Just because we’ve been hardwired to be self-critical and distracted by meaningless, unattainable goals doesn’t mean we aren’t feminists. It’s one reason we need feminism! We’re allowed to acknowledge, to try to reverse and even laugh at our own cultural brainwashing while we tackle the big stuff.
When I first wrote this list, I did not notice that I had described these individuals as ‘the first person’, ‘the first woman’, ‘the first African American’ and ‘the first African American woman’ because that is how they are listed in the history books. The further away you are from being a white man, the less you are seen by society as being a neutral ‘person’. That’s pretty devastating, isn’t it?
White women are often included before and instead of men of colour, but men of colour are usually included before and instead of women of colour.
While women typically gather, Aeta women (from the Philippines), for example, hunt in groups and have a 31 per cent success rate as opposed to 17 per cent for men. When Aeta men and women join forces, they come back from 41 hunts out of 100 with food for the tribe. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors were, and their contemporary counterparts are, kicking our capitalist arses for gender equality. There are diversity and inclusion directors in investment banks weeping at the targets that nomads are hitting.
capitalism has rarely been a friend to feminism.
The patriarchy had no interest in allowing women to determine if and when they conceived, even when it was clearly a huge money-making opportunity – which is usually the patriarchy’s favourite thing. The social cost was too high. The turkeys weren’t going to vote for Christmas, especially if it came with an advent calendar in which each window contained a sweet that could magically give women choice, and the freedom to walk out the door.
We can’t say, ‘I’m a feminist but I don’t recognise where inequality favours me’, because then we’re really saying, ‘I’m not a feminist at all’.
It’s important to understand that doors that might be routinely open to you, are padlocked to someone else.
We feel guilty asking for change because we’ve been trained to fit in and be accommodating and not make a fuss. Guess who trained us to do that? The patriarchy.
Not only are we told that it’s of paramount importance to be pretty, we’re told that being funny, clever and successful can actually detract from our worth.
We have to start treating our bodies as if we love them, because it is an act of internalised misogyny to hate our female bodies. Even if they are larger or smaller than we want them to be or they give us pain, or have cellulite, or we think our toes are weird. We have to nourish and nurture them as if we like them, before we actually do. We have to start with actions and let feelings catch up.
People always say that women should be more confident, but confidence is the product of our experience. Lack of confidence is one more thing to feel guilty about, and constantly telling women we are under-confident isn’t likely to propel us swaggering through the biggest doors in the land, shouting, ‘We’ve arrived’.
A lack of confidence isn’t something you’re stuck with. It’s a temporary state of mind.
But there’s a second kind of confidence, that for some people goes without saying. This has nothing to do with how successful we think we will be at accomplishing a task. It’s how certain we are that we will be included in a group. I call this tribal confidence.
Most people haven’t ever broken their confidence down this way, and I’d encourage you to analyse it when you feel nervous. Am I truly doubting my abilities (personal confidence), or am I doubting this room, this group, this date, this friend, this employer, this mother to accept, include or validate me (tribal confidence)?
I notice that many men feel less comfortable in rooms with a majority of women than women do in rooms of men. This is because women are experienced at being in the minority, especially in business contexts.
Our tribe is used to being excluded. It is a tradition, like Christmas or morris dancing.
A second common response to exclusion is anger. A small but chunky percentage of a tribe that is routinely excluded starts to demand inclusion. This is where the stereotype of the angry black woman or the humourless, furious lesbian comes from.
As Sheryl Sandberg points out, if a man gets angry and dismissive in a meeting, it’s seen as assertive but if a woman does it, it’s described as aggressive.
I trust that if I open my mouth and confidently start a sentence, my brain will finish it. I know that if I start a sentence tentatively, my mind might offer me nothing because I’ve convinced it I don’t know where I’m going.
Much of confidence is recognising times when there is nothing truly at stake and that failure can be seen as ‘gathering data’ rather than evidence that we as individuals are ‘no good’ at something.
In that same interview, Hillary said, ‘I’m not Barack Obama. I’m not Bill Clinton. Both of them carry themselves with a naturalness that is very appealing to audiences. But I’m married to one and I’ve worked for the other, so I know how hard they work at being natural. It’s not something they just dial in. They work and they practise what they’re going to say.’ Hillary did not manage to work on this so well that it became convincing. This is probably due to a combination of her personality and the extraordinary sexism she’d experienced: she is a generation older than Michelle and has been in the public eye for most of her life. It’s hard to change the public’s perception of you, so it’s best to grow into yourself first and get famous second. (Personally, I’ve always made it a policy to bide my time.) Whatever the reasons, ‘being a natural, confident leader’ is something she’s seen Obama and Bill Clinton work at until it looks natural.
People always think that people are born with charisma, but they’re not. Everyone works at it. Some people learn their confidence and influence intuitively in secondary school in order to get boys or girls to like them or to get bullies to leave them alone. Some people, like singers, actors or politicians, get a coach. Comedians find it on the job, through trial and painful error. Everyone learns it.
To me, intersectional feminism is about a) looking beyond myself and my own limited experience, and b) acknowledging the complexity of things. Which can be kind of tricky. Things are complex.
Many of us are living at half-mast. We are quieter than we want to be. We carry tension in our body because we swallow our opinions. We hunch to make ourselves smaller. We laugh less than we could. We make funny faces in photos to hide our true selves. We pretend we are happy when we are not. We have inadequate sex. We lie about who we are and what we want.
How do we break through and say yes to things that scare us? The answer is that your first six yeses will be scary and your seventh will be normal. No is a habit and yes is a habit.
We are what we do regularly.
We need to start talking about coercion. Men have been trained through books, films and societal assumptions that women and their bodies are there to be colonised. Our bodies are not something to be conquered. Our genitals are not a place to plant a flag. While we speak about consent so often, we may be co-creating a culture in which some men are looking for signs of acquiescence, giving in and resigned permission rather than arousal, invitation and initiation.
Something that many straight, cis men may not understand is the vast difference between penetrating and being penetrated. Having someone enter your body is intrusive and invasive in a way that is impossible to describe, if it is not something you welcome and are excited by. Consent is not enough if someone wants to insert themselves inside your person because consent implies permission rather than invitation. You may give someone permission to borrow your jacket, but you must invite them into your home and desire them to be in your bed. Now think about how much enthusiasm you’d truly need to welcome someone into your orifice.
If you’re going to be hated for something you are, something essential to you that you can’t change, you might as well stick some sequins on it, turn up the Kylie and go into the street and dance. Gay Pride celebrates the realisation that there is no point conforming because conformity won’t get you validation. That’s why there’s no need for ‘Straight Pride’. Straight people already have societal approval for their congenital condition.
Stories matter. It can be argued that Dickens did more for social healthcare and housing in Britain than Marx because Dickens told the story of a little orphan boy who fell into poverty and was criminalised. He made people feel and understand and want to make a change.
Just like Audre Lorde says, ‘Self-care is a revolutionary act’, which I believe a hundred per cent regarding black women.
Emmeline Pankhurst famously said ‘Deeds not words’, but she also said, ‘We have to free half of the human race, the women, so that they can help free the other half’, so I am going to suggest she knew the power of words very well.
The reason it’s hard for us to say no, I think, is that it means revealing dissatisfaction. ‘No’ implies everything isn’t just as it should be, that the person you’re saying no to is wrong or lecherous or about to be disappointed. Yes controls your own narrative, but no changes someone else’s. As difficult as yes can be, no can be twice as hard. No is in danger of inconveniencing, embarrassing or angering someone else.
If we do not choose what to do and when, we will not have time to do what is urgent, important, necessary, kind and feminist. If we say yes to everything, we cannot author our own life and take care of ourselves and make choices about who else we will care for.
If you stop being a bottomless source of favours, they’ll find another one. Take control of your time and energy. Practise saying the word ‘no’ out loud. Rehearse it. You don’t need to be rude.
Entitlement is the residue of privilege.
The right wing often seems to get more done, largely because its goals are broadly fiscal. If we want to make a hundred dollars together, who cares if we disagree? All we need to do is find the quickest way to get that sweet hundred bucks. The left’s goals are ideological, so it feels as if we cannot proceed until we have decided on the details of our beliefs and the best way to carry out our goals. That can never be done. As the insightful comedian Michael Legge said in his recent show Jerk, ‘I’m left wing but it’s probably hard for you to tell that right now because I’m not currently arguing with someone I agree with.’
I don’t have to agree with everything you say to try to understand it better and to give ground. I don’t have to be convinced by conclusions that you’ve arrived at from a different life experience to respect you as a human being and understand that you have good reason for feeling as you do.
Plurality of thought and the ability to set our own intellectual boundaries has never been more important.
Men are not the enemy of feminism. Patriarchy is the enemy of feminism and the enemy of men. It expects, demands and dictates. While it tells women that they need to be demure, grateful and nurturing, it tells men they need to fight all their fires alone. Sometimes that means we all get burned.
Also, we’re all trained to be competitive with our own tribe.
Recently I was at a recruitment event and I talked to two male recruiters about this phenomenon. One of them was a young African American guy and he said, ‘I have the same feeling. If I’ve hired too many black people in a row, I think that I’d better hire some white people so I don’t look like I have a secret black agenda.’ We looked at the other guy who was white and asked, ‘Do you ever worry you’ve hired too many white guys?’ He laughed loudly. ‘It’s never occurred to me,’ he said. ‘If I hire a woman or a person of colour, though, I give myself some brownie points. Diversity targets!’ Where we feel we might be judged as ‘having a feminist agenda’ if we make room for good, strong, qualified women, the white guy gives himself a cookie and the day off.
Generally radical voices propose ideas loudly and relentlessly until those ideas start to seem less ludicrous to society. Often they riot, chain themselves to railings and lie down in front of horses and steamrollers to draw attention to their cause and start changing people’s minds. Pragmatists can’t start bargaining with the powers that be or drafting laws until society is won over to the idea of change.
The social model of disability says that people are disabled by the way society is organised, rather than the person’s impairment, health condition or difference.
I’ll always not be perfect. Every day of my life I’ll wake up and not be perfect.
Hope is the chasm between things as they are and things as they could be. The canyon between the actual and the possible. Hope requires imagination.
Hope is predicated on dissatisfaction. A content person never changed the world. A satisfied person has never seen a Goliath and dared to craft the perfect slingshot. But hope without a plan of action is the doorway to depression.
My review of The Guilty Feminist