I have always been a feminist. It is a label I chose for myself as a teenager, back before girl power was invented and New Kids on the Block were cool. My original feminism was about equality: women were equal to men and all we needed was the laws to force misogynists to stop being misogynists. The older I get, the more I believe that “equality” is nothing more than a smokescreen to prevent the true liberation of women [and all oppressed minorities]. Equality before the law means nothing when violence is endemic; when women are most likely to live in poverty; when no one bothers to actually enforce equality legislation. Growing up in an area of Canada where misogyny, race and class were impossible to miss but surrounded by people with serious cases of cognitive dissonance, including me, wasn’t really a great place to learn about feminism. It was a great place to learn that as a middle class white woman my chances of being a victim of sexual violence were a lot lower than my aboriginal friends but that was seen as normal; not something to be upset about. I may have labeled myself a feminist but I wasn’t a real feminist.
I attended my first feminist demo as a teenager in Canada. It was a sit-in protesting letters of support a few members of the local government wrote, on official letter heading, in support of a man on trial for rape: apparently, he couldn’t be a rapist because they knew him. And, there was nothing inappropriate about these male politicians using their political standing to support the son of a political ally. I was too chicken to stay for the whole sit-in which lasted for a few days. That was really the only feminist activism I took part of until I was in my 30s. Mostly, because I quickly become one of those teenage girls: the ones who have babies.
Technically, I was 19 when I had my first child and at college but that never stops the judgemental from making rude comments about how “young” I look when they see me with my teenager. I got student loans and stayed at university, eventually graduating with 4 degrees: two undergraduate and two post-graduate; all with honours. The ONLY reason I managed this was because of student loans, grants, child tax credits, subsidised child care, subsidised housing and my mother getting a substantial payout under the equal pay legislation. It was difficult never having enough money to do fun stuff with my child and rarely being able to go out because I had a 2 year old. I had a lot of amazing, supportive women friends around me [Maria, Rena, Vanessa and Catherine!] and without them I wouldn’t have made it through my first degree. Over the years, I’ve benefited from the support of more amazing women but I took it for granted.
I was a feminist but one who lacked any kind of analysis of women as a class. I knew I couldn’t have gotten through 2 undergraduate degrees without the benefit of a, still flawed, benefits system or without the equal pay settlement my mother received. It just never occurred to me to think about how privileged I was in relation to most other women. It wasn’t until the Canadian and provincial governments started slashing these programs that I started thinking about feminism as a political theory [and I certainly didn’t learn about it as an undergraduate!]. I started self-defining as a socialist-feminist; but I still didn’t think about women in terms of an oppressed class themselves. Instead, I focused on the idea of class as a barrier for “some” women. I assumed that equal access to education would solve all women’s problems.
Until two years ago, I would have still identified as a socialist-feminist. The unrelenting misogyny and rape apologism on the left made me reconsider my position as did the creation of the Feminist/ Women’s Rights board on Mumsnet. The more I read on Mumsnet, the more radical my feminism became. I started reading Andrea Dworkin, Natasha Walters, Kate Millett, Susan Faludi, Susan Maushart, Ariel Levy, Gail Dines, Germaine Greer, and Audre Lorde. I started reading only fiction books written by women: Isabel Allende, Alice Walker, Maya Angelou, Kate Mosse, Margaret Atwood, Kris Radish, Barbara Kingsolver, and Andrea Levy amongst many others. I started reading about women’s lives and the power of real sisterhood. I learned about cultural femicide.
Now, I self-define as an anti-capitalist, pro-radical feminist. I believe that feminism isn’t just about equality. It’s about the full liberation of ALL women from male violence. I do not believe that the liberation of women can occur whilst our capitalist structures remain. The Patriarchy predates capitalism but we can not destroy it without destroying capitalism too.
My feminism, both the definition and activism, has changed dramatically over the past 18 years. I still don’t feel a “real feminist”. All I know is that I am a feminist who truly believes that women have the power to liberate all women from male violence. I’ve stopped believing the law can improve women’s lives. Instead, I believe that women have the power to improve the lives of women: it requires listening and respect and saying sorry but we will liberate ourselves from the Patriarchy.