There, I said it. In public. My friends – one in particular – have been trying to get me to recognise it for a while.
Why has it taken me so long? I guess it’s because I’ve never identified with the fierceness and passion with which some women speak on women’s issues. Friends like C, who is the first to point out injustices and bring them to people’s attention, share articles on issues and generally have a very wise and considered opinion on them.
My friends know me as someone who stands against sexism – and all the other -isms for that matter – so they were surprised when I boldly stated that I wasn’t a feminist last year. At a porn party of all times. “What kind of party?” I hear you cry. More on that in another blog post. Maybe.
I argued then that I don’t call myself anything because it means that people judge you on your opinions and views before you’ve had the chance to even express them. Everyone is different, I don’t want to be boxed into a category I have no control over how people label. I don’t want the responsibility of conforming to someone’s expectations of me. And, most of all, I think feminists are a bit scary.
What pushed me over the edge to claim this label today of all days were two things. First, the insanely disgusting way with which Marion Bartoli, the Wimbledon women’s singles winner, was attacked on Twitter before, during and after she played the game of her life. If you only read the reactions to the tweets, do yourself a favour and actually read some of the stuff they wrote. You will despair at human nature all over again.
Here are some gems:
“Bartoli looks like she is a cross between an ape and a man. #NotAWimbledonBabe”
“Bartoli you fat shit. I don’t want an ugly bitch to win”
“Bartoli has had erect nipples the whole game man she’s a vile filthy bitch”
Link to the full collection here.
Second, I watched a video in which Dustin Hoffman talked about the movie Tootsie. Turns out, it was never a comedy for him. The question he asked himself before he took on the project was: If you were born a woman, how would you be different? After the make-up department made Dustin a woman, he was shocked that he wasn’t more attractive, but he was told that it was as good as it gets – he was never going to be a “beautiful” member of the opposite sex. This is the part where he gets choked up and starts crying.
“It was at that point I had an epiphany … I think I’m an interesting woman and I know if I met myself at a party I would never talk to that character because she doesn’t fulfil physically the demands that we’re brought up to think women have to have in order for us to ask them out.”
Here’s the point I started crying myself: “There’s too many interesting woman I have not had the experience to know in this life because I have been brainwashed.” Wow. If only all men could have this same epiphany. Would you if you were faced with the same situation? I realised I have a part to play in passing on this strong message.
I tried the whole “rah-rah women” thing back at university and was told in no uncertain terms that I was the “wrong” sort of feminist: the liberal feminist. Hardly a feminist at all, really. According to the “real” ones, women should be given the same opportunities as men, yes. But they also have an ethical responsibility to all the women in the world to take those opportunities and ride them for all it’s worth. If that means popping out a child and going back to work the next day, so be it. Women who choose to stay at home and be a housewife/home executive/whatever we’re calling it these days really don’t deserve to be called women at all because they’re letting down the team.
But surely with opportunities come choice? If a woman makes a conscious, educated decision to be a stay-at-home mom then who are they harming? And why do “real” feminists get so upset about it? Yes, there are (too) many women in the world who think it’s their only choice, nay, their calling! But those aren’t the ones I’m referring to in this specific example.
So how did I climb out of my rut of disillusionment and come to call myself a feminist in the opening line of this post? The disillusionment is still there, unfortunately. But over the past few months I’ve learned that I’m not useful when I’m busy trying to fade into the background. My opinions are just as important and helpful as anyone else’s. Trying to avoid a label becomes selfish and self-involved when you look at what’s going on in the world around us.
There are people who think a female tennis player didn’t deserve to win because she didn’t conform to their brainwashed expectations. People who say that a woman deserved to be raped because of the short skirt she was wearing. Magazines that print an article about loving yourself for who you are, only to tell you just how much weight you need to lose to be beautiful on the next page. Pro-lifers who feel justified to decide on what a woman can’t and can’t do with her own body. Women who actively try and prevent a female colleague from furthering her career because of jealousy. People who call women sluts and judge them for their sexual behaviour. Religious folk who use their faith to justify harming women both physically and psychologically. People who read 50 Shades of Grey and actually enjoyed it. I may or may not be serious about that last point.
Those are facts of life. And women – at least those with the sense of right and wrong – need to stand up to those injustices with one voice. Men get to join too if they like. And before you get upset I invited men to the club, remember what I said about the thing to do with “one voice”. Why are feminists who want the same things in life at each other’s throats? Judging, excluding, generally doing all the things they’re meant to be fighting against.
Life lesson over. For me, and hopefully also for anyone who reads this that would like to call themselves a feminist but didn’t feel courageous enough, loud enough or woman enough.