Well, I'll go to the foot of my stairs...

Often startled, frequently amused, sometimes scared; rarely speechless. Can be found at witchywoo22@yahoo.co.uk

Sunday, September 24, 2006

What is this feminism lark, exactly....?

I know I’ve written
before about how my mum and I talked about feminism when I was young and that just seeing what was happening to her was demonstration enough, for me, that something needed to change. My mum might have sparked and fed my feminism - but it was my own experience that really fuelled it.

When I was 14 years old and discussing O Level options with my form teacher I told her that I wanted to take Technical Drawing at O Level. I’ve always had an artistic hand and, back then, I wanted to be a cartographer. I seriously wanted to make maps. The boys at my school did TD from the first year onwards while the girls did needlework - although girls did get a turn at woodwork and metalwork in the first and second year while the boys got a turn at needlework and cookery. It was quite a forward thinking school, for it’s time.

My form teacher was also my needlework teacher and I’m crap at needlework – always have been – mainly because of the unrealistic expectations an unskilled primary school teacher had of a shy and lateral thinking eight year old (me!). So I wanted to drop needlework O Level and take TD instead because I knew that, if I was ever to become a cartographer, TD was the place to start and I’d need that piece of paper that said I could do it. My form teacher (who was also my needlework teacher, don’t forget) told me that I couldn’t because:

a) “The boys have already done two years TD and you’ll never catch up.” Um, how did she know I’d “never catch up”? Given that I had an artistic hand that was universally acknowledged plus a strong desire to take the subject I’d have thought it wouldn’t have taken too big a stretch of her imagination to think that I might? Besides, the boys were just starting the O Level syllabus so I wouldn’t have been miles behind anyway.

But this was the doozy:

b) “It’s a boy’s subject. You only want to take it to be with the boys.”

That made me so furious! But how can a 14 year old argue with that - “It’s a boy’s subject”? So only the boys get to be the people who make the maps? Only the boys get to be the people who chart the world; the land, the oceans, the mountains and hills, the cities, the streets? Only the boys get to be the people who make the drawings that let us know where we are in the world?

Not to mention the “You only want to take it to be with the boys.” I mean, what?? Ok, so I was fairly popular - but I’m going to base my whole career options just on “being with the boys”?? I have brothers for crying out loud! I knew from age 4 that boys aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. She knew that.

But she’d said it and her evaluation counted - she was my form teacher. It was so.

And there my personal journey into feminism began. Not by proxy through my mum and not in theory through the books and articles I was reading. My own, personal journey resulting from my own personal, recognised experience of sexism. And, yes, that sexist judgement of me as a girl at age 14 totally altered the course of my life. Not that I’m not ok with my life – I’m extraordinarily pleased with where I am now (though, I have to say, it’s been somewhat hit and miss getting here - more luck than judgement, you know?) – but the same can’t be said for hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of other 14 year old girls across the globe who have had, or are having, far worse sexist assumptions made about their futures and are having to live them.

I’ve been doing some straw poll research recently and, almost universally it seems, those who identify as feminist or pro-feminist, see their feminism as a journey – an integral part of their life and as fluid and organic and ever-growing and developing as they are themselves. And I’m the same.

My loyalty to and passion for women’s human rights springs from my own experience as a woman/girl child/female and every day my experience reinforces that loyalty. I learn something. Every day. Something happens, or I read something or I see something or I talk to someone or I just follow a train of thought to the end of an analysis but I learn something everyday. I also argue the feminist toss – with everyone, really - including other feminists. Their experience is different to mine, their lives are different, their knowledge and attitudes are different to mine – hell, sometimes, their whole idea of feminism is different to mine! It's a really difficult journey to describe.

But I’m no longer 14 years old and my feminism is no longer confined to my own experience. It’s grown a lot and now encompasses and examines the large-scale sexist injustices that women/girls have to live with on a global scale. Not that my journey is over by a long shot – that’ll happen the day I die, I guess – but my feminist vision is a lot bigger than it was when I was 14 and it no longer rests simply with what’s ok , or not ok, for me.

Is it 51 or 52% of the world population that are female? Whatever, it’s far too many individuals to count. But I know one thing for sure – almost every one of that 51/52% of female people are ruled, judged and made to behave in certain, sexist defined ways by patriarchal/racist/capitalist ideas and practices that restrict, confine and/or label them as “other” – always “less than”. Some accept that status, some even seem to welcome it. Some seem to think that by playing along with it they’ll be granted some kind of ‘elevated status’ or that they’ll gain some personal/political power. Some even seem to think they’ve got the upper hand – or some kind of different hand - because they enjoy what the patriarchy says they like. But, I’m thinking, not the majority.

And I’m not about to blame any woman for doing what she has to do to survive. I blame the patriarchy for putting her in that situation in the first place. Just want to make that clear…

And I know that this blog is read by some who feel their feminist journey is just beginning so this post is by way of a warning, really. Because once you start looking, you start to see more, and more…..and yet more of the sexist injustices and patriarchal assumptions and oppressions of women that simply serve to keep things the way they are - the way the patriarchy likes them - for women as people; no matter how they’re dressed up to appear somehow different or appealing to women/girls. Once your feminist journey has started it doesn’t stop. It does become part of who you are. It becomes undeniable.

And, yes, I acknowledge that when I was 14 my journey was all about me. I’m not saying that’s ‘wrong’ – I was young! - I’m just saying that feminism as a political movement has to be about women, not ‘woman’.

For me – now – my feminism is about considering the impact of the toxicity of patriarchal capitalism, in all its forms, on the lives of women everywhere and fighting that. I’m not about to accept the lowly place that patriarchal capitalism affords women without a fight – no matter how many individual women may be seemingly ‘happy’ with their lot within that power structure. It’s toxic for the vast majority of the rest of us. Too many women and girls die as a result of it – actually or figuratively - and that’s what I’m fighting. I realise that, in concentrating on that, I’m leaving out particular feminisms and I make no apologies for that. But I am aware. If you think I’ve missed something then please tell me – if only to make me aware.

But that’s my feminism.

Feminism’s an individual journey and I’m still travelling. I slip up sometimes. I miss things. I let things go unchallenged sometimes. I still make patriarchally influenced judgements, even after all this time – I’m as indoctrinated as the next woman after all - and, yes, it’s a struggle sometimes. It’s by no means ‘comfortable’. I get pissy and fucking angry sometimes. There’s no way I’ve ‘arrived’ and I’m always open to discussion and debate and, hell yeah, a slanging match if needs be (it has been known).

At least, these days, it’s no longer ‘all about me’.

There is a small but growing group of other, like-minded feminist women with whom I identify. We don’t always agree but we always discuss and, yes, I guess we’re all coming from the same place in that we all believe patriarchal capitalism and all its toxicity is bad for women, bad for people – bad for the world. I had no contact with anyone like that when I was 14. Oh... wish that I had....

Incidentally, I was eventually thrown out of needlework O Level by my form teacher who had fought so sexistly for me to stay in her class because TD was a “boys subject” and I only wanted to take it so that I could “be with the boys”. I was crap at needlework. She already knew that. I was an artist. She already knew that, too.

Sexism kills women. Actually and figuratively.


  • At 6:12 AM, Blogger Renegade Evolution said…

    Good post, WW.

  • At 11:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    **round of applause**

    You're on my blog now after that!cv

  • At 12:55 PM, Anonymous therealUK said…

    Your post set off a train of thought for me, in terms of how the environment/culture that a girl is raised in these days (as opposed to 20/30 years ago) affects their attitude and involvement(if any)to feminism.

    I grew up in the 60’s/70’s, and as long as I can remember, literally since I could talk and walk I was always being told quite explicitly “girls don’t do…”, or “girls should do….”.

    Yet that was not how *I* was, so my experience of childhood and adolescence was one long running battle of “but why can’t girls do …” or “it’s not fair, boys don’t have to …”, from the seemingly trivial (clothes, toys) to more obviously less trivial (education, health-care, relationships).

    So because I grew up with a strong sense of the injustice and stupidity of the social system that *I* was trapped in, as I got older (late teens on) it was very easy and obvious to see similar systems in operation across all cultures and throughout history. So discovering feminism in a wider and more formal sense (though I didn’t really have the word “feminist” in my vocabulary until my late 20’s) was not a shock, it just seemed like an articulation of what I knew all along anyway.

    OK then, here’s a bit of speculation: if I was growing up today, the opportunities that were denied me then would be much more available now, and things like my lack of heteronormativity would be much more acceptable (particularly to peers). I would not encounter the same sort of explicit personal sexism, but would still grow up with a set of hidden messages.

    And I think this “toning down” of the more obviously individually sexist stuff, (along with the material comfort that is the norm for western women nowadays) lulls people into a false sense of security: “Who needs feminism ? Girls can do anything ! See how empowered we are! It’s the men who are oppressed nowadays!”

    But the institutionalised, pervasive, destructive stuff is still there. The “pornification” of western society is a perfect example of this. Easy to recognise if you’ve already had your eyes opened to it. More or less invisible if you haven’t - and in many ways that makes it more of a problem.

    And the more global issues get ignored as well. Because feminism is *not* about rich career girls empowering themselves through the ironic use of pole dancing and high heels. It *is* about justice on a global scale, and to understand that then those who have been brought up in relative comfort need to realise that life is just not like that for everyone.

    It’s another reason why women of different generations and experiences should learn from one another, another reason why the silencing of women’s history is such a tragedy.

    This is all a bit rambly, and obviously is rooted in my own personal experience, but I think it is part of the explanation as to why there often seems to be such a disconnect between people who for whom feminism seems so obvious, ie it’s not just about me it’s about the whole system, and for those who just can’t/won’t see the bigger picture, ie feminism is whatever I do as long as it’s fun...maybe it’s because they never had any experience to set them on a questioning path, maybe because our modern culture blocks any questioning of the system in a different way than it did 30 years ago.

    I don’t know, as I said, it was a speculative and personal train of thought, so not a complete picture by any means, but thanks for the space to ramble and discuss anyway.

  • At 1:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    The education system still, til this day, attempts to pigeon-hole kids into gender-based subject stereotypes.

    Sure, on the cooking classes basis there are far more lads taking an interest in cooking now because the media has made the cooking programme sector a male dominated bracket now. (Note: Ramsey, Oliver, the tubby ginger bearded one.)But this is only because times have changed and they can feel comfortable now that cookery is seen as 'socially acceptable'and the teachers are happy to usher them into that trade.

    Another thing I have observed and my mates have been through is: If careers advisors/teachers/youth workers view young girls as being brainless by their estimation, uncapable of doing A Levels or going to university they will push you into either any of these job markets:

    1. Childcare
    2. Hairdressing
    3. Anything to do with tanning/nails/waxing

    It's as if they are given some charter to follow, where if girls are confused over what career path to take they just have to revert back to old-school, restricted, stereotypical job markets. If me and my mates had listened to all the advice we had been offered via the education system growing up, we would all be a big bunch of beauticians, nursery school workers and shelling out manicures all day long.

  • At 3:19 PM, Blogger Laura said…

    Fantastic post witchy, you've described just how I'm feeling right now :) And therealUK is right - because we are told we can do anything and have equality now, we just believe it - I know I did for a long time., and many of my peers still do. For them, rape and domestic violence; sexual harrassment at work etc are all the result of some arsehole's nastiness rather than part of a system that works to keep women down. I guess it's kind of easier - as in less upsetting - to believe that, but this will get us nowhere in the long term - unless we attack the root cause of these individual's behaviours (and it begins with a p ;) we can never actually be free.

    Bit of a ramble there, but thanks for this. xx

  • At 4:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    You just expressed perfectly something that's been bugging me.

    rape and domestic violence; sexual harrassment at work etc are all the result of some arsehole's nastiness rather than part of a system that works to keep women down. (snip) unless we attack the root cause of these individual's behaviours we can never actually be free.

    Thank you.

  • At 6:56 PM, Blogger spotted elephant said…


    Great post, witchy-woo.

    Damn that teacher.

  • At 9:42 PM, Blogger Laura said…

    Thanks, sarah, and sorry about all the horrible typos - french keyboard grr.

  • At 12:37 AM, Anonymous natasha said…

    This is a great post, witchy-woo. Thank you. I was leaping at my computer in silent applause, too. I've been checking back here more and more lately, and am loving what you're saying and how you're saying it.

    I know exactly this thing about teachers steering kids away from things we wanted to do. Now I'm grown up, and all that, I look back and think of those poor, overworked, under-appreciated and drowned-in-stress female teachers who sometimes messed-up my path in life, and I feel so angry with them, but also so sorry for them. It's odd to think that feminist-awareness can make us recognise things in them they couldn't see themselves. So maybe I can forgive them now.

    But really, I wanted to say a special big up for the way you describe feminism as a journey. It's really been that for me, a constant eye-opening, heart-breaking, stomach-churning trip, where I keep thinking 'oh I've got it now'. And of course I ain't.

  • At 8:16 AM, Blogger simply wondered said…

    A random series of thoughts and reactions:
    I think all real philosophies are living growing things that change by the minute - only the dead and the unthinking don't or won't move on (not always forward, but that's journeys for you).
    Teachers don't half talk a load of crap - my 3yr old was told if he didn't put on his coat he'd get sick. No - if he didn't put on his coat he might get cold and if he could deal with that then I don't see why he should put his coat on. I don't know why they insist on lying about their reasonable (or not) requests. I'd hope with the whole teacher/student dynamic becoming less unequal (maybe) stupid comments of sexist or other nature are becoming less frequent - I think they stem from the inequality of power between the two parties - as usual...
    Love therealuk's fine distinction between sexism having lessened and in fact the attitudes merely learning to hide because they are less acceptable (cf racism) and hate the girlpower bollocks that allows people to claim because some women have wealth and/or power and/or influence (on terms dictated by the existing order naturally) the world is now a fair place. It reeks of the 80s Tory crap about 'my father worked his way up from nothing to a millionaire therefore society is fair and the poor have an equal chance to be rich.
    And as Witchers as aspirant (or realised?) cartographer knows, it was originally a purely military skill (the Ordnance Survey) and therefore a highly unsuitable choice for a lady. Shame on you, Witchy - if you had done metalwork, you could have made yourself a pole to dance around. Now that's ladylike AND empowering.

  • At 8:25 AM, Blogger simply wondered said…

    I've just been over to Sarah's and she has an Amazon ad for Witchy Poo...care to fill us in on this trade deal?

  • At 10:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hmm, if you'd got your way and become a cartographer would we have known you?

  • At 12:49 AM, Blogger Ginger said…

    Awesome post, witchy.

    For good or ill, teachers shape our lives.

  • At 1:20 PM, Blogger simply wondered said…

    as usual I opened my e-mouth before fully appreciating the issue. Chosen Life Partner now occasionally, grudgingly talks about some of the stuff I've read/written in blogland and she responded 'well they forced me to do metalwork at school because they didn't have the numbers and I was crap at it and I hated it and I wanted to do something else but they wouldn't let me'.
    Which adds up to the same thing I suppose. Don't know if at that school they forced boys to do 'girls' subjects'.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home