Until last week- the words ‘feminist’ and ‘feminism’ just weren’t on my radar. They just didn’t seem very relevant to me. If I am really honest with myself, I think the f words conjured up images of a kind of militant victim- someone angered by the things they had not been able to achieve and blaming someone else for their shortcomings.
More than that, in a quick word association game I played with myself, these words came up; brittle, humourless, patronising, sexless, petty, outdated, dusty, uptight, bitter, and angry. Not much fun in a party. I wasn’t conscious that this was my association- but I am now.
When Caitlin Moran first told me (at a dinner party) that her book was about feminism my ears pricked up…something did not compute but it took a while to work out what. Then it struck me - she was great FUN she knew how to PARTY, she loved and was respectful of her HUSBAND, she was fond of men and women alike, she was full of GREAT STORIES and the only chip I could ever imagine her having on her shoulder would be an actual chip after a late night post pub snack stop went a bit awry.
Wasn’t the feminist supposed to be the party pooper? The grump? The one taking life too seriously? Caitlin was the polar opposite of my mental image of a feminist. I’d better pay attention.
So I read her book, ‘How to Be a Woman’ and connected with it on so many levels including, as it happened, the issue of feminism. It turns out it’s an entirely different thing to what I had imagined it to be.
Before last week, if asked whether I was a feminist- I would falter, not knowing exactly what ‘being a feminist’ entailed. To me it felt a bit like ‘chauvinist’ but for women. Yes -I am aware that this is making me look like an ignorant idiot but it’s only because on this subject, I am one.
In her book, Caitlin describes how she used to think of Germaine Greer.
Her description totally clicked with me. It also became apparent that similarly to Caitlin (though 20 years later - to my shame) my previously held, if unacknowledged views on feminism didn’t come from having read anything about the subject, or anything by feminists per se…but possibly through comedy shows parodying the Germaine Greers of the world.
Also I couldn’t get beyond the title of Germaine Greer’s book, ‘The Female Eunuch’ - It brought to mind Lady Macbeth begging to be ‘unsexed’ and I think I subconsciously assumed that it was all about denial and that maybe I was supposed to be ashamed to be my version of female.
Of COURSE it’s fantastic women have the vote and get maternity leave; of COURSE I’m grateful to those before me who fought for equality- but wasn’t that battle already won? Wasn’t today’s feminism a bit like a lifeguard diving into the sea to save the life of a child who is actually just waving merrily and not drowning at all?
It seemed to me that a lot of what I (wrongly) attributed to ‘feminism’ was all about saying how we’re ‘better’ than men and that they’re a bit stupid and fighty aren’t they and they can’t multitask- hahaha stupid men!
There are a few female comics out there still doing this, and in adverts you often see men depicted as the barely tolerated thick idiot in the corner. I refer to this as BERNARDETTA MANNING humour. Well. I think Gandhi was right, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”
So yes I am feminist. For me it’s part of being an equalitist (new word)…. which means that sometimes I might also be a masculist- (yes I’m just making them up for fun now) -I agree with a lot of the issues raised by Fathers for Justice for example. I would go on to say I am also a racist if it didn’t mean the exact opposite of what it should if the English language was at ALL consistent. What I’m saying is- I believe in parity; a practicable equality.
It turns out, the reason I didn’t think I was a feminist was that my gran had done the ‘being a feminist’ thing to great success in her day. She didn’t change her name when she got married, refused to wear a wedding ring as her husband didn’t wear his, she earned her own money as a journalist then sculptor, only ever wore trousers and trainers or other flat shoes because that’s what she preferred- she is also a great character; ‘fetch me my knickers- I’m leaving”….
I was basically a third generation feminist without ever realising. In fact I was blissfully unaware that I was female in the, ‘It’s a problem’ way.
Looking back on my upbringing, I realise that my parents didn’t fall into the traditional gender roles either. They did the things they were good at or interested in and shared the boring stuff. They both worked. My dad did most of the cooking, and still does, because he enjoys it, and because my mum would also often work evenings. He was also great at making things- leather flute cases or handbags, tables, instruments, toys. My mum knew a lot about cars and would often out-knowledge a mechanic in the garage about what was wrong with our car that month… She hardly ever wears makeup or heels, for no other than she doesn’t want to. They were both equally affectionate and loving and equally likely to tell us off. We all did the decorating- we all ironed our own stuff and we all did the tidying (ish…Cue the telling off). It just wasn’t a thing.
So despite being born female, I didn’t come ready-installed with an informed opinion on feminism. It was something I would have to hunt down, and it just didn’t interest me because I didn’t know it was a thing.
In addition to anyone’s gender not being ‘a thing’ I was a tomboy. I was often mistaken for a boy and was actually stopped going into the ladies toilet with my mum when I was about 12. ‘He’s too old to go into the ladies’. I was always playing out, coming up with BMX stunts and making dens in forests with my sister and our friends. We’d start fires in the lanes around our house just to put them out and award ourselves ‘bravery certificates’. I had female friends, but I found the ‘boys’’ games more fun.
Then hormones kicked in and a lot changed- my male friends became exotic and otherworldly in some ways, so I felt more sure of myself around other girls than the boys for a lot of the teenage years.
And I never wanted to be a princess because it seemed to involve being prissy and grumpy and not being able to sleep if there was so much as a pea in the bed ‘JUST EAT THE PEA!’ - or being poisoned by an evil stepmother ‘DONT EAT THE APPLE!!’ Princesses seemed to have pretty lonely existences- familial love-wise. I never fantasised about my wedding day or getting married either. (Even though I ended up getting married at 23) These just weren’t things.
Now, as a 35year old, I have never had a ‘proper’ job in an office and therefore perhaps I have not been as exposed to sexist comments/ pay structures as much as some. I think I’m still quite a tomboy in a lot of ways, but I often like wearing heels and dresses when I’m going out- or on stage, and I do wear makeup (see earlier blog), but I also like wearing jeans and getting muddy- I’m a good map reader and I take great pride in my reverse parking skills- often standing by my car after a particularly marvelous park- nodding proudly at passers by, graciously accepting their applause… What?! Shuttup.
I’ve never found one iota of appeal in a girly night in where everyone does their nails/hair/talks about boys-and I have no interest in gossip magazines, shopping, shoes or handbags. But then I don’t know anyone who does. Not that there’s anything wrong with liking those things- each to their own.
In case you’re getting the impression that I’m of the belief that the traditional male skills are superior to the traditional female skills- I’m not. They’re all valuable- it’s just that they don’t always appear in the traditional genders.
I have, however found myself directing misogynistic thoughts towards myself when contemplating new projects, “Aren’t you a bit old for this?” -something it’s unlikely for a man to think at my age (unless he’s a ball boy or is re-sitting his GCSEs again). Luckily I realised I was putting that pressure on myself. It wasn’t coming from anyone else, the lingering ethers of more sexist days maybe, and the magazines that I don’t read- but not any individual I could point at other than me. So I have decided to ignore those thoughts when they arise.
Another Truth from Caitlin’s book - there are many- was the observation that women are constantly being asked ‘when are you going to have children?’. I’ve been asked this since I was about 23 and about to tour the world with my group, Bond for the first time- I remember being asked it by a journalist and being flummoxed…’What? We’re touring the world and you’re asking about babies? Are you asking Westlife the same thing? My plans for my lady-bits are not something I would like to share with the world thank you very much. In fact- if anyone asks, I’m thinking of getting crazy golf installed.’
Of course I didn’t say that- still being a bit wary of the dangers of getting on the wrong side of a journalist.
(Quick aside: No wonder there are so many seemingly saccharine artists saying what they are expected to say and acting as though they have no personality of their own…everybody wants to be liked. I’ve met a lot of these people and they are without exception more interesting and therefore loveable in real life than the characters they adopt for the media. They rely on the public for their success, and the public often has their opinion formed in large part by the media. Better safe than sorry, better bland than interesting…and no wonder some more insecure ones are getting botox- they have to freeze their faces to the point of petrifaction so that no-one can pap them mid-blink or pulling a weird expression. No expression = no dodgy pics. What a price to pay.)
I hadn’t really noticed all the little un-flushable floaters of sexism that are still around us before reading Caitlin’s book, perhaps because they’re so common place, there are no visible baddies and, to paraphrase Caitlin, we haven’t been burnt at the stake for a looong time. Well I completely agree with her that men aren’t the enemy- in fact a lot of them are really very lovely- and that when we encounter sexism the best thing to do is to laugh in its ridiculous face.
All of which is a very long-winded and self-indulgent way of saying- Aren’t we all just people? With different strengths and weaknesses that may or may not fall into traditional gender/race/age/social/financial-specific roles?
I really believe that it’s fine to do the best with what we’re given, arranging our strengths and weaknesses to our best advantage, whilst being respectful of others and generally not being a dick about it.
Caitlin puts it a lot better in her book, but I wasn’t sure whether I’d be allowed to directly quote from it - so I didn’t. Cree!
You should buy it anyway- it’s hilarious.