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.