Or what it is like to be the only angry woman in the room a lot of the time and why it is necessary.
Also why I am really grateful to my parents!
I will start with the why I am a feminist and why I had trouble with the concept…
The concept and the label feminist used to worry me.
I used to say, I am not a feminist, I am in favour of equality for all people including men.
I used to say I am not a feminist because I didn’t want to be seen as a man hating shouty woman.
I used to say I am not a feminist because I didn’t understand what one really is.
I am not professing to be an expert, but I will tell you what I have learned and what I now believe being a feminist is.
Being a feminist is believing in equal rights for women.
That is EQUAL rights, not better than men, not more entitled than men, not a cunning ploy for women to rule the world, and definitely not an excuse for double standards.
That is equal RIGHTS, the right to do the same job as a man, if you want to. The right to wear revealing clothes if you want to. The right to do anything (within the law) that you want to.
But it is also the right not to.
Being a feminist (just like being a woman) is not the same for everyone, for some the choice to stay at home and look after children is the right choice for them. It is the same with the choice to wear conservative clothes or a headscarf.
As far as I am concerned, as long as this is a genuine choice, and not done because a person believes there is no other option available to them, then it is all good by me.
(not that I am expecting people to get my permission, or feel in anyway validated because I say it is ok, but you know what I mean).
Feminism to me is simply the belief that any woman, is worth as much (not just monetarily) as any man. It is the belief that all people are valid and deserve equal treatment no matter what.
(Note I am talking in terms of men and women, I fully understand that these terms as not as absolute and clear cut as the two terms would suggest, I am just using them for ease of writing)
So why is any of this important?
More to the point, why is any of this important enough to keep saying, to keep talking about, to write off topic blog posts about?
(yes…it is off topic, this is an exercise blog remember)
This is important because, as far as we have come (in the UK) since the days when women had to chain themselves to railings and burn bras, we still have a lot of inequality of attitude (if not actual legal inequality) and everyday sexism to deal with in this country. Not only that, but we can’t ignore the fact that there are still parts of the world where women are abused and oppressed simply because they are women.
We still live in a country where it is celebrated, or at least noted, when someone becomes the “first female…*insert male dominated profession*”. I personally know one of the first female London bus drivers and the first female deputy head college porter at an established Cambridge college. I remember when the first UK woman went into space (1991) and I remember when the British Army first allowed women in to combat roles (2016!!). I remember a lot more firsts like these, and I am only 41. This is not a long time really!
If we were living in a truly equal society, a woman doing a traditional male role, or even just a non traditional female role wouldn’t be cause for comment. Actually, it wouldn’t be a thing at all because the delineation between traditional male and traditional female role wouldn’t exist. Or at least it wouldn’t be as clear as it is at the moment.
Don’t get me wrong, I am aware that there are some differences between the sexes. Even I would be hard pushed to deny that the desire to have children and look after them is an instinct inherent to many women. Many, but not all, and I would question the role of societal conditioning in some cases.
Which quite neatly brings me around to one of the main problems that stand in the way of a truly equal society. The problem of society itself!
We live in a society that is inherently sexist:
We live in a society in which it is ok to write off acts of everyday sexism as jokes. Women who complain about constant “joking” derogatory comments about parking or clothes or shoes or shopping or “a woman’s place” are derided and glared at (sometimes even by other women) for not being able to take a joke. They get branded a “typical over sensitive woman”, get called “the fun police”. Any requests for consideration get branded “political correctness gone mad”.
Incidentally, political correctness is generally just asking people not to be dicks. Being angry that the “political correctness brigade” no longer “allow” you to laugh at or deride sections of the community because of gender/race/etc stereotypes makes you an idiot.
We live in a society where it is ok to question someones knowledge and ability just because of their gender. Ok, not legally, constantly and subtly. As a woman in engineering it is still common to be assumed to be in a junior or administrative role just because of gender.
We live in a society that thinks it is ok to commentate on women’s looks and fashion choice rather than their achievements and abilities. Now if it is a fashion magazine, this is probably acceptable, but it is not by any means limited to there.
We live in a society that conditions boys and girls to become a certain way from the moment they are born. It is done unconsciously and consciously through language, and expectations and marketing. It is this conditioning that needs to be addressed before we can live in a truly equal society.
If you don’t know what I mean, just listen to the way parents speak to their children.
To girls “you’re so pretty” to boys “you are big and strong”
To girls “that’s not very ladylike” to boys “boys will be boys”
Girls get to be the princess and boys the hero.
Girls are given cookers and baby dolls and boys are given cars and tools.
Being a girl is even spoken about as if it is an insult. Parents tell their boys not to be “such a girl” they tell them they are a big girl if they cry or show emotion. How does this tech anyone that people are equal. Boys and girls learn from this that a girl is a weaker person and a bad thing to be.
Girls learn that their looks are valued above all else and boys their strength. Boys are far more likely in many cases to be praised for their achievements rather than their looks. This continues well into the adult world, to the point where there is a subconscious belief in many people that a woman can’t be intelligent and pretty. There is a fundamental societal belief that a woman’s value is measured by her looks and a man’s by his achievements.
This is a trend that goes beyond childhood, women are marketed to based on looks and the perceived notion of achieving ageless perfection. Weight loss products are sold based on the notion that smaller is better, smaller and smaller and smaller until there are women and teenage girls starving themselves to fit into societal norms, to make men happy, to somehow achieve that ultimate goal of having a husband and children. 1000s of Anti aging products are sold to women because women must look youthful and vital at all times, presumably because the only way to attract a man is to look like you can have children. Even shampoo and soap is sold to women on the basis that it will make you look young and pretty, men’s are sold based on the fact they will make you clean, or smell nice… (with the exception of Lynx which is blatant false advertising anyway)
This type of normalised gender inequality is pervasive throughout all levels of society and it is this that needs to change before any real equality is possible. This is why it is necessary to keep pointing it out. Keep challenging people to consider their language choices. Keep making people think.
There is a danger that doing this will have you labeled the angry woman, or the fun police, or get told to lighten up…which is totally a proof that the problem still exists.
However as a good friend of mine once said, there is no good in just being ridiculed. So there are times and places for these things…
(I am very much a speak before I think sort of person, so I challenge everything…to the point of annoying people, but I don’t necessarily recommend it for everyone!)
Why am I grateful to my parents?
Well lots of reasons really, but for the purposes of this post I’ll stick to ones relating to equality.
I was brought up by my parents to believe that I could do anything. I was brought up to believe that I shouldn’t let anything as arbitrary as being a girl stop me doing things.
Whats more I was brought up to believe these things by being shown them again and again. I wasn’t simply told, it became a fundamental part of who I was.
I was raised in a household where both parents worked, both cooked, both cleaned, shopped, drove and most importantly treated each other as equals.
I was dressed in blue and yellow and green andpink, dressed in both trousers and dresses (not at the same time), I was dressed as a person.
I was given cars and Lego and dolls and bears to play with and books of all genres to read.
I was supported when I wanted to join air cadets, then the RAF (althuogh i didn’t in the end) I was encouraged to enjoy science and engineering and art and craft!
Whats more, all this happened in the late 70s early 80s. It is only very recently that I realised how rare this was at that time!
The most scary thing about this, is that sort of upbringing, free from gender stereotypes and expectations, is still rare now.
And that is why I am grateful to may parents, and why I won’t stop challenging sexist attitudes and behaviours.