SO its not my usual style to begin a post with something negative – but let me tell you about a horrific kinda dating-not-dating experience I had the other week. Lets all agree that I am paraphrasing because I have the worst memory. If the guy is reading this.. sorry not sorry!
I was sat drinking tea in this guys kitchen, lets call him Dr Badger, whilst he was supping on his half-pint of vodka, he asks me; ‘do you know that 93% of British women do not consider themselves feminists?’…
I reply ‘ermm so ok where are you getting your statistics from dude because the women I associate myself with must be populating the whole of that other 7%’..
Dr Badger proceeded to tell me that ‘women are not feminists today because feminism isn’t needed anymore’ also ‘feminists are too radical and shouty’. Aaaand to add to his list of cliche crap things to say, he stated that he couldn’t understand why we have to use the word ‘feminism,’ as the word excludes men from the conversation. Our argument regrettable continued with him describing examples within his workplace where men were perfectly aware of issues of gender equality and unconscious biases, and knew that they must be ‘inclusive’, but nature forces women out of the workplace to have babies and thats that. Well thank you my dear for allowing us wombed folk into your space, very kind.
Dr Badger was a very nice man, which is why I allowed him at least fifteen minutes airtime of these awkward cringe-worthy statements (of which there were many more, including even worse ones about racism). However when he asked me questions and proceeded to speak over my responses, completely disallowing me to speak my truth and experience as a woman, I hurriedly left his kitchen with no polite excuse to be made other than ‘soooo I’m leaving now.’
I am sharing this awkward little dating experience as today it was singing loudly in my mind as I was sat listening, amongst an audience of amazing people, at a sisterhood panel at the Women of the World Festival (WOW) in Exeter. I laughed to myself as I looked around the room at the apparent ‘7%’ of the general female population who do not see themselves as feminists.
That ‘7%’ were out in force all day – to my delight representing all kinds of diverse communities in their colour – backgrounds – belief systems – professions – physical and mental abilities & ages. A beautiful array of passionate, caring, brilliant women, and men, who appeared to identify themselves as feminists, within a world that is systemically patriarchal. And when I say world I mean the workplace, home, streets, parks, schools, libraries, our relationships, our way of thinking, yes alllll of the spaces we occupy. All patriarchal.
‘Next generation heroes’ p/c WOW instagram
This panel ‘ Female Relationships: Building the Sisterhood’ was chaired by psychologist and lecturer Varuni Wimalasari, and the speakers were Tobi Awoniyi, founder of Black Ballad, Steph Douglas founder of Don’t Buy Her Flowers, Lucy Hirst and Katherine Stevens co-directors of Flip the Bird and Peta Barrett from The Circle. What stood out to me was a strong desire for women of all ages to heal the years of wounds that competition and negative criticism from other women have inflicted on them, and how bitchiness, cattiness, and bullying between females should not be the norm and is not ok. The discussion continued to describe how this behaviour was a product of low-self confidence and a lack of self-love and acceptance, in a world that puts extreme pressures on young women to look and behave a certain way, which is now intensified by social media.
The panel described examples of how society and the media persistently attempts to pit women against one another, and how women have had to fight for a place amongst spaces, particularly in the workplace, that are usually dominated by privileged white men. I especially loved and took wisdom from the examples and stories shared by Tobi Awoniyi about women of colour, who’s bond of sisterhood is inherently strong as a means of survival, where together they are fighting an even harder battle to be positively seen and heard. I also loved hearing motherhood blogger Steph Douglas tell her story of how so many women and mums rallied around her with a ton of support after the Daily Mail included her, amongst other mothers in the public eye, in a ‘slummy mummy’ story that demonised their parenting skills.
The Q/A from the audience which brought the discussion to its close shone light on the fact that women in Devon can feel isolated. The four audience members that spoke all shared their personal desires and fears of living in a rural area without community and female friends, or how moving to Devon was a culture shock it its lack of diversity of population, leading to feelings of segregation and aloneness. It was warming to see the encouragement from fellow audience members who had been through similar situations, and had sought community and friendship through social media, first looking for like-minded groups in the area and if there were non, making groups themselves.
My lovey mum on a panel! Cuteeee. p/c WOW instagram
Thinking about my own experience of sisterhood, I can’t stress enough the importance of female relationships and how my past is riddled with tricky encounters with women. I can recount many times women/girls have been unkind, times that I have been unkind, times where we could have been stronger if we sticked together and supported one another. I have had the most amazing fiercely loving female friendships as a girl and young women myself, but these relationships have often left me burnt, untrusting and fearful of how mean girls can be. It has been a process for me to seek out female friendships these past months, making a conscious effort to break down my conditioning that leads me to make snap judgements and criticisms of the women I meet. I am blessed to say that I already have attracted some amazing women since I opened my heart to it, who have been my sisters, teachers and companions on my latest life journeys.
Coming back to this word feminism. I finally took myself to google and searched for the statistic that Dr Badger was pushing in my face. According to an article in The Telegraph, taken from a study of 8000 people, ‘only 560 used the ‘f-word’ to describe their views on equality.’ However when asked about their views on gender equality, ’86 per cent of men wanted it for the women in their lives – compared to 74 per cent of women’.
Feminism has come in many forms over the years, but the bottom line is that feminism is the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes. WOW Exeter has been a brilliant advocacy platform this year, giving opportunity for women and men of all walks of life to share, discuss and challenge our currently patriarchal paradigm. I especially loved the presence of non-white able-bodied privileged women and men, who’s voices, stories and experiences have often not been heard or included in the feminist fight over the centuries.
Body positivity workshop – p/c WOW instagram
With more wisdom under my belt I am still not sure If I am able to sit for longer than 10 minutes and listen to any person tell me that feminism is too radical and they can’t relate to the f-word, but I do understand that our challenge is in include those women and men who want to achieve equality, but who do not readily identify with the term.