I first made the decision to start writing this blog as a reaction to all of the things I could see around me that I was concerned about, or that I felt were unfair, or that I felt people should start waking up to. A lot of these things centred on social injustices, sexism, the way men and women are treated unequally and held to different standards, the way gender and sex is portrayed in society and how that has an effect on our identities and our mental health. Elements in these issues range from quite annoying – like the cheeky “bantz” of some otherwise moral people and the way Coca-Cola is now using half-naked women to sell milk (ironically called “Fairlife”), and some are downright fatal – like restrictive abortion law, domestic violence, and Female Genital Mutilation. Let’s face it, utopian equality and an end to sexism probably isn’t going to be achieved by the addition of my blog to a plethora of feminist commentary. This I am aware of. But I still wanted to get my opinion out there and I believe it is important that everyone has the right to do so. And maybe if just one person thinks a bit more about sexism, gender or mental health because of something I’ve written about then that’s amazing. Mostly I just felt that I had a lot to say about a lot of things (long suffering close friends and family will surely attest to this). And I there is still a lot I want to say.
However, since I started writing and actively engaging in social media and the conversations taking place in the world, something surprising happened. I became a touch overwhelmed. There is just so much; so much short snappy anger, so much misinterpretation, so much defence, so much pretence, so many opinions to tackle and not enough energy or word allowance to tackle them. I found myself wandering into conversations on social media where I managed to rub some people up the wrong way with my apparently “liberal” views on not actually castrating boys at birth. Whilst advocating sex and relationship education for young people, I found some were outraged at the idea that men’s “natural” tendencies towards violent abuse could be changed for some by early social learning. At one point I was being outflanked by two radicals who were attacking me from both sides over my seemingly optimist perspective that maybe, just maybe, not all male humans are born sexual predators. I never saw myself as conservative before but I suppose it’s all relative. And whilst I was already aware that my skin is not as thick as some might think it is, and that we all have to be prepared for differences in opinion, I did not think my voice would be voluntarily quietened so quickly and so easily. At this early stage in my quest to rid the world of misogyny have I already become so brow-beaten over a few tweets that I feel like giving up? Could it be that after only identifying as one for a few years, am I experiencing feminism ennui already?
I found myself doubting everything I was planning to write about, losing motivation by the minute and considering maybe just keeping my opinions to myself, or at least, not public. Then I started thinking that if it was this easy for me to feel this way, how easy must it be to discourage young men and women from identifying with feminism and all that it entails. I say all that it entails; feminism is only the idea that women should have equal rights and opportunities to men, it really only means that you believe in social, economic, and political equality for both sexes. But there are many who would have you associate it with angry lesbians who hate all men, and babies, and women who want babies, and women who take their husband’s surname, the colour pink, things that smell nice, and deodorant. Those who would defend the patriarchy have used tactics like this to put people off feminism for generations. And it works – there is a shadow of embarrassment around the word “feminist” so much that people find it extremely difficult to say they are one. There are people who exasperatedly laugh (“oh you’re one of those”), or roll their eyes, or even get a bit defensive in the presence of those who are openly okay with the fact that they quite like equality. (On a side note, if you are too afraid to say anything in front of a feminist – someone who simply wants equality of the sexes – then you should really reflect on your own opinions and worldview).
But there is also another end of this spectrum where some are just as quick to attack you if your version of how to fight sexism and achieve equality isn’t extreme enough, or radical enough, or doesn’t conform to their opinion of how things should be. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think there is a maximum limit to the speed at which we should be travelling towards equality, and I don’t believe in pandering to anyone’s traditional sensitivities in the process. But I do know that not everyone is perceiving feminism in the same way, not everyone is as free from the social and economic constraints as those who consider themselves the “enlightened” few. So it is easy to see how people who would like women to be treated equally and would otherwise identify as feminist, are put off the label in fear of either being socially ostracised by some friends and colleagues, or of being accused of accidentally apologising for rapists by fellow feminists. I certainly was. I thought I knew how to handle the former, but the latter is still new terrain.
A lot of what I have experienced on social media and commentaries around feminism is a debate about the word and the movement that is becoming so obscured from the point that while all of this is going on, we are getting nowhere nearer to a time when we no longer need the word itself. This is another tactic I’ve seen often used by those who would like to undermine feminism – “let’s accuse them of ignoring the plight of women in countries where the problem is worse, accuse them of hating men, accuse them of ‘white western feminism’, they’ll feel so bad about it that they’ll forget that they’re being paid considerably less than men, that they do not have autonomy over their own bodies, and that we have a culture which blames them when they are sexually attacked”.
But if you have an opinion, especially if it is of the equality variety, don’t allow people to silence you because they are louder, or because there are more of them, or because you perceive them to have more power or experience than you. It is important to listen, it is important to try to see things from other people’s perspectives, it is important to reflect on where your own opinions are coming from and what is informing them, but it is just as important to call out the problem, even if you don’t know exactly what the solution is yet. I think the actress Emma Watson put it best in her excellent speech at the UN in September when she said of feminism that “it is not the word that is important. It’s the idea behind it”.
So I have a few ideas, not only about feminism but about lots of things, and I am going to continue to use this blog to sound them out and practice the art of writing. I may be a novice, I may be too moderate to some and too radical to others, I may get it wrong and I may look back on this blog and wonder why I didn’t just keep a private diary (bingo!), I may eventually succumb to an overwhelming cynicism and chuckle at the next generation when they explode in anger about all manner of injustice (here’s hoping). But I’m going to do it anyway because I think that these things are important, I enjoy learning about them, I enjoy writing about them, and because if I don’t have a healthy outlet for my frustration, people will stop inviting me to fun social events (not really, I’m actually a hoot – feminists can be hoots too).
So if you’ve stuck with me this far, I’d like to end by thanking you for reading what is essentially a reflective self-motivational pep talk, and also this humdinger of a motivational quote of your own by the writer Roxane Gay –
“I’d rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all”.