I follow and am friends with a lot of very wise and interesting women, most of whom have lengthy and strong opinions on many of the issues that crop up, both on and offline, which tax, penalise and threaten women around the world in various ways. I concede that a lot of my understanding of many of these issues comes from their commentary, from secondhand understanding of these issues, and from reading heightened and removed discussion and debate of them.
This is partly because I don’t spend a great deal of time ‘in the real world’. I am fortunate enough to have not experienced many of the issues that allegedly affect ‘all women’, to the extent that, many a time, I’ve wondered what’s wrong with me, ‘as a woman’, that I’ve not been sexually harrassed – although that’s nearly another post than this. My strongest experience of sexism is really that mentioned in another post here (I’m Sorry You’re Upset, and Other Ways to Patronise a Colleague) and for this, I’m grateful.
I am one of those women that finds it very difficult to call themselves a feminist, but then, I don’t like to call myself anything if I can possibly avoid it. I don’t enjoy the wealth of labels attached to gender or sexuality, and I like the consistency of my existence to be within me, rather than with a load of badges I’ve chosen to wear. Indeed, the struggle I’ve had with terming myself ‘a writer’ has shown me, in a much more pleasant and curious way, how unsure I am about saying that I am anything at all.
To be a feminist, to me, implies action, activity. Motion towards fixing a specific issue. I am not fixing anything. I will talk about things, but I probably won’t fight about them if I don’t think I can change the mind of the person arguing with me. I don’t have the experiences or understanding to campaign for anything much without people telling me I don’t count, and I find the reception to the majority of campaigns virtually sets the clock back every time. People always bring up the suffragettes at this point in any dialogue about the rights of women, and yes, I do love my right to vote, but that’s one right, just one, in one hundred years. That doesn’t mean they aren’t relevant, but I don’t think Emmeline Pankhurst is a flag to wave to end every conversation about whether or not protest works, any more than I enjoy a placatary response to a fuss about the most peculiar state of affairs that was the lack of any women on UK currency.
It feels like there’s a pattern of fuss, now. And just that, too – fuss. Or, worse, ‘outrage’. Real issues being lost in a sea of Tweeted capslock and summarised in Guardian articles and by on-the-pulse bloggers, everyone vying for the most pointed thing. And all it looks like, more and more, to all the people that you desperately wish would listen is one great extended coffee morning, or dessert round of the dinner party, where ‘the women’ get together and make a fuss about something and look at their husbands and say, “See, darling?” and they say, “Yes yes, quite…” and go off to have a cigar in the drawing room.
Don’t mistake me here – I’m all for the comments, the articles, the conversation, and, as I said at the beginning, that’s how I get most of my education on these things…but when you look at the way that the critical mass is received by those it’s aimed at, it is so quickly reduced to insignificance, or pasted over with misunderstanding platitudes, that it’s no better than an angry scrawl of A4 taped to a lamppost in the rain. It doesn’t matter how well you wrote it – people appear to have already decided what they think, as soon as they read words like ‘feminist’, ‘women’s rights’ etc.
And it isn’t just the men dismissing women I mean, either. Women dismissing each other, women feeling completely lost when it comes to things like ‘fourth wave feminism’, women who don’t have a full grounding in the history of society in every country going being completely dismissed, women who’ve only just had the lightning bolt of “Instead of saying to the victim, you shouldn’t have worn that, why not say to the rapist, you shouldn’t have done that?” put forward to them floundering with the realisation that they, too, have been a huge part of the problem without even realising it, women who haven’t 100% decided if they’re women or not wondering where/if they fit in, or even care…
…the thing is, men don’t have to be all the same. Men don’t have to hold a single set of beliefs, or act in a set way because of their gender identification. They don’t have to explain when they get angry, and if they get angry in a reasonably literate way, people will probably listen to, and engage with them without shouting back or dismissing them because they haven’t ticked xyz boxes with their life/heritage/experiences.
Groups of women dismiss other groups of women with mass vehemence and unpleasantry, and are surprised when they receive the same treatment. Women who take a stand and suggest a solution, a plan of action, a campaign, are often villified by other women for not having done it right, for not solving everything for everyone at once, for not representing ‘women’ right.
Maybe we stop expecting all women to represent all other women. It’d be nice to look at each thing in itself, regardless of its originator, without profiling to the end of the world and back the woman who ‘dared’ to take a stand. It is shocking, disgusting, and all the terrible things that women who, by virtue of being female, attract the levels of abuse seen publicly over the last week, and it is excellent that the law was adhered to and, hopefully, has an effect, but the mass of noise around the outcome of this situation looks so very much like nothing learned, one step forwards, two back, talking about the process and not the problem, spending so long in outrage and being so frustrated that you can’t even work out where in this horribly tangled screw-up of society to start unpicking the problems. Women who’ve picked up a thread and tried to do something, with the sum total of their experiences and understanding, find themselves slated because it wasn’t the ‘right’ thing, because goodness, loud woman who thinks she’s all that, don’t you know that you should just shut up and stop making us all look bad, omg, remember that time you said this and this and you’re such a terrible woman, etc…
…the amount of time spent shouting and criticising and reporting on the shouting and criticism of women by other women, and the whole sorry lot of it being either gently patronised, completely disregarded, or out-and-out slammed by everyone else just doesn’t seem to move the conversation forwards, to expand understanding, or to get much done. Either we get half-arsed quick fixes that don’t do anything or come from enlightenment, or we tie that knotty mass of issues even tighter.
Worst of all, and, I think, the point I want to make, the pattern of issue-awareness-outrage-attempted solution-personal attacks-next issue feels so familiar, so regular, that it starts to look the same, to become too much, to be too easy to disregard because we saw it last week.
I don’t think this post is particularly eloquent or sensible, and I worry it doesn’t make a lot of the points I wanted to set out clear, but, I think, one of the things I want to say is that I don’t want the fear of not being the 100% Perfect Woman for all other women to stop me from at least trying to get some of my knotted mass of issues out of my head and into the world, because, when so much of what you see and read around you is about something that everyone thinks ought to also pertain to you ‘as a woman’, it’s difficult when you don’t understand it, don’t have a view on it, or can’t find the point of it. I realise I’ve started a lot here and worked through very little, but maybe I’ll make this a starting point and come back to it in future.
The thing I think I’ll end with is, I see nearly everyone’s point, and I wish equality was normal, but it isn’t, so where’s the beginning of the thread? Where’s the starting point where all women are the same? Is there one? And if there isn’t, can we all stop looking for it and try solving the issues we can solve, or give our own experiences to, without having to sign up for an agenda, or to represent everything and every woman?