…that I actually am a feminist.
I have this friend (well, I say friend… It’s worrying how many times I find myself saying that, but people think you’re a tad odd if you start saying things like, “Well, I have this person that I know and whose company I endure rather than enjoy…”) who looks like a china doll but talks like an old-school, bra-burning, man-hating feminist. I have had conversations with her (not through lack of trying to avoid them), after which I have been left with the feeling that she genuinely thinks women are better than men. Up until relatively recently, I disliked feminism for this reason – the only overt, outspoken feminism I’d been exposed to was the man-hating kind. And I really wasn’t a fan of that.
Because, to quote myself (and I’ve said this far too many times to be proud of) I just like men. I really do. (It’s caused me some problems, I can tell you.) I like hanging out with them in the pub, I like working with them, I like doing other fun things with them. Physically they tend to be stronger than us, emotionally they tend to be a little more logical and rational. Not always, but often. I like it than when I’m ranting to a guy about something, they feel compelled to solve the problem. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to be said for mouthing off to your girlfriends about something that’s pissing you off and getting empathy, rather than a list of suggestions as to what you should do. But – maybe it’s just that I have excellent taste in male friends and love interests – I have noticed this. Boys are good for fixing things, girls are great for empathising. (Yes, sweeping generalisation, but I’m going on personal experience here. Cut me some slack.)
What changed, then? What was is that made me go from “Ha, I’m really not a feminist!” to “Yes, actually, I am. Don’t shoot.”
Well, firstly, I read Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman. Ok, a lot of people did. Everyone – men andwomen – between the ages of 16 and 30 should read it. She doesn’t hold back on the gory details of being a woman, but she makes some bloody good points. The main one being, “Are the boys doing it?” If they are, then it’s ok. If they’re not, then why do women feel they have to? (Nitpickers – and boy, I know a couple of those – of course, this isn’t going to work for every activity under the sun. Use your heads.) And also, that being polite is in fact really freaking important. She’s not saying – like a lot of people have – that to get equal treatment, women need to stop bitching about each other. She’s just advocating politeness.
And while we’re here, blaming the lack of equality between the sexes on the fact that women bitch about each other isn’t just short-sighted, it is utter, utter bollocks. You ever sat in the pub with a bunch of guys? You ever been chatting to your boyfriend about your respective groups of friends? One of my favourite things to say to the Boy is, “Will you be wanting a dish of cream to go?”
Men can be as bitchy as women. If not, more so. Right, got that bit off my chest.
So there was the book. But it wasn’t just that. Essentially, I study language use in the legal system – and if there’s ever been a place where being female puts you at a disadvantage, it’s the legal system. I’ve done a lot of work on rape and sexual assault trials – not because I’m a sick, twisted person but because as a crime, it’s something of a special case. It’s very rare that you can prove consent. If your house is broken into and the television’s stolen, well, it’s obvious. A window’s broken and the TV’s gone. You’re not often going to have evidence of consent being given, so rape trials (when it actually gets to trial, which is a whole other story in itself) often become a case of “she said/no I didn’t”.
And once in court, female victims of rape/sexual assault can face the “sexual double bind”: if they come across as articulate and confident while being examined, then how could they have “allowed” themselves to be raped? And if they’re fragile and emotional (as you probably would be, given the nature of criminal trials in an adversarial system), then well. She’s a flighty, emotional woman. She can’t be trusted. While there are movements to improve the way our legal system works, it is still steeped in archaic traditions and attitudes, and isn’t the most woman-friendly environment I can think of.
The problem with starting a post like this is that there are so many avenues it opens up – tabloid newspapers and women’s magazines, positive discrimination in workplaces, the issue of maternity/paternity leave, and bigger, more serious issues, like the treatment of women in cultures very different to the one I live in. (One of my best-ever friends moved to Dubai this year, and is moving over to Saudi for a job, so she’s having some interesting experiences.) I could be here for days…
One of the facts from Moran’s book that has stuck with me – and it’s such an obvious little scamp – is this: “it is normal for women to feel pain”. That is standard procedure for us; it’s not a sign that there’s something wrong, it’s entirely expected, on a regular basis. And no, obviously we can’t change our physiology; we know there’s sod-all we can do about the fact that we get the shite end of the deal from Nature – but it’s that one little thing that makes me angry about the centuries of women being treated as inferior to men. Physically, we go through so much more for the sake of reproducing. We deserve the same amount of respect as men. (The ragey part of me says, screw equality, I demand to be treated like a goddess on the basis of the fact that one day I might have to endure childbirth, but I’m trying to be fair about this.) And yes, we don’t have to have children – but the species as a whole would be a tad screwed if all the women got together and said, “Hang on, this is all a bit painful, shall we just not do it for a bit?”
I’ll get down off the biology soapbox now.
I think that the upshot of the whole thing is this: we should embrace and make use of the differences between the sexes, not use them as grounds for one-upmanship or slagging each other off.
Just because I don’t mind – hell, it’s still kind of funny – when my male friends joke about getting back in the kitchen, or call me the Boy’s wench, doesn’t make me a traitor to womankind. (The kitchen jokes actually remain funny because I’m the world’s most reluctant cook, to be honest.) And just because I can see that there are many arenas in which women are still seen as inferior to men, and I can see that we sometimes have ridiculous demands placed on us, doesn’t make me hate men. There are still certain situations where I will laugh and say, “It’s ok, I’m really not a feminist” (and no, I’m not elaborating) and there are still situations where I will tell you “Yes, I bloody well am”.
The important thing is that the choice is mine to make.