who all looked out for me and my bro too. I suppose being surrounded by women, and strong successful women, at such an early age meant that I never questioned that women couldn’t do what they liked, be it socially, academically, or sexually. As I grew older, I held tight on to this belief, and as I watched my mum succeed from housewife to owning her own business, I never flinched from the iron hard belief that my self, my body and my mind as a woman meant I should be able to and could do what I wanted.
Until I realised that I couldn’t.
At an early age I started to read feminist theory, mainly novels such as ‘A Woman’ by Sibilla Alermo, and Women’s Press books borrowed from the gay “commune” house of my mum’s friends, Maya Angelou and Plath, and then on to Greer and Wolf. Slowly I was learning through these books and through my own every day experiences that women weren’t equal to men. Even if, as I was constantly being told, we did have equal rights legally, socially I was surrounded by prejudice for women. I was constantly being told single mothers were unfit benefit fraudsters. I was, and am, surrounded by what Wolf called beauty pornography, from the big titted big haired mid nineties iconography, to the size 00 girls we see today. As a teenager I (not yet being aware of Bust and other zines) was stuck reading magazines that told me to devote my time and money to change myself to get a boyfriend, something which as a bisexual, wasn’t top of my list. I was in school where boys naturally had more attention paid to them, not through deliberation of the teachers, just because in our culture, boys do get more attention paid to them. What, with the combination of my own experiences as a young girl growing up with so-called equal rights, and the information I was mining from the local library and borrowed books of friends, the need and importance of feminism became huge to me.
We are living in a world where women risk having acid thrown in their faces if they don’t wear a burkha. We live in a world where the rape conviction rate is less than 5%, and people say women are asking for it if drunk in a short skirt. Where sentencing for domestic violence is being reduced from prison to anger management classes. Where abortion is so under threat in America that it looks like it will be banned even if the woman was raped or in danger of her life. As it stands anyway, abortion is so hard to obtain in many states, with often only one clinic available, and that one hard to get to past the campaigners. Where even here in the UK a Tory member thought it perfectly ok to propose a bill last year banning abortion under any circumstances. In the states, Viagra can be got free on health plans, the pill can not. Here, young girls still find it tricky to stand up for their bodies enough to demand condoms. In the developing world, it is women who are hardest hit by poverty. In many “developed” countries, it is women who are hardest hit by poverty. Women still have to face propaganda every day that negatively reflects their bodies, their work status, their marital status, how they behave as mothers and daughters and wives and girlfriends.
All of this is why I’m a feminist. This and because I am sick of being pinched and flashed, sick of being forced to feel afraid on the streets, sick of being afraid that my actions might force me to be judged, sick of being judged, sick of being called names and sick of not being able to say no and sick of not being able to say yes, sick of sexual double standards.
But more and more I find myself surrounded by women who refuse to say that they are feminists. From Kelis and Gwen Stefani coyly skirting around the word, to some of my best girl friends. But when you ask them whether they think women deserve all the injustices that were listed above, they say no, and when you ask them if they think women have equality, they say no. I have not met one woman who thinks women are asking to be raped, that women shouldn’t have legal access to abortion on her terms, who thinks women aren’t suffering from poverty or exclusion or sexism, be it on a global or personal scale. This in my mind, makes all these women feminists. I don’t think I’ve met a woman who doesn’t resent VAT on tampons.
Feminism is about freedom; of choice; freedom of behaviour; freedom to have access to whatever you need, be it water, food or medical care. Choice to have children or not, choice to be married, to work, to study, to walk down the street without a veil or without lipstick. It isn’t about the cartoon of chopping off men’s cocks whilst wearing dungarees. Although, it is about wearing dungarees if you want to. It is allowing women to do and achieve what they want.
Until this happens, we still need feminism.