I have to admit, feminism is one of THOSE topics that used to make me shirk around and trip over my words, because it was all a bit too intelligent and fiercely deliberated. There are so many strong views, that surely mine would get lost in the crowd…and anyway, I didn’t quite know what my viewpoint even was.
Then, my blogging buddy Emma from Island Living 365 launched a series called The Mother Feminist. She asked a few leading questions, such as “do you like the term feminism?”, and “has your outlook on feminism changed post-children?” and I thought, hell, I might have a go at that. So, I did. Below is my original post, which you can read here if you’re so inclined to read it twice. After you’ve read my witterings, please do take a look at the others that Emma has featured in her series – there are some inspiring and really interesting views put forward by some fabulous bloggers.
Imagine that you’re standing in front of a mirror, with your phone and a Polaroid camera. You take a photo of yourself with the camera, looking into the mirror. You wait for the print to whir out and develop, before holding it up in front of your reflection. You swipe to the camera setting on your phone, and take a photo. You now have a photo of yourself, looking into a mirror, holding a photo of yourself, looking into a mirror, taking a photo.
Confusing, right? A bit of a brain-ache vortex. That’s what feminism is like for me. There are so many juxtapositions and contradictions, with entirely differing arguments and theories both completely rational in their own right.
My youngest baby was due on 8th March – International Women’s Day. I was initially really quite proud of this, then I questioned the validity of having a day just for celebrating women. I’d never heard of International Men’s Day (November 19th, FYI) until I’d googled it. But aren’t we all in this together? I would much rather see an International Human Day. A celebration of our collective and all that we’ve achieved, both universally as a troop of men and women, and individually as the people we are beyond what’s in our pants. A public admission of of the struggles that humanity continues to face, regardless of the gender primarily affected.
I believe in feminism. I do. But does my reservation towards a day of recognition for a single sex go against feminism? Does feminism automatically belong in the pocket of gender equality? I’m really not so sure. In fact, I’m happy to admit that maybe I’m a simpleton. But simpletons have a voice, too. So, as the mother of two daughters, here is a simpleton, vortexy list of some of my irks…which may not go hand-in hand with standard feminism. But who defines standard anyway?
I want more than #HeForShe.
The HeForShe movement is a campaign publicly championed by Emma Watson and initiated by UN Women. It aims to empower women through the engagement of males as “agents of change for the achievement of gender equality and women’s rights”. They’re encouraged to stand up and take action if they feel that females are being subjected to negative inequalities based on their sex. I am all for this. I think it’s a fantastic driver for change. But I can’t help wishing that rather than HeForShe, it was floated as WeForWe. If someone is facing inequality because of ANY reason, be it gender, sexual preference, race, social class, then I’d like to think we could all come together under a publicised UN movement. If someone is fighting their own fight and needs help, then I want to have their back. I don’t want my gender to be a contributing factor – I want humankind to be enough of a propeller to stamp out negativity. I’m in your brotherhood wolf pack, I’m in your sisterhood tribe – I’m wherever you need me to be.
I resent being the default parent.
When I returned to work after my year of maternity leave with my first baby, her immune system had all the gumption of a fairground goldfish. All those fresh nursery germs swarmed around her tender newness and for the first few weeks, it felt like my mobile phone was purely a reporting hotline. Any hint of a low fever, suspect rash, chesty cough or glazed expression, and they were asking if I’d be able to come and fetch her in accordance with their medical policy. We’re a one-car household and my husband works at the opposite end of the city to our nursery, so childcare logistics always fell to me. I can’t express how frustrating this was: not only did I feel I had to prove that I still had brains and a degree of intellectual worth to offer my employer, but I had to juggle this with needing to down tools at a moment’s notice and revert to being mummy.
Once, I had a pretty important meeting lined up: I was managing a contract with a new supplier, and I was due to be going through the T&C’s and expectations with them. Thirty minutes before the meeting, my phone rang – the child had a small spot on her hand, which may be hand, foot and mouth. I’d have to take her home. My boss stepped in and chaired the meeting, so understanding and lovely that I could have cried. However, when I issued my apologies to the supplier I had been due to meet, he really bloody pissed me off. “Don’t worry, honestly – it’s all part of being a mum isn’t it?” No. It’s all part of being a PARENT. The pressure I heap on myself is weighty enough without the expectation of dual-role, default parenting hanging just above my head.
I’m baffled by stereotype as a marketing tool.
I overheard two women talking in a coffee shop recently. One was clearly in the process of moving house and remarked to her friend that she fancied getting one of those tool kits “for girls” and did she think Cath Kidston might have some? Now, to me, a hammer is a fucking hammer whether you’ve got pink ditzy flowers on the handle or not. But my beef isn’t with the woman who wanted it, it’s with the people who design this stuff and make it an actual commodity. They perpetuate the myth that some things are men-only by default, but with a little bit of prettying up, women can have a go as well. They’re not trying to promote so-called man jobs as accessible to women, they’re publicly giving us an unnecessary headstart in a race they’ve invented.
A woman’s place is all over the damn house
I don’t believe in a division of household labour. My house is a reasonably slick machine that occasionally runs out of oil, but for the most part my husband and I make it work by both chipping in. There are no concrete jobs assigned to us independently: I tend to cook most evenings because I’m on maternity leave and generally in the house from 5pm. He tends to iron because he gets through five work shirts each week and I don’t. Our washing basket never threatens to grow legs and dance in a green mist, because one of us will stick the machine on every day and hang it out. He’ll usually strip the bedsheets. I’ll tinker with the water pressure in the boiler because it’s a pissy, fiddly little job and I need to use my nails to lever out the release key from its housing. The notion of mine as a modern household riles me – surely our end goal is the same: we don’t want to live in a shithole. So we see a job that needs doing, and we do it, without mentally working out if we’re even stevens or awarding brownie points.
I don’t necessarily want women on my Exec Board of Directors.
A few years ago, I was asked to participate in a straw poll about gender equality in my profession (Engineering – but don’t worry, I’m ‘only’ in Business Support). One question asked how important it is to me, as a woman, to have a female representative on our Exec Board. My answer: not very. As in, I abhor the idea of a token woman, designed to show that we’re a forward thinking organisation. A “representative”. Representing what, exactly? Soldiering on through PMT and standing drinking coffee in the Boardroom with all those clever men? I reject the notion of societal compliance because engineering is seen as a male-dominated vocation. If there’s a pool of 100 people vying for a place in the top stream, and there are five places, and the “best” five candidates are men, great. Go for it. A better question would be “How important is it to you, as a woman, that your Exec Board represents the values that are important for the continued success of the business?” Very. Move on and recruit them.
So, in closing – I still feel like a simpleton. I still feel engulfed in a world of heated opinions and misconstrued, misaligned objectives. So I’m proposing my own movement. #SimpletonSeekingSolidarity. Catchy, oui?
-SJW January 2017