Recently I've been giving a lot of thought to my take on feminism. It informs most of my blog posts, but I generally don't use the word because I know it can attract unwanted attention.
Today I'm saying it out loud. My name is Lisa and I am a feminist. I haven't always been, but it's become an important part of my life in the past few years.
Last week I went to the launch of Polly Vernon's Hot Feminist book. She is a journalist I really enjoy keeping up with - she is a strong voice in contemporary British culture and I'm interested in what she has to say. However, she is in favour of a 'don't sweat the small stuff' take on women's rights, stating that she's quite happy to let a bit of manspreading, all-male panel shows and wolf-whistling go by, in order to concentrate on the 'big' issues of rape, the pay gap, and abortion rights. She states that she loves fashion, beauty and staying skinny, but maintains that these are things she does primarily for herself. At the same time she says she loves being sexy and fanciable to men. Hmm.
Although I rather enjoyed her book, I don't agree with her on everything. To me, all of the small stuff that objectifies and demeans women gives rise to the big stuff like rape culture, and there is no doubt that an urge to be sexy and fanciable to men comes from socialisation among women to do so from a young age.
This is when I realised what sort of feminist I am - one that advocates awareness. I am all in favour of women doing exactly what they want - whether it's being a housewife, making a living in sex work, living for fashion or a being a glamour model - as long as they know WHY they have the urge do those things. We've been socialised to want to please men, be sexy and beautiful for them and be their homemakers while they go out to work. If you decide to turn that into a way of life or a way of making a living, then that is your right, but just know why you're doing it and be happy.
Similarly, men have been socialised to objectify girls and women, to see them as something they are entitled to comment on, touch and have sex with. Relatively few men are aware of that fact, which is why there is a such a backlash from them when we refuse to accept their comments or have sex with them, or when we say we want Page 3 removed from our papers and more women on panel shows. We're rejecting a thing that is so ingrained in our culture that many people, men and women, refuse to believe it's actually there. They think we're making a fuss.
I usually point these people in the direction of Laura Bates' excellent 2014 article. The very first comment, that 'this is not an issue specific to any gender', cites the statistical evidence (from 2012) that floors any argument to the contrary. Women are not yet equal to men in any sexual, political, or economic arena and yet feminists are continually asked to prove that what they're talking about is real with yet more facts and statistics.
To me it feels like the science vs creationism argument - the science behind feminism is so obvious to me that saying that it doesn't exist feels like I'm arguing with someone who maintains the world was built in seven days by a man with a beard in the sky.
I can understand why men feel under attack from feminists because we are directly attacking the male bias in our society - otherwise known as 'patriarchy'. It's not their actual individual fault that it's there, but many men feel as though we are saying it is. We're not. They're a victim of it too - does no one think that there is a correlation between the high rate of suicide among young men and the pressure on them from a young age conform to traditions of masculinity?
If you've grown up in a culture of male privilege and entitlement, where you are the privileged one, then you're not really going to have a clear counter-view you, are you? Just accept that, and be aware that this social system has an effect on you, as well as all the women around you. If you're a young woman who thinks there's no need for feminism because 'we're already equal', just know that we're not. Yet. If you're a young man who says he has a 'problem with feminists', stop and think about what you are saying. You are saying that you don't approve of equality for women. Most men I've met who've said that clearly don't believe in inequality.
Awareness, awareness, awareness. That's all I'm saying.
This is my feminism.