Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Soapbox post: What Feminism means to me

Okay, so occasionally I get all soapboxy with my posts. It doesn't happen that often, as it's generally a more light hearted forum, but occasionally something occurs around me that gets me all riled up and I feel that need inside me to make my voice heard.

I have to admit, my reasons to talk about feminism today are partly to do with a few injustices around me, but more down to the amount that I have been inspired by other feminist voices recently. They talk with such hope and strength that it has motivated me to want to share in their views.

I'll be honest. I've not really expanded my limited knowledge of the feminist world that much throughout my life, on account that the "feminist" voices I were hearing seemed more detrimental to me than good. I was, as is most often the case, hearing the extreme voices mostly. The ones that focus on all the amazing things that our female ancestors have done for us to make us able to work full time and vote and have a life of our own outside of the house, and have chastised me for thinking that one day I might like to be someone who stays at home and looks after the kids, should I ever have them. I took insult to that. I resented the thought that just because I liked the idea of being a stay at home mum, that meant that I was taking the progress of women's rights back several steps, instead of being grateful for the opportunities that now were given to me.

Truth is, I am grateful for living in the world that I do right now. I am grateful that my wanting to work and earn a living for myself is something that I am able to do and there has never been an issue associated with gender that has prevented me from doing that. If I didn't have that choice, being the single lady that I am in her late 20s, I would most likely still be forced to live with my parents, labelled a spinster and an eternal burden to my family. Either that, or I would have been married off to a man I hardly knew at the age of 19 or something.

My life, as it stands, relies heavily on the women's rights that have been fought for me. I've made it no secret that I'm not a big dater in this world. I have been single for the whole of my 20s, and lived on my own, making my own way. Sure, doing this in London without a University degree has meant that it has been tough financially at times, but at least I've been able to do it. I have never considered that my rights have not been met in my life. I've never thought myself as being discriminated against for being female and I know how lucky I am to have had that privilege, because it still isn't the case for a lot of places in this world. Having said all that, I have faced my own little version of sexism; as innocent as it may be and from a good and genuine place; with regards to my choice to be single.

I haven't always felt that I was single by choice. I spent a large amount of my early 20s yearning for someone to be in a relationship with. However, I also suffered from crippling anxiety at the thought of being in a relationship with anyone, so never did anything to instigate said relationship. This left me with an inner conflict inside, as I had always been taught that the overall goal for someone who enters into their adult life is to get married and have children. Now, before I continue, I don't want anyone to think that I don't think that is an amazing adventure, because I do. I can see that there is so much joy to be had with sharing your life with someone and having that support constantly with you. However, my problem lies with the idea that seemed to surround me at the time, and still does to a certain extent, being that because that point hasn't happened for me, my life is somehow less than those who have achieved it. This left me bereft. I found relationships the scariest thing in the world, whilst simultaneously wanting to be a part of one more than anything else in the world, and suddenly I felt like I was doomed to always be less than those around me.

Guys, it took years before I could get my head around this one. Years of tears and pain, because people kept on saying that I needed a man to protect me and look after me and share my life with me, and I just couldn't seem to get one. So I stopped trying, and went so far the other way that I stopped noticing guys altogether for a period of time before I managed to venture back to a level playing field.

This is where I am now with this thought. The large majority of the friends I have my age are either married or in a serious relationship. I absolutely adore each and every one of their relationships. I spend time with them and I think their whole set up is awesome. However, at the same time, I just know that I don't want that for myself at the moment. A lot of places I go, if I haven't seen someone in a while, a common conversation with these people will go something like this:

Friend: So... How's the love life?
Me: Nothing going on there
Friend: (Tips head to one side and gives a slightly sympathetic look) Oh, well that's okay, I'm sure he's out there somewhere.

It's a kind gesture. It's a beautiful thing. But it also has this connotation behind it that suggests my being single at this point in my life means I'm still waiting for my life to start. That my protests on being happy and single are really just me putting on a tough face when secretly I'm pining for a relationship of my very own. Guys, I'm not. If I wanted one, I would do something about it. I don't have that fear of being with someone anymore. I would put myself out there and try socialising in places that aren't predominantly populated by gay men (which tends to be my social scene right now). However, as things stand, I could not be happier that I lived my 20s single. I got to do all these amazing things. I got to travel and socialise and do spur of the moment things without any responsibilities to think of. When I wanted to move to a different place, I didn't have anyone to consider in terms of whether they wanted to go too. I just upped and went. I got to focus on me and become the person that I am today. I know that that person is due to my own development. Looking back at when everyone else was getting married in early to mid 20s, I was a completely different person and, me personally, I was not ready for marriage. Hell, I'm still not.

Occasionally, I get the urge to date. When that happens, I start to look out for people. I strike up conversations with guys and start talking to them, but I genuinely just don't have the staying power. I get bored so easily with doing it. It all just goes to prove that I'm not ready for any of that yet. I'm happy the way I am. I'm happy that I have all this time to write and be independent and a woman functioning on her own without someone else supporting her. I will never stop being grateful for the women that came before me to make that happen. They have given me so much joy and happiness. There was a time when being a single woman would have been a lonely place to be but I'm lucky enough to live in a time and place where that isn't the case anymore. However, where I face my biggest sense of "sexism" (for want of a better word) is coming against people who just don't believe me when I say it. Unfortunately, the more I try to justify it, the more they think I'm putting on a brave front. It genuinely isn't the case.

I want to get married some day. I want kids and and a family and, when that happens and if we can afford it, I would love nothing more than to quit my job and raise those kids. I know it seems to be a stark contrast to the life I've just described that I want for now, but that's the point I'm making. I'm not ready for that life yet, but when I am, I want to know that that decision is just as okay for me to make as the ones I have made for my life so far.

Through the amazing words of Emma Watson in her 'heforshe' campaign speech she gave, I found what the true meaning of feminism was to me. It is the ability for each of us to make life decisions based on us as individuals and not as a particular gender. To be able to realise that we are all made entirely different to each other and that that should be celebrated, rather than we be told that it isn't the right decision because others who share the same gender don't feel that way as well. (I'll put the speech on the bottom of this post, if you want to see it.)

The attack that was then made on Emma after the speech, threatening to put up nude photos, although it looks like this was a prank now and false, still highlights the bigotry that is still alive today. Sexism exists for both men and women every day. People will make assumptions on us, dependent on our gender, but we need to be able to find our voices and speak out against this. Never be afraid to vocalise who you are. Holding back and keeping silent can be the most devastating thing, not just for others who don't get to hear your words, but also for you. Our world is full of people who feel they can't speak out for who they are, and so many of those stories don't end well. Feminism, as announced by Emma, is something that we should all join, men and women alike. Feminism is a way of celebrating who we are and not to be afraid to say that if we aren't comfortable with something, then we shouldn't have to do it. We should be confident in our own skin and be able to be who we are with no one telling us that it doesn't fit the norm. Be who you want to be. Love who you want to love. Live your life the way that makes you happy and know that this world is constantly changing and adapting to accommodate it. I'm excited for our future. I have hope that prejudice and attack will die out and instead we can all live to our full potential and at least be offered the opportunity to try and achieve our ultimate dreams.

Feminism. I'm in.

Peace out my lovelies.

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