What does feminism mean to you?
Feminism means that I am not treated differently because of my chosen gender. A person would not get less pay because they have brown hair: I should not get less pay because I am a woman. Feminism means that if I ever chose to have a family, that all my children will be afforded the same opportunities, irrespective of their gender. Feminism means that I can chose whether or not I actually want to have a family. Feminism means that I should be free to dress whatever way I chose, be that in a ‘masculine’ way or a ‘feminine’ way (completely arbitrary descriptors in my opinion by the way!) and not be treated differently: I should not be seen as being ‘less smart’ because I am in heels and I should not be treated as a ‘b*tch’ because I am in a suit. Feminism means that I can voice my opinion without it being dismissed or my being told that I am ‘overreacting’ or being ‘too emotional’. Feminism means a better distribution of the world’s wealth: women are just over 52% of the world’s population, yet only own 2% of the world’s wealth. Feminism means that instead of society teaching women the importance of not getting raped, that society will teach men the importance of not raping women. Feminism means that women who are sexually active are not called ‘sluts’ or ‘whores’ while sexually active men are revered for being ‘manly’ and ‘adhering to their natural desires and impulses’: everyone has natural sexual desires and impulses- it is ridiculous that only men are ‘allowed’ to act on them. Feminism means that I am free to make my own choices about my own body, without interference from a court room or archaic legislations. Feminism means that it is not acceptable for female sex-appeal to be used as a marketing tool- women’s breast do not make fizzy drinks taste any better, nor do their legs make a packet of crisps any more delicious to taste. Feminism means that I am treated as a person and not as a gender on legs.
When did you realise you were a feminist?
Even though I did not have the words for it, I knew from a very young age that I was a feminist. Just as much as I played ‘house’ with my dolls, I also had dolls that were career women who did not have to adhere to these ‘mommy and daddy’ roles. I knew I was a feminist whenever I told anyone as a child that my favourite colour was pink they responded by saying “pink to make the boys wink”- I had no interest in making boys wink at me- I just liked the colour! I knew I was a feminist when a primary school teacher told me that “boys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses”- to this day I still have hang ups about my glasses somehow making me less attractive to the outside world than if I had perfect 20/20 vision. I knew I was a feminist in secondary school when I was not allowed wear trousers to school because ‘skirts looked neater’ (as if that has anything to do with it in a convent school!). I knew I was a feminist when a girl in my year was not allowed to bring her girlfriend to the Debs because ‘the ticket only allows entry to one female and one male’. I knew I was a feminist when my workplace would only hire girls and we had to wear shorts and bare our legs. In a different workplace I was sent to work out the back because I wasn’t pretty enough to ‘attract the customers’. I know I am still a feminist because these issues not only affected me growing up, but they are affecting young children this very day. Feminism needs to start in childhood, where girls are not treated any differently because they of the colours they like, the clothes they wear, who they date or what they look like- and the same goes for boys, who should not be treated any less like a person just because they display these archaic stereotypical ‘feminine’ traits. The essay that sealed the deal for me being a feminist is Toril Moi’s “Feminist, female, feminine,” published in Catherine Belsey and Jane Moore (eds.), The Feminist Reader: Essays in Gender and the Politics of Literary Criticism (London: Macmillan; and Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1989), pp. 115-32. This essay and this book, given to me by my mother (who is the most wonderful, subtle and honourable feminist out there), comes with me wherever I go and is the ‘sacred text’ for all feminists out there!
What issue/area is the most important to you?
There is no one issue within the fight for equality that is the most important to me: I believe that equality will only ever be achieved when we get ‘the whole package’ so to speak. Equality between the genders, especially in relation to legislation and legally is something that I am particularly passionate about. I do not abide by the dichotomy of male v. female: I believe gender to be much more fluid than such binary terms, and that there is a whole spectrum of gender out there. By our laws having such binary oppositions, we are excluding many people from being legally protected. Marriage as being only allowed between ‘a man and a woman’ is outdated and excluding many citizens from expressing their love and being legally protected while doing so. Gender-recognition is something that also needs to be addressed; people who do not fit neatly into the gender binaries of ‘male’ or ‘female’ or denied the right to gender identity and gender expression. Without the law recognising fluid gender boundaries and variations within gender expression, then society as a whole will never accept people whose genders are seen as ‘different’. Women also need autonomous power over their own bodies- it is not the place of the state to decide what a corpus mentis and informed woman can and cannot do with her body. Other issues that I am passionate about are women having a right to education, work, equal pay and to raise a family if that is their choice.
What do you say to people who say “I’m not a feminist but…”
Well I suppose I try to find out exactly why it is that they do not identify as such: is it because they find the term to be a loaded one, associated with man-hating and bra-burning? Or are they actually the kind of people who believe that women should be tied to the kitchen sink, get less pay for equal (if not more) work, be denied the right to vote, be demoted down to second-class citizens and to be owned by men? If it is the latter, then I take them as a lost cause, shake my head, and run for the hills before they take out the shackles and drag me to the nearest kitchen. If it is the former, then I try to be a little bit patient. Yes, the term is one that has all sorts of connotations, not all of which are true (there is no actual evidence for any bra-burning to have ever taken place). I too used to have issues with the term- I am quite fond of shaving my legs if the notion strikes me! And I was not physiologically designed to go without a bra. But then I realised that these stereotypes were ridiculous, to build a bridge (girl power!) and to get over it. And that is what I tell people when they say “I am not a feminist but…” And as for those idiots out there who say we do not need feminism because women are treated equally anyway, I ask them why women in Iran are being excluded from universities? Why it is acceptable for women to be used as a marketing ploy? Why women are over half the population but only own one-fiftieth of it? Why men who chose to stay at home and raise a family are looked down upon? Why rape jokes are still seen as a source of amusement? Why are women stoned for committing adultery while the men walk away scot-free? And about a thousand other questions. If they can actually come up with an answer to one of them and how that means that we DON’T need feminism, then I will hang up my feminist hat for good. Somehow I don’t see that happening anytime soon…
Where do you see the feminist movement going in the future?
I think the feminist movement has so much further to go, that we cannot even comprehend it right now. Feminism needs to move out of the area of being a ‘woman’s movement’ and it needs to become a movement for equality, supported by men all over the world. Not only does feminism affect women, it affects men too. Just as much as women need to be recognised in the global workforce, men need to be recognised as valuable assets in the home, playing a pivotal role in raising the next generation, and thus providing an investment into the global economy. Feminism needs to extend into every corner of the world, providing women with the same opportunities as men: education, safe medical care, respect for the caring work they do both inside and outside the home, freedom to explore their chose belief or religion away from tyranny and abuse, safety to explore themselves as sexual beings, autonomy over their own bodies, and the liberty to freedom of mind and conscience. We are a long long time away from the feminist movement being a mere memory of times gone by, but someday I truly believe we will get there.