Jun 15, 2010 | Opinions

Someone said something rather interesting to me the other day. They accused me of being a ‘militant feminist’, and all that that entails.

Feminazi. Radical feminist. Man-hater. One who, I suppose, wants to tear men down and elevate women in their place. I confess I’m not sure how to respond to such an accusation. Perhaps it’s time to set the record straight, once and for all?

There are men in the western world who have a kind of cognitive dissonance; they view women as equals, think sexism is gone and done with, and declare to anyone who asks that they support equal rights, but it’s all talk. It’s all bluster; sound and fury, with nothing to back it up. They don’t walk the walk. They were brought up a particular way, with particular views, and shaking all that off and reaching out towards the goal of true equality is… too much effort? Maybe. I would think it more likely that they just don’t realise the truth of it.

It’s not something you can really know, unless you live through it every day. If you’ve never once had something denied to you because of what you are, then you don’t see the world like someone who has.

When I was young, I wanted to be a Premier League football player. I think I was only six or seven at the time. I liked soccer a lot, and I liked seeing the ads on television for Premiership matches. But it could never happen – I realised no matter how good I ever became, women were not allowed to play. Not even if I was better, or could run faster, or was more skilled. I would never be given the chance. That, I think, was the first hard truth I had to face about my biology and how the world saw it. I could be the greatest footballer the world has ever seen, but as long as my reproductive organs were on the inside, I’d never be worthy.

I railed at the unfairness, as I saw it, of being a woman. I wanted to do metalwork or woodwork in school – I desperately wanted to make things, big things, that would stand up on their own and be impressive and… arty, or something. I wasn’t allowed. I wanted to play hurling with the boys, being bored to insensibility by knitting. I wasn’t allowed. I wanted to do things that were not ‘lady-like’ simply because they interested me, wear clothes that were comfortable, live without these ridiculous restrictions and to hell with what anyone thought, and that probably annoyed my mother no end – but she and my father always let me be whatever I thought I wanted to be, for the most part.

So I grew up to be unusual. I knew that there were expectations of a woman in normal society, and I also knew that I didn’t care to fulfil them when they were arbitrary and wasteful. I was long since past the stage of not caring what people thought of me.

I wore makeup, once or twice, mostly for my mother. I don’t, nowadays, because I hate the feel of it. I have never bought women’s magazines, or taken them seriously, or been tempted by the random fashion accessories they advertise. I don’t dress up to go out, unless you count Halloween costumes, and I’ve never felt the need to show off my cleavage to attract a man.

I suppose I was atypical to begin with, but it took a lot of watching and reading to solidify my opinions. What I saw around me was that it was mostly men in control, and even the men closest to me couldn’t see that tiny, constant things were endlessly telling me that being a woman made me less than them. That I’d lament about how many women were disadvantaged, and the only way they could internalise and process what I said was by assuring me that they weren’t like that… But they still told me I was overreacting, that that’s just how the world was, when I pointed out that something was sexist and it wasn’t right. They still told jokes about rape.

All the threads play into each other. All the stories and narratives are woven together, from jokes to newspaper articules to Hollywood movies, and in most of them… it’s not men who are used, abused, and weak. I don’t blame the men I know for acting like they do, if at all – the vast majority, including my own better half, are decent, honourable people – but they swim in this culture every day, as do I. They just don’t see it like I do, unless I point it out.

The funny thing about thinking in feminist terms is that you can never really switch it off again. I routinely judge movies and games on their portrayal of women now; it’s almost my own personal benchmark for well-written media, as the likelyhood of my enjoying a movie in which [insert generic white caucasian twenty-something straight male here] gets into random hijinks/action, with a supporting cast of assorted mostly white men, is somewhere around nil. It takes a lot more than flashy special effects to impress me, and it takes a huge amount more when the film in question portrays women as ‘bad’ girls to be used, or ‘good’ girls to be protected.

Example of a movie that broke the mould? Prince of Persia, no less – I didn’t mention it at the time, but Princess Tamina did a lot of things that would make any feminist proud. She’s the ruler of a country; she alternatively fools and manipulates the Prince for her sacred mission; she can and indeed does use a sword when she has to. In short: she has some serious power and agency, and she’s not afraid to use either to protect the world even at the expense of her own life.

So. Getting back to the point, I guess – I read a lot. Apart from seeing the world a particular way, I also learned about feminists who had changed it, and whose actions had given me the life I lead now. I learned how they fought for the right to vote, to control their own bodies, to live independently, to keep their children, to work and love and exist on their own terms and according to their own wishes. It was a culmination of years and years of work, of gaining a little ground here and there and bleeding raw to keep it. They are the reason I have a voice at all, why I’m not simply cast into a corner and dismissed because I was unfortunate enough to have been born female.

It enrages me that a few women today dismiss all that and disown the word ‘feminist’, as if it’s a slur on their character. Some immediately connect it with the so-called feminazis. Some latch onto one little thing that some feminists have brought about that they don’t like, and use it as an excuse to attack and disown all feminists. Such is life, I guess. The most I can do is argue with them.

I’m unapologetically feminist. That is my label and part of my identity, and for me it means that I am interested in equality for all, even when it doesn’t work out in my favour. It means I can’t shut up and be silent about sexism whether it happens to women or men, that I am well-read on feminist discourse, and I’m very largely in favour of reproductive rights, LGBTQI rights, and human rights in general. I want the world to be better than it is, and if that means I make some people uncomfortable or I have to take some insults, then so be it.

Hmm, wall of text indeed. But I had to say it sometime.