Tuesday, June 26, 2012

"...Are there any women here?"

I 've been taking part in a PhD student's research into the attitudes and identity of working mothers. The research involves detailed recorded interviews. The first interview lasted well over two hours, and generated a transcript that was well on its way to being a novella. it was interesting to see my patterns of speech written down verbatim. Whilst the ums and errs quota caused mo great surprise, I never realised how many times I start a sentence with the word 'so'.

So...yesterday's follow-up interview lasted around 1 1/2 hours. Mostly it picked up on threads from interview one. However,  the last question blindsided me somewhat. I was asked, what does the word feminism mean to me, now? And what does it mean, as a mother?

I recalled my DM-wearing days at university and in my twenties, when 'feminist' was a badge of honour. When I felt genuinely angry about the failure of society to create the conditions for equal pay and equal opportunities. When the mere notion that a working woman would regularly do far more housework than her working male partner incensed me. When the church's failure to fully embrace the ministry of women felt like a wound in the side. I felt distanced from that person, almost as if I had forgotten how being her felt.

Yet I don't believe these issues are less important now; I just seem to have lost the energising anger. I have become tired, and complacent. But on the plus side, my version of feminism has shifted its focus from the parochial white British middle-class angst towards a bigger picture. So here's what I told the researcher; and here, too, is what I want to pass on to my daughters.

I don't believe men are the enemy. I know and have known too many lovely men, gentle and respectful, to ever think that for a minute. Men who even call themselves feminists, too. But the centuries of malecentric society, coupled with our apathy and our stupidity have created the conditions we find ourselves with today.

We women should respect ourselves a lot more. Part of that respect means not investing so much energy, money and time spent in self-flagellation - do I look too fat? Too old? Too pasty? Too ugly? Each woman needs to decide where the line should be drawn, for herself - mine is after mascara, but well before Botox - and then forget it. Don't get dragged across it by a perception of other people's expectations. Be around those who love you as you are, and begin to see things from their perspective.

The continuing disparities between men and women in the workplace and in how jobs are allocated in the home are concerning, and ultimately something we need to solve. But that is as nothing compared with the utter contempt expressed through domestic violence. Whilst this is a male problem, we cannot wait for men to solve it - not those men. And those women who are already trapped in a cycle of violence are least able to make change happen. We need to foster a steely self-respect in girls and young women, teaching them zero tolerance for any behaviour that undermines, belittles and isolates them - whether it be actual or real psychological and physical abuse. Likewise boys and men need strong role models that vociferously reject all notion that women are weaker, and that jealous love leads to acceptably poor behaviour.

Girls in this country should be aware of the great legacy we have from the Suffragette movement, as well as more modern feminists. That women who speak out on such issues have always been made figures of fun, but that this should only make us more grateful. It is a right, not a concession, that we have good antenatal care, favourable divorce laws, that we can wear what we want, have a choice of career, and drive our own cars. All the more reason to be aware of so many places in the world where this is not the case. Girls need to be taught the links between attitudes, beliefs, actions and law in such places, so that they can fight for the global sisterhood as well as recognising the more insidious forms of these attitudes in their own place of birth.

It is feminism that has enabled me to get a University education; to decide when I wanted children, and how many; to take time out to look after them, and to return to work. Feminism protects my rights to earn money, spend money, borrow money and throw it all away on what I like. Feminism is front and centre every time I take my voting card to the polling booth; and when I sit on a jury. It stands beside me when I talk to those who have suffered abuse from men who should have been their allies. It screams with rage as I flick through the newspaper.

I want my girls to be proud to describe themselves as feminists, wearing that badge as they approach their world with all its complexities, all its light and shade. Just as their mother does: although I think, for a while, she forgot.

2 comments:

Jez Nash said...

Great stuff, T. '...after mascara, but well before Botox...' - Brilliant, love it.

Anonymous said...

Thankyou