Feminism. Only recently have I become aware of the sheer terror this word can inflict on people.
I hadn’t realised that declaring oneself as a feminist is akin to an ‘outing’ experience. Once, I caused a man’s face to drain of colour as he declared in horror: “I didn’t know you were one of them.” I had no idea that by dropping the fem-bomb in fluid conversation I’d warrant such a response. This had never happened before and I think I was even more horrified by his reaction.
But women are feminists by proxy, right? When I was a young-un, I believed all girls were feminists, and that girls and boys were equal in the modern world. Of course, I now know this isn’t necessarily the case. But my dewy-eyed belief that I was completely equal to my boy counterparts was lovely while it lasted.
Nevertheless, I am most definitely a student of feminism. I’m constantly learning – and no, I don’t hate men, in fact I’ve got lots of male friends. About a year ago, I discovered The Guilty Feminist Podcast. Hosted by Deborah Francis-White and formerly Sofie Hagen, the podcast describes itself as a “discussion of topics all 21st century feminists agree on while confessing the insecurities, hypocrisies and fears that underlie their lofty principles”. All this, and it’s hugely funny.
Seriously though, funny is important because that’s how it got me hooked. It’s engaging, unapologetic (there’s an episode on that) and powerfully relatable for someone like me who is finding their feet with feminism. It’s not lofty or high-brow at all. It’s incredibly accessible.
But my oh my, I’m now in the depths of reality. You know when you’re trying to get to sleep but you can’t, and your mind zones in on the ticking clock you’ve never noticed before and, at silly o’clock in the morning, it’s the loudest god damn tick you’ve ever heard? That’s how I feel about gender inequality, about the patriarchy. I’ve tuned into a frequency that’s so sharp and brazen that there’s no turning back. I can’t un-know it.
Now I’m not saying this is a bad thing, but it makes me feel a lot of things. Anger is a huge emotion and so is sadness. But, with the extensive fandom The Guilty Feminist earns, and if you look wider to the recent women’s marches, it’s reassuring to know there’s enough people out there standing together and willing to fight the fight. If you don’t get what all the fuss is about, you can do one thing: count.
I’m obsessed with counting and I can’t stop. I count the representation of men versus women on telly, on radio, in the media – and it’s a stark comparison. And white. If I happen to be on a company website, I’ll drop by the ‘who we are’ page and count the gender tally of senior management. Often I don’t even need to count because there are no female faces.
At Christmas, one of those comedy panel shows came on TV and I happened to point out that, bar one woman, it was all men. I was greeted with sideways glances like I was a barm cake. When you count, the imbalance stares you in the face like the ultimate piss-take. Nevertheless, I’ll admit that it was invisible to me for a long time, even though I’ve always declared my feminism. We’re programmed to believe a certain normality, but simple counting tells a different story.
So yeah, I might be late to the party. I thought I’d arrived by wearing my feminist badge proudly but I was wrong. But I suppose that’s how it’s meant to be. We’re meant to accept what we’re given and be grateful. You can say you’re a feminist, fine, but woe betide if you want to challenge the system and demand equality.
I came across a quote a while back which I’ve not been able to shake off: ‘When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.’ No one can seem to pin down the origin of these words (Google was useless) but blimey, true dat.
And it goes way beyond feminism. Just look at the shit-storm that is Donald Trump. He managed to convince enough people they were being oppressed in order for him to further oppress others.
Part of me wishes I’d never learnt to count. But now more than ever it’s vital. And in the midst of this fright-fest, we can take comfort in the fact that there’s a truck-load of us feminists out there, both men and women. If recent women’s marches have shown the patriarchy anything, it’s that they’ve got an almighty fight on their hands.
In the meantime, I’m going to make this whole palaver slightly more bearable by listening to The Guilty Feminist.