A guest blog post by Cat
Let’s get this out in the open – me and feminism haven’t always got on. For a long time we had a far from easy relationship and I preferred to keep it at arm’s length, to the extent that for many years I actually refused to identify as a feminist and preferred to describe myself as an egalitarian. I still describe myself as an egalitarian because I believe that there are groups other than women who are marginalised and deserve equality, but these days I feel able to claim feminism as an identity as well and wear my ‘This is what a feminist looks like’ t-shirt from the Fawcett Society with pride.
My problems with feminism all started back when I was at school. For my sins, of which there have been many, I went to a Catholic all girls school. The school had many failings, some of which have irreparably fucked me up, but one thing it did damn well was persuading us that girls could do anything that boys could do and it was possible to do it better if we wanted. This fitted in with where I saw myself going, and I became something of a fledgling feminist. Anyway, as I said, the school had many failings, one of which was letting the priest from my local parish come in to talk to the girls that belonged to his parish. This was something that happened every few months and would usually result in me having a blazing row with the priest over some matter of dogma or another. On one such occasion when I was 14 or 15 I was arguing that it was wrong that the Catholic church didn’t believe in artificial contraception or abortion. I can’t remember most of the details of the conversation, but I’m pretty sure it was all Vatican-sanctioned shit. The one thing I do clearly remember, however, is him using the phrase ‘When you grow up and become a proper feminist…’ and then going on about how he’d read The Female Eunuch and therefore knew more about being a feminist than I did. Because, somehow, reading The Female Eunuch made belittling me and erasing my identity somehow okay. I remember coming away from this feeling very angry. Angry that he hadn’t listened to me, angry that he’d been so patronising… And also angry with myself for having ever thought that I was a feminist in the first place. I mean, how could I be a feminist if I’d not read The Female Eunuch? He’d read it and he was a man; I was just… kidding myself.
So off I went, and I left my feminist identity on the shelf gathering dust. Having been firmly pro-choice for as long as I remember being aware of abortion, in the following years I then discovered that I liked sex (quite a lot), that I was bisexual, kinky and non-monogamous, pro-sex work and pro-porn and a trans ally. But I still wasn’t a feminist. Yes, I believed in equality for women but I also believed in equality for other marginalised groups and I didn’t see how women’s struggle for equality was more important than any of those other struggles. That, and I still felt deeply uncomfortable with the idea of calling myself a feminist as I clearly couldn’t be a proper one as I still hadn’t read The Female Eunuch.
My next watershed moment with feminism came in my early 20s. I started spending time with women who were mostly lesbians and all identified strongly as feminists. They were strong women, interesting characters and the approval-seeking part of me wanted to be liked and accepted by them. Once again I became interested in feminism and started considering whether or not it was an identity I could claim. It was, but apparently only if I read the work of Sheila Jeffreys who would help me see the error of my ways in being biseuxal and into BDSM. Add to the mix that any prominent feminists I could think of (Bindel, Burchill, Greer) were transphobic, and the fact that apparently all sex work and all porn was bad because it objectified women and… well, quite unsurprisingly, I found myself thinking that there was no way in hell that I could ever be a proper feminist. I liked cock too much, I was kinky and I felt that what women did with their own bodies was their own business as long as they were in a position of empowerment. So I declined the kind offer to be lent a book by Sheila Jeffreys for the purposes of being converted from my wicked ways, and went on my way again.
So what changed? Well, I met other likeminded women in real life and online who were proud to call themselves feminists, and some men as well. It turned out that there was a type of feminism out there which I was hitherto unaware of, that talked about what mattered to me. A feminism that fitted with my beliefs, that didn’t dictate who and what I should be doing in the bedroom.
I discovered that it doesn’t matter what you call yourself – be it first, second or third wave feminist, post-feminist or just plain old feminist. You can identify as male and call yourself a feminist. As long as you believe in equality for women you have the right to call yourself a feminist and don’t let anybody tell you any different. Okay, so some of your beliefs about how the world should work may differ from those of other feminists but at the end of the day the thing we all have in common as feminists is the belief that women should be equal. As my friend Jules put it , ‘I think that being a feminist is simply that you want to make things better for people. It has naff all to do with your window dressing, it is simply wanting to be make the world more excellent.’
It’s taken me the best part of 20 years but I’ve finally discovered in my early 30s that it’s actually okay to call myself a feminist. And guess what? I still haven’t read The Female Eunuch, but these days I’m not beating myself up about it.