Monday, 4 November 2013

Why I Became A Feminist - A Feminist Fairytale

Once upon a time, there was a little girl called Julia. Now, Julia was an extremely fortunate little girl, and not only for the fact that, as she grew up, she displayed a reasonable degree of intelligence and charm and seemed to be attractive enough not to send Prince Charming running, screaming, in the opposite direction. 

No, Julia's real good fortune was that her mother and father were comfortably-off, decidedly middle class and consistently supportive of her abilities and ambitions, she was sent to a highly academic school, and she was therefore able to grow up in the highly confident knowledge that her only real limitation was that she couldn't be a doctor, lawyer, merchant banker, politician and journalist all at the same time. Nothing else was off limits. So, you see, the need to be a feminist never really cropped up during Julia's formative years.

However, some years later, after she finished university and entered the world of work, Julia began to notice something. As she turned her sights up the ladder - whether in her own company (at the time she worked as a headhunter), in her clients', in parliament and the cabinet, in the papers, or among talking heads - people began to look the same. That same was fairly white, fairly middle class, and, above all, fairly male. 

And so she became more and more aware of this odd feature of the world, that men seemed to be the main characters and women an afterthought, the supporting cast. At around this time she started a relationship with a slightly older man, and noticed that all his high-achieving female friends were beginning to have children, and in doing so were forced to go part time, put their careers on the back burner or drop out of work altogether - largely a product of expectationsboth at home and in the office that women should be the primary carers, and a lack of willingness in the workplace to promote those who require flexible working. And also no access to free childcare in the UK. So the dearth of women at the top looked as though it was going to perpetuate for another generation. Again. 

And once she began to notice, she noticed EVERYTHING. The portrayal of women as primarily victims or ornaments in the media. The reduction of these women to their body parts. The glaring absence of older female faces everywhere except in the role of carers. The pinkification of girls' toys - cos we wouldn't want a generation to grow up to believe they can be doctors rather than nurses, would we? The utterly draining levels of misogyny women face every day, whether it's trolling for being a woman with a voice (cf Mary Beard, Stella Creasy, Laura Bates) or street harassment for wearing a short skirt. While we're at it, the shocking number of rapes for which no one is convicted and the frankly disgusting amount of victim-blaming that goes on, even in cases of child abuse. 

All this right down to the almost pathetically trivial. Why, Julia asked herself, should brides in the 21st century still need three men to speak for them on their wedding day, and a father to give them away? Why should waiters assume that the salad is for the girl, whilst her boyfriend is having the steak? And why, in the name of God, should she, the better cook in the household, cook for every dinner party EXCEPT the barbecue - cos girls can't handle fire?? Also, don't get me started on Disney. Hardly the big issues, but insidious gender stereotyping nonetheless. 

Help was at hand though, in the form of like-minded women and men, not just Julia's friends having a whine in the pub but people she hadn't spoken to in years asking the same questions as she was on Facebook, Twitter and even in the mainstream media. She felt she wasn't alone in wanting to change things. And she began to hope that the silent majority really was on her side - that if made aware of what the relative position of the sexes is today, most people would agree that change was needed. So she decided to self-identify as part of a group that contained some really awesome people - Caitlin Moran and Hadley Freeman; some really passionate people - Laura Bates; some really talented people - Romola Garai, Margaret Atwood; and some slightly bonkers ones - Laurie Penny, I wish I had your guts. As well as countless others, men and women, who don't subscribe to a Daily Mail view of the world.

And so Julia doesn't really need a happily ever after. She's slightly more in control of her own destiny, and hopes to help make others more so too. Here's to a happy, productive and high-achieving ever after. 


Thanks to Feminist Disney for the awesome pic! - Ed

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