Today the Safe Space team are sharing their journeys into feminism. Unfortunately we’re not all born feminists and many of us are brought up on societal ideals. That turning point where you identify as a feminist is a special one and everyone has their own story to share, here are some of ours.
Jess: Looking back I’ve always had feminist views. I remember being fourteen and thinking that it was wrong how the boys at school would harass the girls about their bodies and their sexual experience. When I was sixteen I was in a violent relationship with my boyfriend and I remember thinking it was so unfair that if I went through the ordeal of going to the police nothing would likely get done about it. I remember being eighteen and being called a slut and a bimbo because of my blonde hair and big boobs.
I’ve always noticed sexism and have always considered it to be wrong but I didn’t link my views as being feminist until I was in my early twenties. Growing up, feminism always seemed like something from the past that was no longer needed because women were now equal to men. I heard this said as a fact time and time again but it didn’t feel true. If it was true then why were boys still using “pussy” and “fanny” as a synonym for weakness? If it was true then why were women still getting paid less than men for doing the same work? If it was true then why were victims of rape and abuse still being told that they were asking for it? Where was the respect for women that men have by default? Why did we have to fight for everything that much harder?
Things started to shift for me when I started seeing women I look up to in the media talking about feminism and identifying as feminists. Feminism has become more and more accessible to young people over recent years and each time a young woman spoke up I found my views and beliefs aligning with what I was hearing as I related to their experiences.
I’d been learning more about feminism for a while but it wasn’t until I read Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates that everything changed for me. It’s sad to say this, but I’d never identified with a book so strongly before. I realised that the things I went through every day as a woman were in fact sexist and shouldn’t be tolerated. A lot of the topics covered in the book like street harassment and body shaming I hadn’t even identified as being wrong before because they were so common and accepted by society.
Reading Everyday Sexism made me so angry but it also ignited a fire of hope in me because if sexism was the disease then feminism was the cure. From that day on if someone asked me “Are you a feminist?” I would answer automatically with “Yes.” Feminism is a movement that has become a huge part of who I am. Being a woman is hard but knowing I have an army of intelligent and inspiring people behind me makes it easier to shut down sexism when I see it and keep on fighting the good fight towards an equal future. For the girl I was then, for the women who’ll come after me and for those who fought before me, I fight on.
Joy: My first real exploration of feminism came when I was studying Sociology at A-Level. We looked at the beginning of Germaine Greer’s public life in defense of feminism and explored what it meant for men to now do some of what women have long been expected to do, such as the housework or the cooking. However, in the way that this educational approach was presented, it seemed as if feminism was something from the 1970s; a time when women were house-bound with expectation and men were the breadwinners. Not only that, but we were also taught about it in a way that indicated feminism wanted women to have be in control, just as men were. With this being far away from equality, I didn’t consider feminism any further.
It took coming to terms with my experiences of sexual abuse for me to begin to explore feminism again. For as long as I was blaming myself for the abuse, I wasn’t able to see the way the world needed to change. If I’m blaming myself for being abused, then I’m not going to wonder why there is such a victim-shaming culture around rape or any sexual assault. As long as I believe there is something wrong with me, I won’t consider why men think it is alright to honk their car horn at women or make comments about the way women look or what they want to do to us. It has only been in the last year, I would say, that I have really tried to educate myself, to gain different perspectives, and eventually, I have become able to call myself a feminist. It has been really cathartic and empowering. I can’t change what has happened to me in the past, but I can let it fuel an anger in me for what women have to go through in their daily lives, and then use that to campaign and stand up for others.
I’ve loved reading different feminist texts over recent months and I’m encouraged that there is still so much for me to explore. I’m currently reading Laura Bates’ Everyday Sexism, which is crammed full of statistics and personal experiences from numerous women, and it’s opened my eyes to what is happening without much consideration. I’ve also been reading Caitlin Moran’s How To Be a Woman, Unspeakable Things by Laurie Penny and I Call Myself a Feminist, which is an anthology of different young feminist voices.
We are in a time where there is so much knowledge at our fingertips and also ways in which we can take a stand. I’ve joined the Women’s Equality Party in order to be a part of a collective movement and I will continue to read as much as I can. Whilst there is still a lot of sexism at play in our everyday lives, there are also numerous women prepared to call it what it is. It is through opening my eyes to the world around me that I have no choice but to call myself a feminist.
Jo: It took me a long time to understand what feminism actually is. I believed it was directly correlated to misandry, and just couldn’t get on board with that. There are many men in my life who a hugely important to me, and a lot of feminist rants I had come across at the time were full of anger and vitriol towards men. Even now, I strongly disagree with those rants. I disagreed, I didn’t feel that way, so I wasn’t a feminist.
Around two years ago, though, feelings of unease were stirred. I can’t remember what started it off, but something wasn’t right… I just couldn’t put my finger on what. And then I read Only Ever Yours by Louise O'Neill, and it was like a someone had flipped a switch. It was through O’Neill’s book and various articles she had written, that I finally started to understand. I finally got that feminism was about equal rights for women, and started to realise just how unequal things were, how bad things are.
I did more reading. Following Louise O’Neill on Twitter (@oneilllo) brought many articles to my attention. There soon started to be a number of YA novels being published with feminist themes; Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne, 5 to 1 by Holly Bodger, What Was Never Said by Emma Craigie. The more I read, the more I learned, and the more I noticed sexism and the gender imbalance in everyday life; on the TV, in the news, in movies and music. I was now aware, and I was horrified of all I had been blind to previously. Disgusted, I felt a desperate need to learn more; what else was there that I still didn’t know about? How are women’s lives - how is my life - being affected by gender inequality. I needed to know. I needed to talk about it. I needed to do something. And educating myself further seemed the first step. And so I started reading feminist non-fiction. Girls Will be Girls by Emer O'Toole was the first, and the second game changer for me. It made me question not just society, but myself, and how I lived, acted, moved in a misogynistic world. This was the book that really cemented things for me.
I still consider myself a newbie feminist; there’s still a lot I have to learn. But my eyes are open now, and there’s no way for me to shut them, even if I wanted to. Every day, I see the inherent sexism in society, or another example of how women are worse off than men. It’s everywhere. And I can’t keep quiet about it. It’s important, and something we need to address.
A couple of weeks ago, I realised how far I’d come. In response to the title of the book We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, I heard a woman say, “We should never be feminists. Ever.” And I felt such anger, thinking that the life that woman lives is so much easier now than it would have been, because of feminism. I was angry because someone felt negatively towards feminism, and then I remembered it wasn’t that long ago that I felt the same thing.
We still have a long way to go, but my voice will join all other feminists. Because I am a feminist.