I think I missed the class somewhere, Feminism 101. I don’t think I’m a good enough feminist to call myself one. There are times when I am no longer sure what it actually means. Which bit am I – are we – fighting for again? Also, white, middle class, mostly straight girl, whatcha doing here…
And I can’t type fast enough for the latest FB argument, let alone formulate a response in time…
And I didn’t read that thing. That book, that article.
I do not deserve to call myself a feminist.
Mostly, I’ll leave it to the wiser, cleverer, more articulate, better informed, better qualified, other feminist to do the necessary fighting. I do understand that it is necessary. But…she’ll be better at it. I am afraid.
She’ll be along soon.
I’m sure of it.
Glasgow Women’s Library, 21 June 2016. ‘Women, Media, Politics’ seminar or ‘Being a Feminist in Public.’
Ostensibly to present empirical academic research on differing attitudes to women and men in politics seen in representations in official and social media during the Scottish and EU referendums (an interesting study that has been knocked widely off course by the death of Jo Cox.)
Book-ending the ever-so-slightly dry presentations of data are two events, considering ‘Being A Feminist in Public’.
This is the meat of it.
How do women speak up? What platforms are available? What spaces? What responsibilities, vulnerabilities, opportunities and attacks occur?
Lee Chalmers on the public voice as a masculine activity. Talat Yaquoob makes me believe in quotas for gender equality in public representation because the ‘natural trajectory’ is just too damn slow (and the room to laugh its collective ass off, because she is very very damn funny). Claire Heuchan aka Sister Outrider, soft spoken, resolute, eloquent and firm, speaks of racism and invisibility, demystifies intersectionality in the feminism movement, is quietly and righteously angry.
- On being named ‘Lying Feminist of the Month’ by a Men Rights Activist Twitter Troll, the reaction, temptation ‘if I make myself smaller, will this disappear?’.
- That feminism seems to be being sold as a bumper sticker, but that this sort of work can’t possibly by glamorous – ‘it will always be about distributing power’.
- The three most likely attackers of anyone who sticks their head up and speaks out on social media. Anywhere. But particularly on Twitter. Men’s Rights Activist (MRA). The scariest and most violent but not necessarily the most prevalent. Brogressives. Mostly white middle class males who refuse to acknowledge feminist thought as having either robustness or relevance. A particularly observable issue in Scotland at the moment. I could have heard more about this. And other feminists.
- Why does this happen? This attacking of feminists by other feminists? When the same fundamental – the only important belief – is ‘the transformative redistribution of power.’
- Know yourself; be the feminist that you are.
- Pursue radical kindness. Enable each other to think about complicated ideas.
Know yourself; be the feminist that you are.
I am so thankful. I shake.
This has seemed for so long so complicated and so important, so very important, that it was better to say nothing that to get it wrong.
To be so scared of getting it wrong. That I say nothing at all.
At lunch, four of us, some known, some not, sit on the floor amongst books and talk about calling ourselves feminists. Not calling ourselves feminists. About fear. We are mutually surprised by the ones among us who are hesitant to call themselves feminists.
Know yourself; be the feminist that you are.
‘To believe that it was right to identify with all women, to wish to deeply and sincerely do so, was not enough’. (Adrienne Rich, Blood, Bread and Poetry)
The first clause of the sentence as important as the last. Know yourself. Know the spaces that you can and will fight in. Know what the fight is.
‘…to keep searching for teachers who can help me widen and deepen the sources and examine the ego that speaks in my poems – not for political ‘correctness’ but for ignorance, solipsism, laziness, dishonesty, automatic writing.’
(Rich, Blood, Bread and Poetry)
What is the feminist that I am? How do I work to understand more widely? What – and where – is my fight? Who do I stand beside?
To understand where my lived – what Rich calls ‘concrete‘ – experience intersects – where the personal is political and also, where it does not. When I need to keep still and listen and learn from other women’s lived experience.
When to read and when to speak.
I’m going back to the beginning. Reading Gloria Steinem, Adrienne Rich, Muriel Rukeyser. Warsan Shire, Denise Levertov. Elizabeth Bishop and Denise Riley and others. Working in my spaces.
Reading takes time.
Back on the floor of the Women’s Library. We still talk.
What sort of feminism do we want to take to which spaces? What spaces do we want – individually, collectively – to take responsibility for?
These are the questions we’re being challenged with.
We talk about the various spaces we can express our feminism. The pressure we feel to be present, constantly present, articulate, informed, argumentative, clever, witty and ultimately win on social media (particularly Facebook with its endlessly spiralling, stubborn, unconsidered debates). How uncomfortable we feel there.
How do we find the spaces? How do we make the spaces work for us? For debate, for necessary disagreement? For the unravelling of long and complicated ideas?
Does art count? Performance? Does writing count? How can writing a meticulously researched novel about suffragettes, class, the press and the police set in the early days of the 20th century NOT count as much as FB argument?
There is still a lot of work to be done. There will always be a lot of work to be done. It needs time and reading and unpicking and listening and speaking and debating, in spaces where we learn, and spaces where we fight. But I think, I think. The point is to do it.
And along the way, that it is alright to call yourself a feminist, to find the space for the fight for the redistribution of power, which is needed, still, in whatever spheres and orbits and heavenly bodies you operate in best. A post, a thread, a pulpit, a woven cloth.
I know my spaces now. They are in poems and they are on a stage. Sometimes they are on the street and in the pub. They are physical, these spaces. I salute the ones who do not make themselves smaller online, where it is so fast, so frenzied, so limitless in space.
Baby steps and early days. I read and I listen. But I feel that I can whisper back. Hell, sometimes I can even holler.
I am a feminist.