The ‘F’ word is one that fills many with a sense of unease, if not dread. ‘Feminist’ conjures images of fire breathing spinsters, bras ablaze and held aloft, revealing metres of armpit hair. They eat men for breakfast, spit-roasted, and so strong and independent are they that they become social pariahs in their Feminist Colony on Feminist Island, with the Misunderstanding and Sexist Sea between them and the rest of the world.
In real life, this is not the case. Of course there are anomalies – you’ll have the vocal seminar member who will dominate the floor, refusing male students the chance to make a (perfectly sensible) point about the monstrous characterization of Grendal’s Mother. You’ll get the women who refuse to cook anything from scratch on principal so suffer mild forms of scurvy from a diet of Morrison’s ready meals. Some will unpick a passing comment to reveal the apparently all too evident patriarchal sub-structures within it, rendering the man’s “have a nice day” a misogynistic assumption on their idea of “nice.” This scares the men, and may well scare you.
I can assure you now, that most feminists are not like that. Indeed, all women, whether they have come out or not, or like it or not, are feminists. It should not be a pin-badge to be hidden underneath lapel collars, nor a brand that determines the sex or indeed sexual orientations (you can be a feminist and not be a lesbian, you know) of your friendship group. Hell, I know men who are feminists. (But that’s for another piece). Girls are afraid to tell their friends, and especially potential partners, of their ‘political orientation’ – as if the views they hold on the pay gap and the sexualisation of children – could be deemed stupid, or controversial. The inevitable sigh of disappointment that comes from an interlocutor halts any kind of intelligent debate. By identifying as a feminist, women are afraid of the stigma that comes with it: the assumption that because you hold certain views, or don’t feel the need to dress in a certain way, or cannot be bothered to make an effort (it is more the latter, I can assure you) to impress other women or men, that you are somehow slightly insane. This does not have to be the case. No one’s making you wear a sign around your neck with the F word scrawled on it.
The important point of being a feminist – and why every woman, I believe – is automatically one, is that it gives the woman more choice. It does not mean that you hate men, or can’t eat bananas because of their suggestive shape, or can’t cry loudly and embarrassingly in the cinema because it’s a “sissy thing to do”. Do what you want: it’s all about choice.
It’s an amazing thing, choice. It means that if you want to shave half your hair off and dye it blue, or become immensely fit and become a pole dancer, or marry a rich, decent man and settle down to have 2.5 children and a pastel-shaded detached house in the suburbs you CAN. You are not forced into it; it is not your assumed role. Why be embarrassed to declare to the world how you feel about CHOICE?
People should be more vocal about it, they should enjoy saying and acting upon it. Wax your legs until an inch of their life. Wear no tights out to Willow in the middle of January. Vote. Wear the darkest shade of foundation you can get away with. Take up Morris Dancing. Go to a WomCom meeting. Swear like a fish wife. Wear big biker boots because they’re comfy and keep the rain out. Leave the leg hair for months on end (because it’s winter and it keeps you warm). Make bunting in your spare time. Volunteer to work with disabled kids. Go walking on the Moors. Join the W.I. Read Germaine Greer and get angry at the injustice of it all because YOU CAN.
You have the choice to do all, or any, or part, or some, or indeed none of this list. It’s not an either/or decision. You are young; you are intelligent, go and make the choices you want to and hell to those that condone you for it. Choices are being made by men all the time, and women deserve that possibility as much as them. Feminism gives us an option by opening to us a degree of respect that was once out of reach, one that women fought and died for. We all know there are still aspects of our male-dominated society that are wrong. Don’t be afraid to stand up for the women – shaven or not, tanned or not. Whether you do it calmly or vehemently, there are important issues that need discussing, or nothing will change.
So, the next time a conversation veers to that of the role of women in the family, or a particularly irritating acquaintance makes a joke about women and sandwiches, or sinks and chains, or rhohypnol being a man’s best friend, stand up for choice. Rant and shout and raise your arms high, and as long as you’re alright with the length of your armpit hair, carry on doing so until the changes come that we’ve so long been waiting for.
And the beauty of it is you don’t even need to out yourself publicly if you really don’t want to. But I’d recommend it, it’s a great feeling: I announce to you that I, Kate Bull, English Student, Sewing Machine Enthusiast and Part Time Cook, am a feminist through and through. And I love it. [Please follow suit and stand on a chair or table and say it, or to yourself in front of the mirror. It sets you up for a good day.]