Are you a good feminist? Is your feminism something that you are proud of? Do you feel like you are doing enough? Do you even identify as a feminist at all?
I only ask because I’m not sure I’ve been a very good feminist recently, and I want to talk about that.
Despite having been described as a ‘feminist writer’ before now (a bit of a humble brag there), I’m the first to admit that I am often lacking in confidence when it comes to fighting the feminist fight.
It was International Women’s Day this week (since you don’t live in a hole, you will already know this so thanks Em, for pointing out the bloody obvious), and I am ashamed to say that when the chance to shout my little feminist head off came a-knockin’, I was absolutely not ready for it.
I managed a measly Tweet and a last minute Instagram post celebrating the breathtakingly inspirational babes I’m surrounded by and felt shame creep in as I realised that I should have been taking that day as an opportunity to do so much more than just jump on a hashtag.
Laziness? Nervousness? Fuck knows, but I’m not proud.
Did you know that only 34% of people identify as feminists? Since the definition of feminism is simply: ‘the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes’, that statistic is enough to make your shoulders sink to your ankles, ammi right?
At least, I tell myself, I’m doing better than the 66% who for !some reason! don’t want this.
This is an issue that I have talked a lot about in the past (guys there really is quite a lot to say); it was something I focussed on heavily in my book Can I Speak To Someone In Charge? (yes, I’m plugging, get over it).
For one reason or another, there are so many people out there who are not identifying as a feminist. I suspect it has a lot to do with the connotations; we are considered to be a certain type (read: have armpit hair so long you can plait it), to hate all men, to be bolshy and rude and sometimes aggressive, to be staunchly argumentative, to be tiresome and tedious, to be loony liberals, to not be able to take a joke etc. etc. etc.
I know, we’re a barrel of laughs, where do I sign up???
Although most people would happily agree that they believe in equality of the sexes, they seem to have a problem with the word ‘feminist’ (I really do write a lot about this in my book).
And whether we like it or not, that does put a bit of pressure on those of us who are willing to brand ourselves with the f-tag.
Going out with a group of lads when you’re known to them ‘the feminist one’, makes you feel a bit like you’re a teacher sitting in the pub with a group of your sixth form students. Or that’s my experience at any rate.
I’m the feminist friend, love it or hate it, that’s what I am.
I’m the best feminist, because I’m the only feminist. And whilst it’s absolutely not a competition, it only takes a couple of minutes of mingling with other feminists for me to realise just how not-the-best I am when it comes to feminism. And when you realise that you’re not the best, it’s only a small leap for someone with an anxious mind, to realising that you’re the worst.
For years I was the lion in the zoo. The best lion, the only lion. Now it’s like I’ve been returned to Africa only to find that there are so many other lions out there, and it’s brilliant, I love the company, we’re so much stronger together, but I see for the first time that there is a lot of room for improvement.
2017 was a massive year for feminism and 2018 is set to be another belter. Women are speaking up against sexual harassment and assault in a way that we have never done before. There is a light being shone on corporations (*cough* the BBC *cough*) who are not paying their employees equally.
We are louder and braver and stronger than ever and the movement is growing with great speed.
And in lots of ways that has made feminism much easier. It is, after all, much easier to be one voice in a sea of voices than a lone one. It is easier to join the ranks of thousands the go into battle alone. Safety in numbers, always.
In some ways though, for me at least, it has made it much harder.
Because it has never been easier to get feminism wrong.
As a white woman I am riddled with privilege. A privilege I am lucky to have, oh so fucking lucky, but one that often makes me feel like I am not only not a welcome addition to the feminist army but that I might even be a bit of a hinderance;
‘Oh great, just what we need, another middle class white girl speaking out against inequality when she is so comfortably part of a society that has propagated it for so long’.
It feels ugly as hell to write that down, but it’s a feeling I am faced with a lot of the time. Made worse by the fact that I think it wouldn’t be an unfair comment to make, at times I AM wasting that seat. I’m using the hashtag, but my heart isn’t always in it. I’m taking this privilege, greedily, and I feel as if I’m failing to make a return on it.
I don’t know enough. I haven’t read enough. I haven’t listened enough. I haven’t fought hard enough. I haven’t done enough.
If we go back to the teacher in the pub analogy, it might be easier to explain…
That teacher, surrounded by a group of school kids, is arguably the most intelligent, the one with the most authority and more likely to know certain things than any of the people she is with. In that context, she is really useful. But if that teacher were to then go out for lunch the next day with a whole group of other teachers, she would no longer be the most intelligent, she would no longer have the most authority and she would be no more likely to know anything than anyone else around the table. Sure, she’s nice to have around, but she’s not bringing much is she???
When I was sitting at the family table, or indeed at the pub with my own sixth form friends, as the one with the most interest, I felt a lot of the time like the ‘best feminist’, I knew more than the others, I was therefore in the best position to articulate my points and change somebody’s mind on something.
As I have grown, as we have all grown, and I have found myself working in an industry with women like me and, dare I say it, many, much wiser than me, I all of a sudden find myself riddled with insecurity and not feeling remotely good enough, I’m not only not the best feminist, but I’m not much of a feminist at all… am I?
And although that sounds like I have not only lost the plot but totally missed the point, my relationship with feminism does rely heavily on my confidence. In order to be a valuable member of any team, surely you need to bring something that others can’t bring. By knowing as much or as little as anyone else, what use am I to the feminist fight???
I spent a long time believing that when it came to feminism it was impossible to get it wrong; I thought that anyone joining the ranks was surely a good thing, and maybe it is.
But is it good enough???
I’ve spent a lot of time this week, since my pathetic attempts at pushing the feminist agenda on Thursday, looking at myself and the responsibility I have bestowed upon myself by openly supporting feminism.
I have long since identified as a feminist, I have followed and supported the Me Too and Times Up movements with such passion and enthusiasm, I have had huge, catastrophic arguments with family members and friends even when I feel that sometimes my trying and arguing is futile.
And I’ve been doing a good thing. By doing anything at all, I’ve been doing a good thing.
I’ve been a drip, a tireless and constant drip in the ears of people whose opinions might just be beginning to change. I’ve been a drip, among so many other drips, that is finally creating the most beautiful wave. The wave that has brought change, and will continue to bring more.
By doing anything at all, I am responsible, in part, for the change.
But I’ve decided that I want to do more.
I’m one of the 34% and, as one of the minority, I have deemed it my responsibility to work twice as hard to use my voice.
And so that is my plan, my pledge and my promise.
I am riddled with privilege and I feel like I’m wasting it.
There is so much to learn, so much I need to know, so much that I am not doing. I am going to change that.