How to be a Feminist?

The modern minefield of feminism is something I spend
considerable amounts of time pondering. I love women. It’s a
start. I love men. I have nothing but respect for my academic
feminist friends, of whom I have many; the ones starting
petitions, volunteering at crisis centers and shelters,
spreading the words of women for future generations. Equally I
admire my friends at the other end of the scale; the ones who
find a wolf whistle making their day, who will take a drink from
anyone who offers without fear of the consequences and who think
stripping is empowering.

There are many things I have discovered and become in my life
so far. I am a woman. I am British. I am vegetarian. I am a
liberal. I hate my body. I love music. I am a bisexual. I am
an insomniac. I am always in love. I am an artist. I am a rape
victim. I have friends. I like to dance. I hate that I hate my
body. I always sing R-Kelly at karaoke. I hate olives. I am a
feminist.

The question that repeatedly comes to me is how to fit this
notion of being a feminist into my life as a woman. In a world
full of labels and assumptions and associations the idea of
labeling my feminism, or my femininity for that matter, has
always been the one I find most infuriating and the hardest to
pin down in words. Having been to the cinema to see the latest
Bond film recently, my boyfriend joked, ‘I’m surprised you
haven’t written to the Prime Minster to demand the next Bond
be a woman’. Obviously, as a feminist, a well-loved fictional
character should not be allowed to exist without a politically
correcting female counterpart? Offended, I retorted something
along the lines of ‘yes, because I believe in equal pay, an end
to forced marriage, domestic violence, rape and the right not
to live in fear of persecution because I have a vagina I have
started a campaign for Janet Bond’. Silence.

It is not just men that I find increasingly judgmental of my
quest to find my feminism. I wanted to go to the Slutwalk
meeting in London. I found the ‘a dress is not a yes’ slogan
very appealing. I had hoped to go with some feminist friends

but, sometime before the march, a conversation arose in the
pub. My academic feminists had realized that they found using
the word ‘slut’ was too offensive, ‘I’m just not sure that
I approve.’ So, the feminists were out. I tried to convince
another group of friends to go with me but my request, this
time, was met with ewwww’s and cries of, ‘but I don’t want to
see all that flesh!’ ‘Those girls will get raped if they dress
like that!’ I didn’t go.

I am privileged to live in a country and a city where most
women I speak to consider themselves to be feminist in one way
or another. Here we are, swishing around in a giant feminist
soup pot, unable to agree on the flavour. I am far from
blameless in this. I find myself arguing often with friends
and colleagues who consider lap dancing and glamour modeling
a fantastic, empowering choice for women. I cry ‘you fools,
you sell your bodies and perpetuate an image of women as sex
objects, promote foul ideals of a one size fits all perfect
figure and hand power to those men who say their desires must be
fed to avoid sex crimes!’ They respond, ‘who is the fool when
men will pay so much to look, while we can feel so sexy and make
so much money while you sit here hating yourself?’ I have known
strippers who have made me question whether they might just be
right.

I don’t think that it is just women who struggle with feminism.
Many of my male friends also consider themselves to be feminist.
They want the same equality that I do, but, are plagued by women
around them waiting for them to slip up so they can pounce
on their misogynistic genes. It is a feeling we share in a
way, I too am nervous of being too feminist around some and
not feminist enough around others. We have generations of men
caught between the traditional male roles of their fathers,
the expectations of their partners and daughters and the need
to fit in with male friends and colleagues; the ‘lads’ who are
undoubtedly one of the scarier outcomes of the long awaited
breakdown of traditional gender roles. Scary for women, with
scores of web pages trivializing sexual abuse, enforcing ancient
stereotypes about our libidos, encouraging banter and violence
and being a ‘real’ man. With suicide the biggest killer of men
under 30 in the UK, I wonder if it isn’t scary for men too.

I find that there are moments of real poignancy rising from the
ever-changing uncertainty. The time I heard a perfectly average
8-year-old girl ask, ‘do I look fat in this?’ The new boyfriend
a friend introduced me to who whispered, ‘she’s a feminist; I
think it’s so sexy’. The building sized billboard promising me
joy, fulfillment and passion if I shed a few pounds by eating
freeze dried, chemical laden cereal. The friend who began to
shake because of the shame she felt for her sexual fantasies
after she discovered her mother had been raped. I was able to
tell her despite my experience I still prefer my sex life with a
good helping of kink.

I am under no illusion that this represents the biggest battle
women face. How utterly self indulgent, to sit writing about
how I feel and have felt finding my feminist feet while women
everywhere face very real inequality and danger each and every
day. Are feminists relevant in modern society? Absolutely. Am
I a feminist? Completely. Do I know how to be a feminist? No.
Do I know how to translate it into action yet? Not really, but
I want to find out. I have also made some decisions. I must
become confident in my body, if only for the sake of my unborn
daughters. I will talk to my friends, read their articles and
papers (even the ones I don’t understand) and I will praise
their achievements. I will debate, cheer, march, agree, disagree
and celebrate each and every one of their unique versions of
feminism accepting that I may never know exactly where I fit.
Who knows if we all try it, between us we might just begin
winning the wars we are all fighting.

Anonymous

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