Not long after I graduated I was chatting about feminism. So far not that unusual. I was getting into it, like I always do. Seriously passionate, all hand gestures, smiles and adrenaline. The words were fast rolling off my tongue. It was all, ‘you know Hadley Freeman says feminism is to gender equality what global warming is to climate change’ when out of nowhere she said – ‘God, you’re going to be the next Germaine Greer, aren’t you ! But pretty.’
I was still in my ‘oh my God feminism is so totally awesome and I can’t stop telling you about how fantastic it is’ so it took me a while to come back down to earth.
She said ‘I bet you’d say that’s sexist too wouldn’t you.’
I admit it, yes, I would. But it wasn’t the first thing that came into my mind. It also never really occurred to me that I might judge her for it. It was just something you say; a thought, voiced.
There were a ton of other things that crossed my mind. My first thought was, ‘I bloody wish I was as clever and engaging and as flaming fantastic as Germaine Greer.’ I also wanted to say, ‘I’m not pretty’ whilst at the same time I was thinking, ‘yay someone thinks I’m pretty’ and ‘oh no, I’m a feminist I shouldn’t care if someone thinks I’m pretty.’ And there was also my automatic defence of Greer, ‘she’s beautiful too. And in anyway, she wouldn’t give a toss whether you think she’s hot or not.’
If I really was going to be the perfect (that is stereotypical) feminist, that probably wasn’t the correct reaction. I shouldn’t doubt my own abilities, compare myself to other women, and care about my appearance. Occasionally I will make an offhand comment about my appearance, or smile at a song with suspect lyrics and people will be shocked. I’m surprised you think like that, they say, you know with you being a feminist and everything. But the truth is, no one is ever going to be the perfect feminist. Not even Germaine Greer. No matter how many books and essays you write on the subject you’re always going to be a human being. And I’m not saying that human being = sexist, but I am saying that human being will always = complex and emotional and very, very, very flawed. So my thought processes don’t make me anti-feminist or a terrible person, just the same as yours don’t. They just make us three dimensional people whose brains move pretty quickly – sometimes too quickly for our mouths to keep up.
Feminism is difficult. Even while writing this, I’m struggling because feminism rolls so fast it’s difficult to get on top of it. It’s like chasing a Frisbee in the wind and you’re just about to catch it when another gust comes. Or trying to find that word at the tip of your tongue; you can feel its presence, you know that the answer’s just around the corner, but you can never quite grasp it. ‘What I’m trying to say…’ will always need to be followed up by another ‘what I’m trying to say…’ but I’m going to attempt to say it anyway.
Don’t let anyone, feminist or otherwise, ever make you feel inadequate. Don’t let them make you feel alienated. Don’t let the complexity of feminism and the differing intensities of the followers put you off. Don’t allow yourself to feel judged. Loving men and wearing lipstick doesn’t make you any less a feminist than if you read de Beauvoir and burn your bra. It just makes you you.
I want to escape this mould, this idea that people have of feminists that quite simply isn’t true. I want people to know that you can be a feminist whilst wearing dungarees, midi skirts and even body con minis. You can read Heat (although I wouldn’t advise it if you want to maintain some form of self-esteem), have lots of sex, have no sex at all, eat cake, or even call your sister a whore as a term of endearment. None of it really matters that much as long as you respect yourself and your relationships are founded on mutual respect. Because that’s all it’s about really.The aim is pretty simple.
We want to gain equality, gain respect and liberate us all. Women and men.