I have always considered myself feminist – but in somewhat the same way that I’ve considered myself blonde or middle class. I just took it as read that I’m a feminist, by default, because I care about equal rights – as a matter as common sense.
But in the same way that people may inherit a religion through their family upbringing, but not actually find a true and potent faith until they are either tested or experience an epiphany, so it is with me: I can only describe this feeling as waking up to feminism.
Hiding in plain sight
It’s huge, and it’s dominating my mental landscape at the moment. I’m feeling ashamed of this, as though I should have known better and my eyes should have been wider earlier, but at the same time I can understand myself. I have been born into relative privilege.
I wasn’t raised in an overtly gendered manner. My enduring memories are of both my mother and father stressing mine and my younger brother’s equal status and rights (in term of pocket money and dessert of course).
I don’t remember ever consciously feeling pushed down because of my gender at home or in the classroom. I do realise that makes me incredibly lucky.
Playing the peacekeeper
Of course I’ve been teased and mocked, propositioned and pinched, but I think I’ve always seen these things I’ve faced as a) part of the annoying fabric of everyday life, and b) nothing much in the grand scheme of things that people have to deal with.
The events of my childhood conspired to give me the parts of peacekeeper and optimist to play in life. Where I’ve had a rough deal I always tend towards forgiveness and focused on silver linings. I usually avoid confrontation and anger – but now I feel a turning.
Sensing a pattern
Yes I’ve listened to women and girls pour out their pain and shame about their abuse, rape, neglect, sacrifice, betrayal and humiliation at the hands of men.
Yes, I’ve read historical and contemporary accounts of women forced down, denied their rights, robbed of their dignity, swindled. Or systematically abused and scattered far from their homes as a result of wars mostly planned and waged by men.
Yes, I’ve visited women in countries whose patriarchal systems mean they can’t get loans, can’t read, can’t own land.
These injustices have always been visible to me – but now I am seeing a pattern, each a different side to an ugly behemoth.
The realisation that many men hate women.
That it is still in the mainstream to hold women to moral and other standards that simply aren’t applied to men – and that women and men are limited because of this.
That control over women is still built into the majority of, if not all, societies’ fabric.
What is it that has caused this awakening?
It’s partly that I’ve been tuned into this agenda more intently through my work over the past six months or so, and that I’ve had the privilege to work with some incredibly fierce women recently.
It’s probably also the sense of our complacency being shattered, as we feel politics lurch backwards in terms of the human rights we should all be shouting to defend
Before, I believed in gender equality as a simple piece of logic. So I have been a feminist for as long as I can remember, but now I’m woke as well.
Feminism is still about common sense. It is about human rights and freedom for men and women.
But it’s also a response to injustice that makes me sick with anger, a rot that goes to the core, is pervasive and systematic, hidden in plain sight.
A call to act
I’m grateful to this anger. Feeling that fire in my guts gives me the confidence to stand up tall. Wakes me to what is going on. Wakes me to the fact that my mindset and the way I live my life each day is a choice – and it can be feminist or complacent.
It’s down to my privilege that I’m having this awakening only now, and the same privilege demands that I act upon it with all the urgency and effort I can muster.