A Feminist Education

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I’m not what you’d call a typical feminist. Rumour has it, it’s only for the straight, white middle class club. Whilst I am white, I’m not a hundred per cent hetero and my roots are thoroughly working-class. I’ve got the regional accent to prove it and everything. My dad works shifts in a paper mill. My mum was a stay at home parent for a period bookended by secretarial stints. They both left school in year eleven and never looked back.

But when I look back, I can’t help feeling that they, albeit unconsciously, taught me the very first lessons in my feminist education. For Christmas my younger sister Hollie and I might have got a job lot of Barbies and a Cinderella Star Castle but we were also given train sets and tool benches. I was desperate for a Play Mobil dustbin lorry and my absolute favourite thing in the whole world was to make my toys cars do three point turns. We’d also make them crash – a lot.  Hollie in particular had a sadistic streak; she cut the hair off all of my Bratz dolls and turned them into serial killers. Taking the patriarchy down one creepily sexualised doll at a time.

Our games came a long time before we’d heard of Let Toys be Toys or the Barbie Liberation Organization and I don’t think we were the exception. Kids just don’t want to squash themselves into the awful little pigeonholes gender stereotypes so carefully craft for us; they want to be given the space to run wild. But even though my parents (within reason) allowed me that space, I still remember being aware of the should dos and shouldn’ts as early as three years old. Like most nursery schools mine had a Home Corner and a Construction Area. The construction area looked amazing – there were ladders and bricks and memorably one time there was even a bright red telephone box: I wanted to explore. Yet, I only ever remember playing there once – when everyone else was playing outside and I had snuck back in. Why? Because the boys played with the Construction and the girls played in Home Corner. Everyone knew that.

At my secondary school feminism was one F-word too much. I vaguely remember admiring my friend’s French teacher who hated it when boys called women birds. She was the first person I ever heard mention how important it was for women to vote.

It wasn’t until I was at college though, that I was introduced to feminism properly. Feminism with a capital F. And I was one hundred percent ready to embark on this feministically exciting journey through the history, and the future, of women’s lib. Only it was a lot more complex than I thought. Getting full marks in an art project about breaking through the boxed up bounds of gender stereotypes doesn’t make you the queen of the theme. It just makes you good at casting dolls in plaster of Paris. It was all so horribly complex and full of gigantic words and terrible contradictions. I felt lost.

We want to be represented but all the representations are ripped to shreds. We want to be real but depictions of women with weaknesses are disallowed. We want to be equal but we make claims that we are better than men. I know now that thisisn’t feminism and that really I can make my own definition and still fight the fight, but at that point I was high on the desire for equality with no idea what it meant. I felt alienated. I was too uneducated, too young, too questioning and too working class to ever get it. I might want equality but I wasn’t equal enough to understand how to get it. So I know what it feels like to be scared to call yourself feminist. When you feel like you don’t quite know enough.

Now I’ve been to university and spent three years analysing the theme of women as commodities, how being female impacts on conversion in The Merchant of Venice and whether gender has any bearing at all on interruption patterns in politics. You’d think I’d be more in the picture. To an extent, I am. But it’s still all so confusing to me, perhaps more so now I can convincingly argue pros and cons from every conceivable angle. I don’t think I’ll ever make my mind up about whether the practice of reclaiming words is positive or not. One thing I am certain of though is that we need to reclaim the word feminism.

Gender inequality effects my life massively; from the salary I’ll get in comparison to my male colleagues, to the fear that I’m going to disappoint my Nan if I don’t settle down with a nice men, all the way through to that awful feeling in the pit of my stomach whenever I walk through a subway on my own. Not to mention how it affects women and men in the wider world. It’s pretty exhausting for us all. No one wants to be a doormat, or nothing but a sexual object, or an constant tower of macho strength. No one wants to live in a world where fifteen year old girls get shot in the head for wanting an education. We all need feminism.

I’m proud to call myself a feminist. I’ll shout it from the rooftops till I’m blue in the face. You don’t have to know the ins and the outs and all the heavy theory. For me,feminist simply means a person who cares. Someone who respects themselves as much as everyone else. A feminist looks at the world with their eyes and their hearts wide open, not just seeing things through their own narrow and distant perspective. It’s someone who will always try their hardest to allow others their freedom, and to include everybody. Being a feminist makes me feel powerful. And it can make you feel powerful too. So own it!

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