First published on huffpost.com, July 2014
I first read Caitlin Moran’s ‘How to be a Woman’ in the winter of 2012, just after I had become a mother. I picked it up from a charity book table whilst pushing my sleeping daughter slowly around a supermarket and decided to take it home to read because, 1) reading it would provide some much needed escapism from the wonderful but often very, very dull and lonely world of maternity leave and, 2) being a woman suddenly seemed like something I should know how to do.
It was easy to fall in love with her words. She is funny and clever and honest and very, very cool. The presentation of her thoughts is so passionate that you can’t help but see their importance, without any sense of alienating anger. And I wasn’t even half way in before I was utterly convinced; I am a Feminist.
How could I not be?
But it may surprise you to hear that, as a woman living in the 21st Century, I had spent my entire life believing that Feminism didn’t concern me. I thought the issue (yep, just the one!) had gone away. At school, I could wear trousers just like the boys if I wanted to. Of course, I didn’t, they were horrible, but the option was there if I felt that strongly about it. I didn’t. There was never any doubt that I could go to University. There I found module options addressing Feminist theory aligned with History courses, and that certainly wasn’t for me as I opted instead for anything with the word ‘contemporary’ in the title. And out there in the big wide world, the world presented to me via The Box and MTV, women were singing of Girl Power and apparently taking over whilst still wearing dinky dresses and killer heels. Where was the problem? Clueless, I know. It may surprise you to learn that I had sailed through life for thirty years as a woman without ever realising that Feminism was something for me. But it probably won’t.
Because that is the problem. Girls today (and, by today, I also mean twenty and thirty years ago) have grown up believing that we can have it all. We can be and do whatever we want. We can have whatever any man can. That we need to. We now live in a world where the headline Feminist concerns appear to have already been addressed a long time ago and that anyone left still worrying about the F word is radical, extreme; words we have also been taught to fear.
But, the sad truth is, addressing those headline concerns seems to have been something that has prevented us from getting down to the nitty gritty. Women are worried about speaking up about what concerns them in case we appear to be difficult or crazy. And there we go again, words we have been taught no woman wants to be. So instead we silently struggle to work out our worth against a media backdrop of snap shots of what a perfect post-feminist woman should be.
The trouble is the struggle seems to have split us in to two, or three, or, more likely, many, many more pieces. Pieces in conflict with one another as they try to silence perspectives we have learnt we should not portray. Pieces that prevent us from feeling happy with ourselves. Pieces that prevent us from being whole.
We cannot have it all, all of the time but we are tearing ourselves, and each other, apart trying. And fixing this is surely the new agenda facing us Feminists in the twenty first century.
And maybe there is another problem starting to emerge as the same problem is put to men and pressure grows for them to be all things to all people. But I hope not.
However, as I started to see the problem and realised I was part of it, the solution began to transpire. Because it wasn’t just Caitlin (although with her strong look and powerful words it was inevitable she would become the poster child and my latest girl crush!). After realising I was a feminist (but before I was here with you speaking the word), I began to see other women sharing their truths. Women were confessing to their fears and being honest about what we have become. As I started to listen out, I heard stories that I shared; socially accepted sexism in the work place, body image issues with damaging results, loneliness and desperation and depression and low self-esteem. The stories were at times sad but the women telling them certainly weren’t. They were funny and clever and cool. Their words were something I could identify with. That is not to say that I always agreed but I could see a truth in what they were saying. The representation of what being a woman is, was real.
This month I stumbled across the article A Room of One’s Own. Com in a copy of Red at my in-laws. And there again was the solution. Increasingly, women (just like me) are using blogs (just like this one) to find their voice and share their stories in a world where we are all too often told by others what we are. But, as I type this, I realise that, sadly, this probably isn’t enough. I realise that, in the past, I would have dismissed words like these as false propaganda and opted instead to believe the easy, more obvious ‘truths’ that appear all around.
And so this is where we need to post our words: in our everyday lives. Blogging is a brilliant start but sharing our stories needs to be something that we all do, all day, every day. We live in a world where a simple search term throws up a whole world of possibilities. We are in competition. We need to be creating a world where the real experiences of women, including those that are difficult or crazy or radical or extreme, are the ones that stand true so that we aren’t fooled by the prospect of perfection and we stop stifling the parts of ourselves that we feel are flawed. For that we need to find powerful words. Words like Feminism that might seem scary at first until they become so familiar that we stop feeling afraid. But words that our daughters, and our sons, will hear.