When I was younger I was a bit of an awkward girl, I was never into the girlie girlie stuff, but at the same time I was no tomboy. I was painfully shy, and that was made worse by not feeling like I had enough in common with people, so I found it hard to relate and join in.
I know many people tried to fit me into the tomboy box, I hated the colour pink and would refuse dresses and skirts.
This is me at a formal church event. As far as I remember I was the only girl in trousers.
I just wasn’t comfortable in either prescribed gender. I was also aware early on of gender imbalance, I remember growing up in a cul-de-sac that had many more boys than girls, and remember being aware even back then how we were treated so differently. I also remember one of the older boys demanding a kiss from me, and when I refused I got ostracised by the rest of the group. (I wasn’t fun or something like that)
Of course I was too young to know about feminism, so when I finally discovered it I was thrilled. Here were other girls and women like me, and even better, they wanted to change things!
As I got older I got myself a bit of a reputation for challenging sexist views. I hadn’t realised how much until I went into work one day and discovered all the staff waiting for me to arrive so they could tell me the area manager had done something horrifically sexist. At this point though I hadn’t read any feminist literature or spoken to more well read feminists. I used the internet for entertainment and distraction, hadn’t occurred to me to get involved in the more serious side of it all.
My first dalliance with internet feminism did initially have me declaring myself an equalist not a feminist, and wanting to distance myself from rad fems in particular. Part of it was encounters with some very vocal people who I disagreed with. Mostly over Burlesque. Not long before I’d been running an online Burlesque magazine and had spent the past few years heavily involved in the Burlesque scene particularly in Brighton. Obviously the rad fem view of it isn’t too complimentary, understandably from their position. Doesn’t mean I agree entirely with them on it now, I saw Burlesque do a lot of good for a lot of people, and I adore so many people I met through it. While some of the feminists I spoke to back then were being plain nasty (and crappy feminists) with their body shaming/slut shaming comments about performers, many of them spoke reasonably about their objections to it. Unfortunately this was one of those situations where I wasn’t understanding that they were analysing it in context of a patriachal system that bases women’s worth on their appearance/sex appeal. I had the same problem over shaving pubic hair. I was also misinterpreting the comments as value judgements on the women who perform or shave. Which they (for the most part) weren’t.
Over time I came to realise that when a feminist said that shaving pubes added to a culture where women were expected to change their totally natural bodies and actually be ashamed of them, that they were commenting on it as a social trend, not as a criticism of those who shaved. I also became aware that it was entirely possible to lament that so much pressure was on women to conform to unnatural beauty ideals while still wanting to shave, wear makeup, etc. I understood that in an ideal world there’d be no pressure to perform femininity (Side note: my music player has just started playing The Stripper, you’re a paragraph too late Spotify!) and all these things would be a real choice, with no pressure attached, rather than a choice limited by societal pressure and expectations. If it’s a choice between shave or be treated like shit for not shaving, then it’s no choice really. While some people may be able to withstand the latter, many can’t. If the norm was to not judge women based on how they looked then shaving would be a real choice, not a sham one.
Once I’d realised that feminism looks at the bigger picture I realised I was missing something by calling myself equalist. I also realised that calling myself feminist does not stop me from caring about other injustices, even against men! In fact my feminism became a stronger force in my life once I had my son, because I became painfully aware of how this stupid gender binary would mean that my sweet, gentle, hoover obsessed little boy would be told he couldn’t be any of those things. Not with a penis anyway.
I also started to understand the rad fem perspective more at that point. While before I’d thought the rad fem position of wanting to tear down oppressive constructs such as gender as being overly ambitious I suddenly got it. I used to think it was better to change things from the inside, I realise it was because I thought there was no rush. But there is. For my children. For other people’s children. For those of us no longer children. It would benefit all of us to shake things up drastically.
Nowadays I consider myself a rad fem on some issues. Specifically gender. I want gender as a term to be obsolete, or to only refer to physical/biological differences. I don’t want children to grow up thinking there are separate boys and girls toys or interests. I want men and women to be treated as equals. I want society to forget this bullshit about gendered personalities. I want us to be able to just be us, without being forced into gendered boxes.
I love feminism for freeing me, I hope it can free many others. But I know there will always be push back, some malicious, some not. I just wish there was some way to get through to those who think feminism is a force for evil and get them to see all the advantages it fights for.
So this goes out to all the feminists I’ve met in my life, thank you. Even those of you I disagree with, thank you for forcing me to really think through my beliefs.