I have always been a feminist. It is a label I chose for myself as a teenager, back before girl power was invented and when New Kids on the Block were cool. My original feminism was about equality: women were equal to men and all we needed was the laws to force misogynists to stop being misogynists. The older I get, the more I believe that 'equality' is nothing more than a smokescreen to prevent the true liberation of women. Equality before the law means nothing when violence is endemic; when women are most likely to live in poverty; when no one bothers to actually enforce the existing equality legislation. I grew up in an area of Canada where misogyny, race and class should have been impossible to miss but I did. We grew up with serious cases of cognitive dissonance; where hyper-masculinity was the norm and feminism didn't exist. It was a great place to learn that as a middle class white woman my chances of being a victim of sexual violence were a lot lower than Aboriginal women but that was seen as normal, not something to be upset about. I may have labelled myself a feminist but I wasn't a real feminist.
I was a feminist who lacked any kind of analysis of women as a class. I didn't understand that feminism was a political theory. I knew I couldn't have gotten through university as a teenage single mother without the benefit of a, still flawed, welfare system but I didn't realise just how privileged I was; even with a student loan debt that would make British students cry! It wasn't until the Canadian federal and provincial governments started slashing these programs that I started thinking about feminism as a political theory. I started self-defining as a socialist-feminist, but I still didn't think about women in terms of an oppressed class. Instead, I focused on the idea of class, in Marxist terms, as a barrier for 'some' women. I assumed that equal access to education and equality before the law would solve all women's problems.
Feminism requires more than equality. It requires liberation. It requires the liberation of ALL women from male violence.
Until two years ago, I would have still identified as a socialist-feminist, although my awareness of the structural oppression of women was growing. The unrelenting misogyny and rape apologism on the left made me reconsider my political stance as did the creation of the Feminist/Women's Rights board on Mumsnet. The more I read on Mumsnet, the more radical my feminism became. I started reading Andrea Dworkin, Natasha Walters, Kate Millett, Susan Faludi, Susan Maushart, Ariel Levy, Gail Dines, Germaine Greer, and Audre Lorde. I learned about cultural femicide and I started reading only fiction books written by women: Isabel Allende, Alice Walker, Maya Angelou, Kate Mosse, Margaret Atwood, Kris Radish, Barbara Kingsolver, and Andrea Levy amongst many others. I started reading about women's lives and the power of real sisterhood.
My feminism, both the definition and activism, has changed dramatically over the past 18 years. Now, I self-define as an anti-capitalist, pro-radical feminist as I believe that the source of women's oppression is male violence which is perpetuated by the structures of our capitalist economy. The Patriarchy may predate capitalism but we cannot destroy it without destroying capitalism too. I don't always feel a 'real feminist' or a 'good enough' feminist. All I know is that I am a feminist who truly believes that women have the power to liberate all women from male violence; that feminism is fundamentally about the power of sisterhood.
My feminist activism involves privileging women's voices over men's voices. I now only read books written by women. I try to get my main news from women's news sites and women journalists like Soraya Chemaly, Samira Ahmed, Bidisha, Helen Lewis, Bim Adewunmi, and Sarah Smith. I follow only women journalists on Twitter and Facebook. I support organisations which are placing women's experiences at the centre of public debate: Women Under Siege, The Everyday Sexism Project, and The Women's Room UK.
My feminism acknowledges the realities of intersectionality and, whilst I'm not perfect, I am more aware now of how disparate women's experiences are from one another. I still believe that women, as a political class, have the ability to liberate ourselves from the Capitalist-Patriarchy but I do so with the knowledge that I do not yet fully understand the full impact of the multiple oppressions in women's lives. My feminism is a journey. The destination is the full liberation of women but we are all on different paths and at different points. My feminism requires I listen to my sisters and support them in the ways they deem best. My feminism is women-centered.
Feminists have the power to change the world. It requires listening and respect but we have the power to save each other; after all the largest study on global violence against women has conclusively proved that feminists hold the key to positive change for women.
Follow Louise Pennington on Twitter: www.twitter.com/LeStewpot