How I Found My Feminism
When hearing about the horror that was the Santa Barbara shootings, and the outpouring of grief, fear, fury and, sadly, the disgusting diatribe, that it prompted, I chose to share a little bit of my own story on Facebook, in the hope it would make sense of some of the media storm that surrounded the shootings. Although I could never comment on or even fully understand the horrors that happened, I felt I could be honest about how they made me feel. This prompted further stories from others and even argument, but it began to make me realise that I could be more honest about my stance and my experiences.
So here is just one of the stories I shared…
Walking home from work one evening, I noticed I would have to pass a group of men. I sped up my step. One of them stepped in front of me, and I tried to move around. In response, he pulled the headphones off my head, meaning I had to stop otherwise I would be clothes-lined by my own wire. Shocked and a little afraid, I asked him what he (and his group of friends who were watching) wanted.
Just to talk, he said.
I said a polite no-thank-you and moved away. For my polite no-thank-you, I was called a stuck up bitch. Around the corner, I had to stop and take a breath, and make sure my keys were in one hand and my phone was in the other. Y’know. Just in case.
Just to talk, he said.
To anyone reading this: if your headphones were grabbed off your head by a complete stranger, whilst his friends look on, and all you’re doing is walking past the local McDonalds so you can get home and curl up with a book/DVD/cat/partner, would YOU immediately think: oh, it’s okay, he just wants to talk?
But that isn’t the first time I’ve been put in a situation that feels threatening. I have been catcalled, wolf-whistled, groped, grabbed, cornered, threatened. I have had drinks poured down me, and once I even had a guy try to spit on me (he missed). For a lot of women, this is not an unusual occurrence.
I don’t want to get in to a diatribe about misogyny, explain how the “it’s just banter” and “not all men” arguments make me want to facepalm myself into oblivion, or how the persistence of rape culture is not only sinister but downright dangerous. I don’t even really want to discuss all my experiences in return for a confusing blend of sympathy and trolling.
I want to talk about feminism.
Oh God, I hear you cry. Not armpit-hair-wielding, bra-burning, pseudo-militant FEMINISTS. Get thee away!
Excuse me whilst I yawn… Let’s talk about feminism for real.
Let’s talk about Laura Bates starting Everyday Sexism, Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holly Baxter giving the media the finger over at the Vagenda, and Caitlin Moran OWNING Twitter one hilarious pun-intended tweet at a time.
I picked these three because, as you can see from the picture, I have recently picked up three books for my reading pleasure, by each of the above.
So I’m going to break some stereotypes very quickly: feminists have a sense of humour (I laughed so hard at The Vagenda that I nearly snorted tea from my nose). They wear make-up and high heels (if they want) and sometimes they even diet. Their sexuality is determined by their attraction to a particular person, not their hatred of men – that means there are straight and gay feminists, FYI. They don’t burn their bras (they never did in the first place), and more often than not they shave their legs, and freak out about the weird stuff their body does, and care about what other people are saying about them, and can even hang out with guys without hating them. Those stereotypes are exhausting (both to feminists and those who make them up) and untrue and frankly BORING.
Feminists are proud, and fearless, and honest. They point out what is going wrong, and they demand that it changes.
Feminists are not only women.
If you are in charge of your own body, if you control what you do with it, then you’re pretty much the embodiment of feminism. If you think that it’s wrong that someone else gets to choose what somebody does with their body, then that’s feminism. It’s ownership of your own body, the skin you’re in, and it’s the belief that everyone else has that right too.
If you haven’t already, please take five minutes to read some of the tweets on #everydaysexism. This is a demonstration of what happens to people when another part of society decides that one part should not have control of their own bodies. When a part of society decides that one part doesn’t have the right to control what happens to them.
I realised that I needed to speak out, at long last. Because I listened to these inspiring people talking about rights and respect and all those other ideals that we claim to honour, but often ignore when they’re not convenient or “funny”. I began to understand what it means to be a feminist. I didn’t want to be an undercover feminist anymore. I didn’t want to “nip to the loo” when the rape jokes began because I felt uncomfortable, or feel embarrassed when someone ridiculed the word feminism because “who needs feminism anymore”. I want to be the person that stands there and challenges it. I want to stop saying “I have a boyfriend” when a guy hits on me, because they respect that more than my own personal preferences. I want to wear lipstick and not worry about it being too red, because that might come across as slutty.
There is a certain fear that comes with writing something like this, and preparing it to go out in to the Big Bad World. But where I let that keep me quiet before, I have realised that in doing so I was letting myself down. I wasn’t being a feminist in the way I wanted to be.
So here is Me. Being a Feminist.
Here is me, wearing lipstick and shaving my legs, and having a huge crush on Michael Fassbender. Here is me saying no means no, and I will not be afraid any more.
I want to hand every single person a copy of each of those three books, and ask them to read, to soak it up, and start to realise that three books are not the whole of feminism, just a bit of it, and the rest of feminism is belief and strength and courage.
So here is me, finding my feminism.