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”?