Happy International Women’s Day! So far this week I have fielded my mum’s concerns that a picture of me wearing fishnets on Instagram ‘gave the wrong impression’, as well as her accusatory questioning as to whether ‘all my friends are feminists now’. I have argued with a man about what defines the ‘shared female experience’, and had him disagree with me when I said it wasn’t giving birth. I have acted professionally towards a male colleague who suggested that a picture celebrating IWD on the work social media account shouldn’t just be of the women who work there ‘because men support women too’. I have felt guilty about eating pizza for tea, because as a six foot, size 10/12 woman I feel constant pressure to lose some weight. I have been called a misandrist. It is currently Wednesday.
I was brought up in an environment where women were seen as helpmeets to men, who are the head of the household. The pressure to marry so that you were spoken for, so you belonged to a man and could be neatly identified as his problem, was an overwhelming part of daily life. When I announced that I was going to university, I was quietly warned that it would make me unappealing, that no man wants a woman that is cleverer than him. Someone genuinely once said the words ‘if you act like a slut, you get treated like a slut’ to me. Women from the Bible were used as examples of how not to behave. Delilah the seductress, who cut off Samson’s hair as he slept in her lap, thus sapping his God-given strength, was the worst of femininity. No mention of the fact that he went along with her rather willingly. Dinah, who went into the city and was raped repeatedly by the King’s son – her own fault because she was friends with the local women. These were the women that were paraded before me as examples of why I wasn’t good enough, as a fifteen year old girl literally and figuratively tearing herself to shreds. I would like to say that it was a very different world but, realistically, it wasn’t.
Strangely, now I am newly empowered and happier than I ever thought possible, I find myself fielding new, different concerns that people have about me. I am called outspoken, wild, intimidating, aggressive – new words designed to police my behaviour. Men especially, but other women too, use words like this to suggest we should be smaller, quieter, we should not disrupt the status quo. Look at Donald Trump, calling articulate, powerful, knowledgeable Hillary Clinton a ‘nasty woman’. With those words he reduced her power to nothing, she was a caricature, a Disney cartoon witch holding out a poison apple to the people of America. People do it all the time, because words are important; words are power. I have heard male friends describe girls as ‘fundamentally unfuckable’ – and with that assertion she suddenly is nothing. Her brains, her success, her kindness, are impotent in the face of her lack of desirability. And yet these same men roll their eyes when we talk about the need for feminism. They say ‘not all men’, and ‘I’m just playing devil’s advocate here’, and ‘you’ll be burning your bras next’, because these phrases are reductive, they steal our power, make us laughable – make us nothing.
Well, I’m tired of feeling like I’m nothing. I will not sit down; I will not calm down, dear; I will not ‘oh shut up’. I refuse to be scared to speak up. Female oppression might not seem as visible to you as it once was. Yes, we have got the vote, we can drink in pubs, we can be the token one or two – alongside ten men – sitting in the boardroom. But the micro-aggressions of daily life are still going strong, as is the very real gender pay gap, the disproportionate number of women in low paid jobs, the unequal unpaid labour. I could go on. There are women across the world that have it much worse, for sure. I know this, so put your pint down and stop interrupting me. But here, in the United Kingdom, female inequality is still very present, very real. I, for one, plan to keep on speaking out against it, to keep on fighting it. I hope you do too. We are fifty percent of the human race, and it’s about time it felt like it. If this conversation is boring you, ask yourself this – why are we still having it?