The Accidental Feminist

Originally Published 6th October 2011

I never wanted to be a feminist.
In fact at school I’d occasionally get called a ‘feminist’ during debates in my politics classes as an insult. And I’d take it as such, furiously denying that I was anything of the sort.
Like a depressingly high proportion of my generation I believed that Women’s Rights and Feminism were dead issues. The Women’s Rights revolution had already happened. We live in an equal world, and anyone still kicking about that old chestnut was either of the misguided opinion that women deserve superiority over men or was just plain odd.
It wasn’t until something bad happened that I began to take gender equality and feminism seriously.
In my first year at uni I was contacted by a friend I hadn’t spoken to in a couple of years. After meeting up with her it became apparent that the reason I hadn’t heard from her was because she’d been involved in an abusive relationship.
It was the usual story: her former boyfriend had started off incredibly charming, won her over and showered her with all sorts of affection. Until they started living together at which point he began to change, became more and more demanding, selfish, controlling and angry, changed the affection for insults and psychological games, he’d go out with his friends when he pleased but bully her out of seeing hers and into staying in the house, and even starting to abusively threaten her.
It was after the first time that he physically hurt her that she made the decision to leave him. But visible damage had already been done. The first time I met up with her after that relatively short space of time the outgoing, confident girl I knew was uncomfortable just being out in public.
This got me thinking about two things:
1) How shockingly easy it is for intelligent outgoing women to be sucked into abusive relationships through no fault of their own
And
2) Said friend is very wealthy and she was only able to build up the courage to leave her ex whilst he was out of the country. What happens to women who don’t have separate incomes or this kind of absence to allow escape?
Then I started researching domestic abuse charities and my journey into becoming a feminist snowballed from there. Here are some fun facts for you:
–          Domestic abuse is the second most frequently reported crime in the UK
–          Domestic abuse charities receive less per annum in donations than donkey sanctuaries
We live in a country where the population value abused donkeys over abused women.
Something’s not quite right here.
From there I looked into issues in the UK like the wage gap, the fact that when applying for graduate jobs most employers will see the likelihood that I will probably one day have children as a reason not to employ me, the massive discrepancy between the women in certain industries (like PR) and the number of women managers and a whole host of international issues from gendercide to human trafficking and bride abduction, to the stoning of women for being raped in parts of Africa and the Middle East.
And I realised that I have a problem with this. Therefore I am a feminist.
Women can’t afford to let themselves down. The Women’s Rights Revolution only happened in the last few generations. Where my grandmother dreamt of being a secretary and marrying a rich man my mother is a doctor with her own pretty decent independent income.
The change is recent. As a result many culturally entrenched views on women, what they can and can’t do, how competent they are in the workplace and what they are good for are still pervasive.
You only have to look at the city and see that the stereotypical ‘business man’s night out’ of taking clients to a lap dancing club is still very much a common place or look at the composition of the Houses of Parliament to note the preponderance of men compared to women.
There’s also the case that now women have all the rights of men, but are still expected to fulfil the traditional ‘duties’ of a woman. In many families both parents have to work in order to create a comfortable lifestyle, or, in low income families, just to pay the bills. Who then has to do all the additional work of cooking, cleaning and childrearing? In most cases it’s the woman. I’m not saying that we should create a generation of house husbands but we do need to work towards making it more culturally acceptable for men to take on a more equal part in these domestic roles.
This is not me saying that ‘men’ are to blame. Of course they aren’t. Yes a small minority hold misogynistic views but there are almost certainly an equal number of women with extreme views on men, or even women with misogynistic views on women. Both genders are as bad (and good) as each other.
The problem now is changing cultural perceptions that are held by both men and women in our society. We need people to recognise that yes there have been mighty leaps forward in tackling gender inequality over the past century, but we’re not finished yet.
Where homosexual and ethnic minority groups are still pushing to end the discrimination against them which should by law be non-existent, it sometimes seems that women have, for the greater part, stopped trying.
The modern feminist movement isn’t about burning bras and shouting slogans. It’s about promoting the idea that it is ok for women to complain if they are treated unfairly just for being women, without having all the negative stereotypes of ‘the crazy feminist’ thrust upon them.
So I implore you, leave behind any qualms you might have about boot wearing, hairy faced, man hating nutters and bear in mind this modern view of what a feminist is: someone who has a problem with the statistics and thinks things need to change.
And with this far more realistic definition in mind; there are plenty of men and women I know who’d probably be horrified to learn that they are feminists too.
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