What Does Feminism Mean to Me?

Updated: Apr 30, 2020

I know you've read a million articles on feminism. I know that you care. Or, at least you should care. If you haven't read a million articles on feminism then this might be a pretty good place to start.

Firstly just a few disclaimers so that we are all on the same page.

Not every feminist is a lesbian. Not every lesbian is a feminist. And, we do often shave our legs. Sometimes we don't shave our legs. Not every feminist is loud. Not every feminist is a woman.

Feminism: 'the belief that women should be allowed the same rights, power, and opportunities as men and be treated in the same way, or the set of activities intended to achieve this state'.
Feminist: 'a person who believes in feminism, and tries to achieve change that helps women to get equal opportunities and treatment'.

Feminist discourse is often dominated by extreme and polarised opinions. This is just my writing about feminism, what it looks like to me, and what it might look like to some others. It doesn't look the same to everyone. There is no right or wrong way to do feminism if you have the right intentions and a willingness to listen and to accept that every woman's story is valid.

To start, I am all too aware that there are areas of the world where women's rights are decades behind where we are now. 'Headscarves and Hymens' by Mona Eltahawy is an eye-opening introduction to problems of gender inequity in the Middle East, and is an essential read if this article resonates with you. It is all too important to acknowledge those who are facing a longer and more challenging battles for women rights. Bloody Good Period is an organisation providing support and education on ending period poverty. TED Talks has its own section on feminism. GURLS TALK is an online platform for women to discuss issues in a safe space, with their own podcasts on Spotify which aim to debate and educate. There are countless blogs, newspaper articles, magazines, podcasts and instagram profiles for educating yourself and meeting like minded people.

Cultural, socioeconomic and personal differences mean that feminism does not necessarily look the same to everyone. But, I guess that is the point of feminism. It is giving women the power to shape their world. Feminism is the idea and the attempt to advocate for equality across social, political and economic spheres, but it does not have all the answers ...

'When I justify bad choices I make it harder for women to achieve equality' says Roxanne Gay, author of Confessions of a Bad Feminist, in her TEDTalk on what it means to her to be a feminist. Much like Roxanne, pink is my favourite colour and I also listen to 'mortifyingly thuggish rap music' with undoubtably degrading lyrics. As a woman, the pressure from both yourself and from others to constantly be a kind of full-time advocate for women's rights can sometimes be overwhelming. Sometimes, it's about making consistently good choices like changing over the radio when Chris Brown is played. You can't save the world every day. It's just important that you constantly strive to create lasting and meaningful change.

And, it is okay if your view of the world changes every day. I think it is necessary to approach feminist thinking with an open mind - every single woman has something different to teach you about feminism and what it looks like to them. Women who choose to stay home and raise kids deserve the respect to do so, as long as it is their decision. We should not tear women down for their life choices, or impose some sort of conventional or expected societal role on them, but rather give them a space in the community to be heard and to be respected. As a woman, community is other women and the lessons you learned from them - lessons you continue to learn from them. Community is a fight for equality. We have to teach little girls that they can do anything they want. We have to raise boys and girls the same way. We have to take action to remove the misogyny that is so deeply entrenched throughout our society.

I was working behind a bar in my final year of university to help fund my education. One Saturday night, I agreed to serve a guy one last time as I was cleaning down for the night, because he had been up for drinks a few times throughout the evening. I did this partly out of kindness, but honestly it was mostly because he had earlier tipped me a fiver. When I then refused to serve a different group that came up to the bar, this guy turned round to the group of men and said 'she's only serving me because she knows I've got a big dick'.

They all laughed.

Now, not only is this ironic firstly because I am gay. But also because in his small self-absorbed mind he probably thought that this was true. Instead of retorting any kind of half witty and humorous reply as to why that was not the case, or throwing his unpaid drinks down the sink in front of him, I stood there embarrassed and smiling, and continued to shake his espresso martini. I later cried about the experience to my flatmates.

I'm not saying that this was some kind of deeply traumatising experience, because it wasn't. And, in comparison to many of the experiences that women have it is not even a scratch on the surface of the issue. But it is an experience, and it is my experience, and it will stay with me for a long time.

'It's not okay that these nuanced and unspoken experiences of what can only be described as degrading and humiliating ordeals are a day-to-day reality for many women, and that many men go un-checked for their unacceptable behaviour. Our society has normalised sexism to the point that we often fail to recognise it.'

It will stay with me for a few reasons. Most significantly because of the casual nature and mundaneness of his comment. I have no doubt that he is probably a nice guy who had a few too many drinks and thought it was a harmless, if not perhaps even flattering comment. The reality is that it was embarrassing and degrading. I was at work trying to do the job that I was paid to do, which is draining enough without the curveballs of casual sexism being thrown at you by ignorant and undereducated men. I'm sure that many women working in the hospitality industry could share a few similar stories with you. It's the small comments, it's the looks. Asking male colleagues the same question they have just asked you because, as a woman, you cannot possibly accurately relay to them the entire selection of draft beers on offer. In almost any workplace setting that you can think of, women have to fight an often unseen battle to be regarded as equals.

And quite honestly, being quiet is no longer good enough for me. I only wish that I could have spoken up at the time. It's not okay that these nuanced and unspoken experiences of degrading and humiliating ordeals are a day-to-day reality for many women, and that men go largely un-checked for their unacceptable behaviour. Our society has normalised sexism to the point that we often fail to recognise it. It is so alarmingly inherent that we accept it as some kind of norm; boys will be boys. No.

We deserve the right to be heard the same as men. Anger is a reasonable response. It is okay to speak out, even if you feel like it is not your place to. It is absolutely your place to. Every girl and every woman has experiences that shape her view of the world and her place in it. Every experience is valid. Stop over apologising. Stop feeling like you don't deserve to be there. Stop hiding your feelings. Stop changing your behaviours to fit in with the male gaze. Wear whatever the hell you want to. Educate anyone who will listen. And, don't be too hard on yourself if you don't always have the energy to redirect peoples ignorance.

I honestly and truthfully cannot understand why there is any, let alone the staggering amount of, opposition to equal rights for women. To equal rights for anyone for that matter. It is just beyond me. I am aware that cultural and religious teachings, fear of disrupting established gender roles, the association of feminism with a set of angry women, and the fear of men that they may somehow lose out are all factors in why inequality is still a barrier to many women in different areas of their life.

If you have a daughter you should be a feminist. If you believe in human rights you should be a feminist. If you want to pave the way for future generations you should be a feminist. If you belong to any minority that constantly has to give way to the privilege of others you should be a feminist. It is not a bad thing to be a feminist. You can make a difference however you want to.

And, luckily, respecting women is actually really easy so just do it.

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