Thursday, 19 May 2011

Am I a feminist?

Millie Tant from Viz - not my kind of feminist
This week I was asked when I knew I was a feminist. That remarkably good question was posed by Transatlantic Blonde. She has hosted a regular Feminist Friday slot at her blog.

She got me thinking: Am I a feminist? 

Well, it makes me furious that men get paid more than women for doing the same job. I rage that women get become insignificant at work once their work-life juggles become conspicuous. I think it's just crap that some girls aspire to be only someone's wife. (I'm not saying that being a good wife/mother/homemaker isn't important and sometimes difficult, but it's hardly splitting the atom. In my book, kids should start off with the loftiest goals and work down.) It also makes me cross that some men really, really, deep down don't think women are their equals - it's almost impossible to prove (and why should we) but you just know.

So, yeah, I am a feminist, just probably not a very good one.
For a few years, I worked on the Daily Star. Proper feminists wouldn't do that. The paper features pictures of women with no shirts on because men like to look at breasts. That's true, but I also believe it's one of the most honest newspapers of the lot. It promises nothing more than an entertaining 15-minute read during one's lunch break.

I gave up the battle to have it all. It was just too exhausting so now I work from home and my husband has the Big job.

I quite liked being wolf whistled (note, past tense as I'm over 40) but then, when I was bigger of bosom, men passing comment about my chest (they always said it was a complement) made me shrivel inside. That confused me.

While no women is to blame for being raped or otherwise assaulted, I do think it's important to take responsibility for your own safety in general. I mean you wouldn't leave your purse stuffed full of £50 notes, lying open and abandoned in a public place, would you? (UPDATE: I realise I've been as clear as mud here. Rape is rape and women should be free to dress exactly as they like. In any case, it makes no odds as rape is about power not 'sexiness'. My point, without wanting to open a can or worms, is that it's important neither to become unnecessarily vulnerable nor to live in fear. Neither will help.)

I like the trappings of being a girl, even if I'm not always the most accomplished with them. I like lacy bras, hairless legs and armpits, and high heels.

My biggest failing, though, is that I've never done anything to help other women. I'm just not sure I'm awfully good at 'sisterhood'. (Except, hopefully with my real sister)

But to answer Transatlantic Blonde's question: when did I realise I was a feminist? My first answer to her was that it was when men spoke to my tits not my face, but it wasn't then - that just astonished and amused me.

It was when I read The Women's Room by Marilyn French.

It tells the story of Mira Ward's life as she meets various women who are variously screwed over by various men. She, herself, is dumped by her husband who was almost certainly cheating on her. Not to worry, her kids have left home so she picks herself up and goes off to university and enjoys a personal renaissance. Then, though, she meets a man - a younger, hotter, more modern guy - and they set about having a blisteringly sexy relationship. All's well until she realises he wants her to go to Africa with him, giving up everything she's worked for, in order to be the mother of his children.

This was the point for me, to answer the question. I wept for Mira. She loved her man, but he wants kids and kids would mean her giving up everything else she wants.

That's the sticking point - you can't properly fly high when you've got kids. Or you can but the effort will nearly kill you. And the other way round, you can't give your kids what they need at the same time as giving yourself what you need. It's just impossible.

So what's to do? Lord knows. But more men who do more at home and with their kids would be a start. How about childcare that is affordable and guilt free? Let's chuck out the idea that work should happen from 9 to 5.

And perhaps the biggest thing? I know I said I'm a rubbish feminist, but I'm not half so bad as many women. Girls, if you really want equality then take action. Stop dissing your man's efforts at childcare and domesticity. Never, ever, tut, roll your eyes and say "men", they are not overgrown children with no emotional maturity. Pay your way. Don't let him get away with suggestions that you are in any way inferior to him - the only thing he can do, you can't is pee standing up. Oh, and, if you can manage all of this while looking sexy and not loosing your sense of humour, that'd be great.

Having thought about it over night I'd like to add two points.
I don't shave my armpits because I like it, I do it to conform.
The other thing 'They' should do to improve matters is force everyone (particularly male people) to read The Women's Room.


  1. You've met me in person and I love makeup and clothes that show off my hour-glass figure, but that doesn't make me any less of a feminist.

    I will have to disagree with you on one thing: no one asks to be raped. Wearing slutty clothes doesn't mean you are asking to be raped. Rape is about power not sex so sexy or slutty clothes have nothing to do with the matter.

    Personally you've been very supportive of me so I think you've got sisterhood down pat :)

  2. Sisterhood is helping other women when they're in distress or just in need of a bit of a lift. I've never found you lacking in that department at all.
    And I remember being amazed by The Women's Room too xxx

  3. Ellen I couldn't agree more. I'm not sure if I'm a feminist or just bitter but it does make me furious that after all this time we still live in a mans world (in the workplace at least). As a mum of three I actually can't afford to work due to the crippling cost of childcare. I loved my career and invested a great deal into it but I just can't justify such a self indulgent "hobby". Clearly the government and business leaders don't value our contribution that highly otherwise they would make it easier for us to balance work and kids.

  4. Melaina25,
    I'd like to clarify my comment, I don't think I explained myself. I agree wearing tarty clothes doesn't mean you're asking to be raped. I know that rape is about power and 'sexiness'. What I meant, but didn't explain well, is that we should do all we can to make ourselves less vulnerable. That is not putting ourselves at risk through drink or drugs, being aware of self defence and so on. And, yes, I know most attacks are not the cliched 'stranger in a dark ally type' but let's not give anyone an excuse. For me taking control may not make any difference in the end, but I'll feel better about it along the way. Phew - clear? probably not.

    Debbie, thanks xx

    Cath, that's it in a nutshell.

  5. Enough chat. Those shirts won't iron themselves you know.

  6. That makes sense. I don't think anyone should put themselves at risk, but while you shouldn't get so drunk you can't say no that doesn't mean you are saying yes. Do you know what I mean?

    Even if you are a drunken mess walking home alone you still aren't asking to be assaulted.

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  8. Feminism for me involves trying to raise my 3 sons to be men I would like to meet. Too many women fuss over their sons, doing everything for them, creating a routine of 'I do the tedious stuff, you have fun'. Most women I know who have brothers(me included) had to do more housework, cooking, helping out with younger siblings etc. I got dolls and prams, even an iron and ironing board before my 6th birthday, my brother got cars, electronic gaming stuff.... So, mothers of sons, if you're reading, be honest-do you do things for your boy/s they are capable of doing themselves?

  9. Lucewoman, Funnily enough, I've often thought I'm trying to raise sons who are capable of looking after themselves and will be an asset to their future other halves.

  10. I so agree with Lucewoman's point about raising sons to be good men.

    And that we women should not set our expectations too low. Some of my friends do the tutting, the "Men, what are they like?" comments. It is up to us women to say, "You are every bit as capable of picking up an iron and ironing your own shirts". Housework is not rocket science.

  11. Wish I'd had time to join in this week, interesting post. Will look out for that book.

  12. Mmelindor, you're right. We all should expect more of each other. It's very easy just to slip back into familiar roles. I think, and this might be controversial, sometimes the issue is as much about women struggling to give up domestic control as it is about sexism.

    Liveotherwise, I don't suppose Transatlantic Blonde will mind a latecomer. I'd love to read your views.

  13. So much to say on this issue! I'm going to have to save it and talk about it and then maybe shorten it for a decent comment. I am definitely a feminist, but not living a particularly feminist lifestyle right now!

  14. Hi Ellen, I'm visiting from Melaina's Feminist Friday (last week's one... lol.. I'm a bit slow!)I agree with you that women should raise their sons to be respectful. Now that my son is 17 I often look and listen at the way his peers talk and speak to their Mums and to women in general and wonder how they are going to be open to women working alongside them as partners and equals, if they are so obviously disrespectful to their own mothers.

  15. Vix, it's interesting. I see it all over the place and I just can't work out where it's coming from.

  16. I got told that I was a Feminist the other day. Not asked if I was, just told. All because I was explaining to someone why I don't particularly want to get married and, even if I do, don't plan on changing my name.
    If asked I would consider myself a Feminist, inasmuch as I believe in gender equality and despise this casual attitude that many have to sexism - making 'amusing' jokes about women belonging in the kitchen and responsible for cleaning are not funny or at all appropriate. However, as the conversation that led to me being called a Feminist shows, people still have some extremely strange ideas about what Feminism actually means!
    Anyone want to start a bonfire for the bra burning?

  17. h91c, thanks for the comment. How strange that someone could call you a feminist as if that was something a bit strange.
    I think it's frankly bizarre that it can be considered 'out there' to not change your name when you get married. I didn't and it still raises eyebrows in some circles.


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