Here is post number 3 of 7. The eagle-eyed amongst may have noticed that I missed yesterday out, due to being stuck in an almighty traffic jam. So today’s is extra long, just to make up for it 🙂
Used to be a feminist but lost your way? Too scared by all those angry youngsters to re-join the feminist-sphere? Maybe I can help… Butbefore we get to my story, here is a useful
Glossary of terms for the clueless feminist.
- Cisgender: a person who identifies with the biological gender they were born with.
- TERF: trans-exclusionary radical feminist. A feminist who believes that biological determinism is a fallacy and wants to exclude transwoman from feminist spaces.
- The kyriarchy: a social system that acknowledges differing strands of privilege, oppression, domination.
- Intersectional feminism: Intersectionality considers that the various forms of what it sees as social stratification, such as class, race, sexual orientation, age, disability and gender, do not exist separately from each other but are complexly interwoven. For example a woman may be oppressed because she is female but privileged because she is white.
- Empowerment feminism: media and merchandise (music, films, books, social media, slogan t-shirts) that make women feel empowered and strong without actually doing anything to change the status quo. Closely linked to commodity feminism. A slight of hand by the patriarchy.
- Feminazi; a derogatory word perpetuated mostly by young males on the internet against women who identify as feminists.
Plus two acronyms of my own for a midlife feminist like me.
- GLU: girls like us (we all went to boarding school together and giggled at The Feminine Mystique under the covers by torchlight)
- PAWW: Posh and white woman. Used to dominate feminism. Now learning to share.
My Feminist Life
I was born a feminist. This is because I was born a) female and b) with a ridiculously strong and sometimes hampering sense of justice. As an only child, sent to all girls schools, I rarely came across boys to the compare myself with. I suppose that can go one of two ways; for me, it led to an unerring sense of validity as a human, irrespective of my gender.
As I grew older, my feminism began to form, shaped by the work of second-wave feminists such as Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Germaine Greer and Andrea Dworkin. But this wave, occupied as it was with issues such as the gender pay gap, reproductive rights and domestic violence, had begun to run out steam by the time I came of age in the mid-80s. It almost felt as though these issues had been ‘sorted’ by changes in the law. Women of my age began to want to break free from the old bra-burning stereotypes, we wanted to be less communal and more individual. In other words, despite its overt opposition to her politics, feminism had become Thatcherised.
So the ‘90’s began, with third-wave feminism and an emphasis on individuality. There was the rise of the Ladette who liked a bit of drinking, swearing, finding porn ironically funny and having sex supposedly on her own terms. The Ladette’s intellectual superior was the Riot Grrrl, kick ass and taking no shit. Although third wave feminism made great strides in terms of diversity and inclusivity, ultimately it took itself down a cul-de-sac. But at the time it felt exciting and as though progress was unstoppable.
Yet it was also at this time that I tuned out of feminism. I was personally lost in a fog of mental health problems. Weighed down by heavy depression and gnawed at by excruciating anxieties, for years at a time I could only focus on getting myself through the next day. Ironically, for someone “born a feminist” I was saved by marrying a lovely man and having a lovely baby. And the shitloads of therapy that came afterwards.
But this was only the beginning of the truly lost years. Recovering from two decades of depression (my first bout was when I was 13 so it was well and truly entrenched by my early thirties) was extremely painful and difficult work. I didn’t help myself – although I didn’t know any better – by trying to be that perfect mother, the one with the superb cupcakes, who still looks good in a bikini. (By the way, I failed at both…).
It wasn’t until 2011 that I began the very slow journey towards thinking outwardly again. I logged onto the net and typed in feminism. I came across a few blogs that were sort of interesting but nothing that really inspired me. I thought I could write about ironic issues (Feminists and handbags! Feminists and sexy dressing!). But I still couldn’t get my feminist mojo in gear.
Then I found Another Angry Woman. A blog by Zoe Stavri, this really shook me out of my complacent boots. For a start, I didn’t understand half of what she was going about. This was the first I’d heard of intersectional feminism. I spent most of my time switching between her posts and the dictionary as I tried to find out what the definition of cisgender, TERF and the kyriarchy was. I didn’t always agree with her but there was an energy to her anger that was frightening and enervating at the same time.
Her uncompromising standards challenged me and my assumptions. I began to realise that not only had those old issues (pay gap, domestic violence, reproductive rights) not gone away but they were re-emerging, as vile as ever. And I began to see how narrow my feminism had been. How preoccupied I was with the few women who already had so much privilege.
Fourth Wave feminism is extremely challenging to me as a middle class, mid-century white woman. We feel like we waved the banner decades before and yet those youngsters are so darned unappreciative. They’ve created a whole ideology that seems to trample over all the work we and our predecessors did, even flat out rejecting their “Elder’s Wisdom” when it clashes with ‘new’ rights, ones that weren’t even floating in the ether when we were starting out.
Of course, looking back I can completely see how there was a patronising, imperialist approach to women of colour in the feminist movement. “We’ll sort it out for you, dear” seemed to be the narrative from the educated white women. I am now a fully paid-up member of the kyriarchy belief system. We have to look at all the aspects of oppression and spend time and energy untangling the chains that bind us, for we don’t each have them all. Race, religion, poverty and gender are intertwined in a way that is exhausting to keep battling and an understanding of it is the basis of all oppression and the possibility of being freed from it.
Also my old school feminism initially led me to comfortably embracing being a TERF. I admit that I have had sympathy with Julie Bindel when she calls for biologically born women to have enhanced legal rights to protect them. Or when Rose McGowan shouted down a transwoman who protested at the ‘exclusionary narrative’ of her book Brave. But this is an issue that you cannot be equivocal about. You must come down on one side of the fence or other. I had to really question my own prejudices and beliefs and ultimately I come down on the side of inclusivity. What makes a woman, or any human indeed, is not a static set of requirements and it is vital that we respond to changes in society, healthcare and technology. Moreover, the patriarchy relies on us oppressed groups in-fighting and wasting our energy on each other rather than banding together and facing it down.
Technology too has changed the face of feminism. Bringing people together and spreading the word has never been easier. Yet social media apps make it so undemanding to be a “feminist”, consequently it becomes much harder to truly be Feminist. It takes nothing to stick a feminist flavoured motivational quotation on Instagram and yet how much does this change? Technology has allowed for an explosion of ‘empowerment feminism’, a slight of hand by the patriarchy to make us think we’re being so radical and yet not actually achieving anything. Dancing to Beyoncé may make you feel like the queen of the world, just as dancing to Madonna did back in my day, but it changes very little. This is where sisterhood shoutouts and hashtags lead us up another cul-de-sac. It is bread and circuses; a form of distraction whilst the patriarchy gets on with its business.
Now, of course, I have to confess that there are no 3 easy steps to becoming a feminist. Because the first step is flipping hard. It’s about examining your own assumptions and belief system and sometimes painfully dismantling them. But it’s necessary work if we want to reach that utopian world of equality.
Ultimately, I feel as though I have a long way to go. I used to be so proud and cocky about my feminism but returning to it, I feel humbled. I knew so little. And as a PAWW, that humility is my starting point. I’m not sure how much privilege I have left. If there’s one thing I’ve learned is that whatever strand of oppression you may be fighting, nothing makes you less visible as a woman than ageing. That is my feminist agenda now, the iniquities of poverty and invisibility that ageing visits on women far more than on men.
And any privilege I have left I will use to protect space for others, with their broader ranges of experience, to speak. Because we still need so many, many voices in order to be heard.