Although I've been lucky enough to be brought up by a feminist mother and a father who never wanted my gender to hold me back, I can't remember a time where I wasn't aware of sexism. I may not have understood the complexities of it, but I remember being frustrated at being called "bossy" when boys like me were called "leaders", feeling undermined when I was told to "stand there and look pretty" at my first job (aged 14) and the shame of being catcalled in my school uniform. I knew that girls and women were treated differently to boys and men - and in general, treated worse - and I knew I wasn't ok with it. I knew that, in an ideal world, things wouldn't be that way.
It wasn't until I got to university that I became confident enough to identify myself as a feminist, and began to educate myself on the amazing things that feminists and activists do. So when I saw the photos of Sisters Uncut storming the red carpet at the Suffragette premiere, protesting cuts to domestic violence services, I was so full of admiration for them. There they were, putting themselves on the line in front of international media, making a statement on behalf of women everywhere. But it got me thinking; when was the last time I really did something with my beliefs? Sure, I talk about feminism a lot to my friends, I've written quite a few blogs and I'm partial to a ranty tweet or Facebook status. But considering my enormous position of privilege, what do I really do?
The week after the Sisters Uncut protest, I had some particularly scary experiences of sexism in quite quick succession. I was on the phone to my mum in tears while recounting the harassment I'd faced for the second time in a week, when it hit me: you can do something about this. I've had enough of being undermined, being intimidated, being silenced. I've had enough of our mere existence being threatened because of our gender. I've come to the realisation that calling yourself a "feminist" isn't enough. It's not a label that you can stick on like a gold star and award yourself patriarchy smashing points, job done. The women's suffrage movement was by no means perfect, but the motto of their campaign still rings true: "Deeds not words".
So what am I going to do? On Sunday night I took a small step forward by joining the Women's Equality Party (WEP) and contacting my local branch to see how I can help. Admittedly, when I heard that the WEP was being founded a few months ago, I was sceptical. I was concerned that the focus of the party wouldn't be where sexism actually stems from, that it would be another set of high-profile women claiming that a 50:50 parliament would fix all our problems. In fact, I've been pleasantly surprised. WEP do seek equal representation in parliament, but they know it's not a quick fix. They also want to end violence against women and to see equal treatment of women in the media, and recognise the importance of intersectionality. It's true that WEP probably won't be a party that competes with Labour or the Tories in terms of seats in parliament, but that's not the point; their goal is to make sure that gender equality is at the heart of politics.
Some people are probably reading this and questioning whether we really need a Women's Equality Party. Women are already equal, right? They might even be laughing at the idea: "there go those angry bra-burning feminazis making a fuss again". Let me state some facts. There is a call to the police every minute about domestic violence. There are over 85,000 rapes in the UK per year. 2 women a week in England and Wales are murdered by their partners or ex-partners. With every minute that goes by, women are being hurt. They are literally dying. If that isn't justification for starting a political party focusing primarily on the needs of women, then I don't know what is.
I'm not naive enough to believe that joining a political party solves everything, and I don't think that my WEP membership card is a magic wand that will make the patriarchy disappear in a cloud of feminist glitter. This certainly isn't the only step I'm going to take towards making my feminism more active. But it's a bloody good place to start, and I cannot wait to be a part of the amazing things I know WEP will achieve.