rheanna lingham

I Wish Someone Had Told Me I Was A Feminist

Over the last few years I have become a bit of an angry feminist. The frequency of these rageful moments has steadily increased since I turned thirty (I am now thirty-three). However this embitterment is actually at odds to other feelings I felt at the time of my milestone birthday, in fact I felt calmer and more at ease with myself than at any other point in my life. The striving to be older in your teens and then the constant battle to hang on to your cool youth in your twenties completely dissipated on the morn of my thirtieth birthday.

If you had asked me a few years back if I was a feminist, I probably would have said yes, but with no conviction. As far as I was concerned it was a term from the past, the Suffragettes had won the vote for us, the women of the 1960s had liberated women sexually, resulting in more freedom surrounding marriage and financial arrangements and that was it wasn’t it? Problem solved.

Recently silly things began to bug me. I noticed that male drivers were aggressive towards me in the queues for the Blackwall Tunnel, if I let them in there was never a thankyou, even though I had seen them put their thumbs up to male drivers who had made way. I got the impression that the executive men consider their journey to work as more pressing than mine, they do not want to be stuck behind an airy fairy woman driver, I don’t have a job to get to, let alone my own business, I am probably on the school run or off to Westfield. I know it seems very daft to come up with such an elaborate opinion of someone based on his car’s body language, yet there is an instinct within me that tells me I am right, I know because I am not seeking sexism.

It’s exactly the fact that I am not looking for examples of sexism to fuel my feminist fire or opportunities to trip men up to add to a catalogue of grievances, that I feel so surprised by the strength of my feelings. Yet unintentionally, I have developed a mental catalogue; minor offences such as giving the man in the restaurant the bill even though a woman requested it and will be paying; car, electrical and finance salesmen that direct all explanations and eye contact to the man. As well as much more significant occurrences, as an owner of a business, I am aware of prejudice we have faced from landlords, estate agents and bank managers, a refusal to take us seriously, being met with defiant, unhelpful and disinterested attitudes across the board.

As I said, my younger self would have certainly not engaged with the label Feminist. I thought Woman’s Hour was a patronising and archaic slot on Radio 4 that discussed antiquated female domesticity; obviously this was before I actually listened in. I suppose this awareness of female identity from programmes such as Woman’s Hour, linked in with the rise of Fourth Wave feminism has motivated me to investigate my beliefs, as it has probably done with many of us, men and women alike. The media widely publicises issues surrounding equality for women such as equal pay and positive discrimination, it is hard to avoid the subject and as with everything in modern life we must have an opinion. How dare one not have an opinion on something!

A few months ago it dawned on me why I was so angry; men were not getting more sexist, I was not getting more pedantic. It’s just for the first thirty years of my life I hadn’t encountered sexist behavior. Well, of course there were occasional moments, after all I’ve worked in pubs and waitressed, jobs that will ensure that you have brushes with a bigot or two, but these moments were fleeting and did not impede my life in any way. So I began to reflect how I had got this far in life blemish free. Education wise, it seems quite obvious, my schooling was in all girl establishments from the age of 6-18, then I was at art school until I was 24, which has a high proportion of women, combined with a historically more tolerant and liberal attitude to many things; gender, sexuality, class etc. I then established a business, my partners are female, most of the designers we work with are female, and our customers are generally female. In fact, some of the few male interactions I do have at work are with the estate agents, landlords and bank managers I spoke of earlier, and these were less than fruitful relationships.

Also I had not come across sexism within my home life either, I’ve grown up watching my father adore my mother, brimming with respect for her, supporting her in everything she does, an attitude mirrored with his three daughters. So yes, I also grew up in a female dominated household. My partners I have chosen have also had the same respect for me, I have perhaps taken this attitude for granted, not realising how lucky I am, even though it pains me to have to write that I should be grateful to be treated equally.

Although, what I am most surprised by is my lack of understanding of female history, how I have gone for so long without feeling politicised by the unfairness that exists in modern life. It should not be that you have to experience something to know about it, I was never bullied at school yet I know the harm it causes. I live in a free, democratic society yet I understand that this is not the same throughout the world. I know these things because I was taught them at school; I was also taught about racism and homophobia. But never sexism! An all girls grammar school with a majority female teaching staff, yet no one ever taught us about being women. Our teachers, in particular some of the older staff, had probably witnessed first hand examples of prejudice or obstruction in their professional lives. They had lived through 1960s radical feminism, they were equipped to arm us with knowledge of what we may face when we went out into the big world. But no one did! In some odd way it is this that makes me most angry of all. Where was the women’s history? Where were the personal experiences? Where was the badge issued on the first day that said, “I am a Feminist”?

 

GOLDEN

I didn’t always like gold. A jewellery obsessed teenager of the 1990s, I would spend my money on silver jewellery from a small stall in the covered market. After school we would go and pour over the trays of earrings, bracelets and pendants. The necklaces we wore were beads on leather thong, I had a perfect replica of Damon Albarn’s, handpicked from small wooden square boxes on trips to the Covent Garden bead shop.

Hailing from Kent, the birthplace of the “chav”, gold versus silver was not only about aesthetic pretensions but it was a symbol of our beliefs, our culture and our future. With naïve, polarised views, these were the rules: Team Silver listened to indie music and bought their clothes in charity shops and Team Gold listened to dance music and wore sportswear. I am very embarrassed to admit this now but those of us on Team Silver seriously believed we were better people, that we had a better future laid ahead of us, the stereotype of the “chav” permeating our ill-formed opinions. For a short time I dated a guy called Luke, he was kind (and an excellent kisser), yet when our gold and silver ringed fingers entwined we were like star-crossed lovers, we were on different teams and had no right to cross the enemy line.

Then a pivotal moment happened: the video for Kelis’ Milkshake. I was smitten. She shook everything through that all-American diner, but my obsession was for the layered necklaces, the gold necklaces that shone and shimmered. These were new feelings. This was against everything I had stood for and I fought to deny my lust. Suddenly gold was everywhere I looked; Jamal Shabbaz’s photographs of 1970s B-girls with chunky chains, Egyptian collars and Victorian curb chained lockets. I inherited a fine gold chain from my Grandma, the first in my collection, copying Kelis’ style I started to wear multiple chains and then like any addict my use got harder, chains got thicker, gold creole hoops and gate bracelets joined the gang. One of my students, when jokingly trying to bribe me for high marks, said I would be easily swayed, “it would just take a big cheap pair of gold hoop earrings. “My staple look was born.

I’ve talked about gold as if it was one thing, yet when you really look it spans a whole spectrum. Gold is not just gold, it has so many different tones; the rich yellow gold of Greek mamas, matt and milky gold of India, the pink warm hues of rose gold, the shiny brash gold of the 80s yuppies. It speaks to us of wealth, myth and fantasy, of lost Inca kingdoms and jewel encrusted tombs of Pharaohs. It is the colour of the sun, vital to its core.

One of my favourite books is Victoria Z. Rivers ‘The Shining Cloth’; within it the author addresses our primal urge to surround ourselves with shining materials;

“Since the dawn of humanity, tremendous energy and imagination, coupled with every conceivable light-reflecting material, have been harnessed to capture the gleam of the sun, the moon, and the stars…the shine is what delights us…it gives us hope. Glittering things are not essential to the body’s survival, but they are perhaps the key to the nourishment of the soul.”

For me transferring to gold jewellery was like a rite of passage from child to womanhood, but whether my gold is 18karat or a plated alloy, when I wear it my soul is soundly nourished.

Quote from: Victoria Z. Rivers, 1999. The Shining Cloth: Dress and Adornment That Glitters. 1ST Edition. Thames & Hudson.

GRAVESENDAGRAMS

45 Lennox Road, a fairly typical terraced house in Gravesend, boldly declaring its number in giant whitewashed digits on the wall. I have stood outside this address, looking at its paved over garden and pebbledashed walls, I don’t know it and it doesn’t know me, yet what I do know that almost 100 years ago, when its front lawn was green and its wooden front door bared its number, Frank & Kitty Taylor opened this house and their hearts to a small baby, Maisie.

As a result of barefaced pragmatism, I live in Gravesend, a decision reached as it was the place that ticked enough boxes. Eight years ago this town and I started our rather tumultuous relationship. There have been times that we have held each other in mutual regard, amicably co-existing and times when I have hated its very being. On these days I have dreaded pulling off the A2 to come home, shouting and cursing at its presence. Feeling guilty about my hurtful rage, I have sought to repair this, searching out small kernels of goodness from which bridges can be built, on occasions we have nurtured these and on other times Gravesend has smashed these peace offerings out of my hands and turned its back.

A still, warm summers evening and I am on Lennox Road, taking a photograph of No.45. A neighbour, stepping out of his car, eyes me suspiciously and I explain that this is the house my Grandma, Maisie, grew up in. He looks disinterested and turns away, leaving me to imagine my grandmother living here, playing outside, walking down the street on her way back from school and in that moment I am connected. This was her town, and now this is my town.

Gravesend sits on the Thames estuary, at a fairly narrow point of the river, across the water Essex is achingly close, as if you could only stretch out that tiny little bit further and you could just about touch it. Giant container ships pass by, bringing cargo to the docks or embarking on journeys, about to be released into the sea, looking absurd with their Gulliver proportions. With reassuring rhythm these ships pass up and down all day and night, guided by the pilots of the Thames Estuary, whose knowledge of these tidal waters ensures their safe passage.

I stalk the river. In the day I watch its movements and at night, I lay awake eavesdropping on its sounds, the foghorns offering up a signal of its vitality. I’m drawn to it, it settles me.

With the brine of the Thames coursing through my veins, I began photographing the river and Gravesend, a series of photographs that started on Instagram as #gravesendagram(s). These photographs aim to celebrate the town, to ignite another’s adoration of this place. I do not wish to lament on times gone past nor for them to be an act of derision, mocking a town that has lost a little of its fabled splendor and power. They are about today. A nod to a town that has so much to give if only we would let it.