Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Why I Became a Feminist - or Why I Have Always Been One

So to be straight with you dear reader, right off the bat, mine is no challenging yet ultimately life-affirming story of a young girl finding her path in the world, helped along by the responsibility of caring for a gaggle of motherless geese. Wait, no, that’s Fly Away Home.

But my point is, I don’t really have a story to tell about why I became a feminist, for a very simple reason: for as long as I can remember I have always been one. As in, I have always positively self-identified as a feminist, not just possessed a subconscious, half-formed affinity for a notion that actually yes, equality between the sexes, would be quite nice.

Nope, just ask any of my long-suffering primary school peers (or my somewhat bemused teacher), who were faced with an 8 year-old me gunning for ‘Women’s Rights!’ (exclamation mark necessary) as the topic for one of our occasional class debates at the back end of a Friday afternoon.

Partly due to the sterling example of my beloved mater - who, I kid you not, as a student had a (somewhat ironically, hand-stitched) sign above her bed reading ‘Men the enemy; women the oppressed’ - and partly due to my early love of classic fiction - Elizabeth Bennett, Jo March or Margaret Hale as heroines more for their wit, ambition or strength than looks or feminine charm - from an early age I was not only aware that women had been dealt a pretty bum deal in this world, actually knew where I stood on that issue. And that was firmly with the protagonists of the ‘Feminist Stories for Children’ book my mother had given me: women were the equal of men, and should be treated as such.
Until recently I always felt slightly embarrassed by this fact, this lifelong attachment to the cause. I would always demur and joke that ‘I was a strange child’ whenever my sisters or old school friends brought up incidents of my outspoken enthusiasm for the feminist cause. I would brush over these reminisces and quickly change the subject. But then, I asked myself, why should I feel embarrassed by the fact that I had always been aware of and indignant about gender power imbalances? Is this all part of the insidious way our culture conditions us as women to feel stupid when we speak up about something, that we’re making a fuss over nothing, that we can’t really understand the real issues?

Rather, what we should strive for in the future is to make my experience, of growing up aware of feminist issues and desirous to make the world a more equal change, the norm rather than the exception. Of course, the ultimate ideal society is one in which no-one has to think in this way about gender, because we will have achieved something like real parity. However, in the meantime, while there is still work to be done, every little girl should grow up knowing both the challenges life may throw at her, and yet also be given the tool, in feminist argument and campaigning, to feel she is an agent of change rather than powerless. We should proudly identify ourselves as feminist by default rather than exception.


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