This week, for the final instalment of our Ask the Audience series, we turn to one of the broadest questions we put to our contributors:
What does feminism mean to you?
In Sanya’s brilliant piece on her journey into feminism, she recalls how feminism “has been used to introduce me and to explain me. In some cases, it has even been used to excuse and insult me – “oh don’t mind Sanya, she’s a bit of a feminist””.
It is exactly this fear of being pigeonholed that held back my personal feminism for years. I’d always been vocal about what I stood for, and I’d always been interested in pursuing “women’s issues”, but I didn’t accept the word “feminist” as an appropriate definition for myself until I was probably 21 or 22 years old. Before then, I was one of those people who thought “feminism” was a bad term, a term that suggested inequality in its mere naming. I even argued against the term with a dear, brilliant, feminist friend whilst at university, much to her exasperation (sorry Moibs!). And then, slowly but surely, I came to understand that when people called themselves “feminists” or spoke about “feminist” issues, they were not saying that they wanted to put women above men, or that they wanted to walk around bra-less reading aloud from The Female Eunuch¸ but that they just wanted me and anyone who identifies as my gender to be treated the way we deserve to be treated, i.e. the same as everyone else. And they weren’t scared to talk about it, however much men and women alike rolled their eyes or told them to stop banging on.
From then on, I have been proud to call myself a feminist. Feminism for me means, of course, social equality. But to me, feminism is also about no longer being afraid to vocalise opinions that may not always be popular, but that are true to how I feel. Feminism has become a guide for me, a way of life that has allowed me to connect with the values I truly believe in.
This week, I had prepared a class for my 16/17-year-old bilingual group at the high school I work at in Spain on the late David Bowie. I wanted to show them a slice of British pop culture from the past few decades, and to segue into a discussion about the cult of celebrity. As I was researching Bowie for the class, I came across the revelation that, in the early 1970s, David Bowie had slept with a 14-year-old groupie, Lori Mattix. Mattix has herself written about the experience, and, to her, losing her virginity to Bowie was consensual. Legally, it was not, as 14 is far below the Californian age of consent, which stood at, and continues to stand at, 18. Bowie was a statutory rapist, but no one has been talking about it since his death. Is this precisely because of this white man cult of celebrity? Is it because many people don’t see it as rape, if Mattix herself “consented” in the non-legal sense? I found myself facing a moral dilemma. Did I go ahead with the class, evangelise to my students about Bowie’s lasting influence, and ignore his crime, complicit in continuing to play down a sexual offence against a young woman? Or did I include it, and face a difficult discussion? I turned to the teacher I was giving the class with, someone I very much respect and admire as a colleague, teacher, feminist and friend. She said to go ahead and discuss it with the group, that we present them with the facts and make them aware that these things happen, and that it’s important to talk about them.
So, to me, feminism is not shying away from saying or doing the difficult things. Feminism is equality, communication, confidence, and a way of life I feel lucky to follow.
For our contributors, feminism is:
Charlotte, 31, Marketing Manager, Essex
Feminism is feeling liberated as a woman to have an opinion, a career, a personality without being dictated to or judged. Luckily enough I have been able to become a mother and maintain my career and I find that liberating!
“Shabana” 19, Law Student, Norfolk
It has meant a feeling of empowerment. Many say that feminists have a victim complex, however in my experience it is the opposite! Coming from a cultural background where women are quite obviously subordinate, feminism has made me more aware of issues that I would have otherwise disregarded as ‘just the way things are’. It has given me hope for a better future, one where I am more independent and liberated than women have been in the generations before me.
Feminism has made me more aware of my privilege as a woman in modern British society while also emphasising the work that still needs to be done. This has also made me more impassioned about the conditions of women internationally who face oppression and violence every day.
Hazel, 59, Family Lawyer, Surrey
I worry that it can be a cover for militancy, but want it to be a movement for different but equal treatment. We should tax beard shaving kits etc. if we tax women’s sanitary products. Different but equal.
Nissmah, 22, Architecture Student, United Arab Emirates
I haven’t really given it a thought but I guess I see a feminist as an empowered woman, especially if she can balance both her family and working life. An empowered woman would be one who establishes good character, shows commitment, and demonstrates courage that is reflected in her being a good mother, daughter, wife and human being. I believe the term feminism that “advocates gender equality” is rather “humanism” per se; in the end we are all advocating that everyone, be it man or woman, gets their basic rights to education, health and safety.
Blanca, 57, Teacher, Santander (Spain)
There is some controversy about the use of this word. Some women don’t like using this word so as not to be confused with hysterical women demonstrating in the streets, to avoid any argument, and so they use other euphemisms, such as ‘I consider myself human or humanist’, and rubbish like that. But I reclaim and defend this word, because it doesn’t mean you are against men at all. It means that there is discrimination against women and we must work on it until it becomes eradicated completely. So, all the men that believe this too can use the same term as we do and call themselves feminists.
“Hannah”, 33, Solicitor, Hertfordshire
Woman supporting each other, not competing and bitching about others. We have a hard enough time dealing with the haters that we need to stand together and support each other in any way we can.
Mary, 63, History graduate, Teacher, Charity Trustee, Mother and Grandmother, Hertfordshire
My early feminist friends tended to be extreme. Hairy and scary. Now it is the norm for people like me; but how typical am I?
“F.A.” 23, Medical Student, London
To me it is bleeding obvious – it means that:
- Historically, women have not been seen as equal to men (this is why the ‘fem-’ bit is important and people need to stop whining about it – it provides a historical context for the concept of gender equality)
- At present, we women have similar privileges to men in many respects, but we still have a long road ahead before we can truly say that both genders are equal in all aspects of life
- It does not mean ‘Fuck you, men, you’re not invited on this journey’ – despite what certain people may think.
Meera, 24, Project Co-ordinator in Community Development with a housing association, Banbury
It means believing that women are capable of achieving anything and not being held back by social norms, misogyny or downright apathy.
Nisha, 24, Litigation Executive, London
Feminism is gender equality in every sense of the word. Feminism is recognition that males and females are equal in their value and contribution to the world. It is recognition that purpose and self-worth are not something up for discussion or subject to judgement. They are absolute unequivocal rights. I want my children to grow up knowing that they can do whatever they want not because they are a woman or a man or because of any physical attribute but because they are smart and ambitious and deserving of it. When did we become so focused on the physical characteristics of a person instead of the personal traits they bring to the table? The qualities that we work so tirelessly to EARN. Feminism is such an important topic and it should mean something to both women and men. Feminism is, at the end of the day, the recognition of a person for exactly who they are. It’s recognition of their worth and respect for their place on this earth and their right to spend their time here in whichever way they choose.
Whether you consider yourself a feminist or not, we’d love to hear what feminism means to you.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our Ask the Audience series! We’d like to extend a great big THANK YOU to our focus group for letting us into their thought-provoking and inspiring insights.
Until next month,