Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Why I need feminism

The anti-feminism statements online are painful and disturbing, and since I can't really figure out if those girls are being set up by male friends, if they are paid to do it, or if they are for real (what's with all those references to Poland, for instance?), I can at least consider my own connection to feminism. So, today's blog-post is a long and rambling description of my own relationship to feminism, and how what I considered personal experiences grew into political awareness.

I never defined myself as a feminist. That was because I never joined the organisations, organised the 8th of March rallies, or spoke up for women's rights in public arenas. I did not, however, believe that my life would be better if there were no feminists. I was too painfully aware of the battles that gave me the rights I had. And when my students started arguing against feminism when it was on the curriculum, I chose to address, but not worry about their arguments, and rather teach them to question, to observe and to think. An observant, thinking woman with a varied experience will see what it's all about, was my logic. And while I can't speak of them all, enough of them did come back to tell me that they had realised I was right, that I now feel my choices were justified.

And that's when I realised that my lack of a feminist card didn't matter.

I suspect the girls on the "women against feminism" blog (if you want to find them, also take a peek at "cats against feminism". It makes as much sense.) would have claimed my life is not that of a feminist. I am married and have two children and a grandchild, I frequently cook for my husband and all the kids, I need men to help me with the heaviest stuff, I even prefer to let my husband do things like changing tires and fixing leaks. I worry about my hair, and, in my old age, I have started wearing a bra. It's just more comfortable. I don't attack men just because of their gender, I don't insist on having jobs I am not qualified for just because I am female, and I don't call for female supremacy. I guess according to the internet definition, I am not a feminist.

My husband cooks for me as often as I cook for him. We clean the house together, and whoever is the last to leave for work, or the first to return, does the dishes and gets the little tasks done. I am a bit better at remembering important maintenance details, I remember bills and savings and numbers, I update calendars and initiate changes. I have a better sense of space and distance, and I am more intuitively sensitive. He is better at researching, spends more time on getting the details right, remembers birthdays, is more polite and worried about what people will say, and is also physically stronger and able to go on after I have fallen asleep. When the children were small, he'd let me sleep in, after I had been up to breastfeed during the  night. He will do more dishes, but I will make sure we get all the laundry done, not just what's on top of the basket. He will take the car to the workshop, but I will notice the changes that makes it necessary. We complement each other in ways which have nothing to do with our genders, and everything to do with personal abilities. What does that have to do with feminism? Feminism permits it.

My background is a story of parents who wanted something different for their daughters. My father taught us that we could do what ever we wanted, from driving vans, steering boats and operating power tools to knitting and cooking. My mother taught us how important it was to have these skills, by exposing the ugly underbelly of expectations and limitations to us, how women were not the masters of their own bodies, their own education, their own employment, mainly through the example of her own struggles. Our father gave his daughters confidence to act, our mother gave us a strong sense of the importance of independence and the need for society to change in order to permit that independence.

With this background independence and equality wasn't an option, it was an imperative. Oh, I know the fears of every woman, and quite a bit about the harm we can expect. "#yeseverywoman" could have had my tweets right along the others. But I knew the trap of "traditional roles", of retreat into the safety of "normality" for what it is. This is why I today take such immense delight in the options I have. Living with hard-won options, in a society where I have at least a chance at employment at my level of skill, where my daughter can marry the woman she loves and my son can work in a pre-school during the summer term, and where nobody thinks it's odd when my husband cuddles our granddaughter - a society where there are nappy-changing tables in both male and female toilets - is something I am deeply grateful for.

Still, I don't initiate contact with strange men. I prefer to ride my bike, rather than walk home through empty streets. I speak to and try to support, advice and function as a reference for female scholars, nurturing their strength when I can. I grieve when I meet women who have been abused, and I know enough of fear to share their pain. I let myself be engaged in supporting the research on female health, as the research tends towards a heavy gender bias where the man is the model for the healthy human being , disregarding the very differences which are supposed to be "celebrated". I know we have come a long way, but until men can stay home with their kids if they want to, until women and men are paid the same for the same job, until girls can play video games without being shamed, and boys can wear pink and be a princess if that's what they want, I don't make the error of saying I don't need feminism. Every year makes me more of a feminist.

And it makes me want to cry to watch those girls claim they don't need feminism. They need feminists to fight for medication suited for women, they need feminists to fight for their rights when they hit their heads in the glass ceiling, they need feminists to support the shelters, they need feminists to fight for the rights of their husbands as well as their own. Feminists have, elsewhere, negotiated paid leave for new fathers, and that hated quota system? It doesn't bring the incapable into power, it ensures that the capable and educated have a chance.

I am still embarrassed by the extreme fanatics though. However, those are embarrassing no matter what you believe in. It's why I back off, quickly, when somebody talk about r-e-l-i-g-i-o-n. Or the advantages of Apple computers.

So why do I need feminism? I need feminism because I want a world where men and women have equal opportunities, without gender-based pressure or harassment. And it doesn't happen for neither women nor men without awareness and struggles.