I adopted the label of ‘feminist’ the minute I heard it and understood what it meant. At the time I was very surprised that every woman (not to mention all great men) weren’t proud to wear the label.
It seemed obvious to me that if you were a woman you would want to be associated with a movement that has dedicated itself to empowering you.
And yet many women have veered away from the term over the years.
Veered away because it was presented to them as something other than what it is. Veered away because they felt themselves to already have certain entitlements and didn’t want or feel the need for others to take up that cause for them. Veered away because they thought it meant hating men or being angry all the time.
The dualistic assumption that you can’t stand up and say no to unacceptable behaviour by some men whilst simultaneously loving and admiring men in general, is flawed. Of course you can. We are not either, or. We are both and we are all. This is one of the many realisations that spirituality brings to feminism.
There’s also a whole conversation we could have – and may yet still in this space – about the irony of being taught as young girls to not express anger and then deciding to direct all that suppressed emotion away from the men who’ve raped, tortured, mutilated, disempowered, ridiculed, humiliated, suppressed and silenced our gender for thousands of years, and turn instead against the women who dared to speak up about it.
There’s something both needy and extraordinarily disempowered about seeking men’s approval even as we reject our sisters for holding them to account for their actions. Unconscious and internalised rejection of self is probably the most insidious effect of sexism (and racism and homophobia and prejudice of all kinds). But that’s not today’s conversation.
Ultimately feminism is about choice. The freedom to make life choices that suit you best and not be forced into a box by society.
- To not be confined to the box women found themselves in during the 1950s – housewife, secretary or nurse.
- To not be confined to the box we were in throughout the 1800s – no entitlement to own land or to vote.
- To not be confined to the box my grandmothers were born into in the 1920s – to live in economically depressed times with limited access to contraception, a particular expectation of ‘wifely duties’ by husbands, and backyard abortions being the only choice available for the accidental pregnancies that inevitably result from such circumstances.
As women and feminists we’ve adopted an approach of pushing against those boxes in the past. We’ve gone cap in hand to men and asked them to recognise that we too are human beings with equal capacity and intelligence and that we no longer wish to be controlled by them.
The time for going cap in hand is now over. Because of the efforts of our foremothers, we stand in a new place now. A place of entitlement and far greater access and ease in terms of exercising choice.
Focusing on them – on what men won’t give us – is the wrong conversation. It gets us nowhere. Just as focusing on what your boss won’t give you or your parents won’t give you or your partner won’t give you never leads to fulfilment of that desire.
Every time you focus on filling yourself with something outside of you, you’re focusing in the wrong direction.
Turn within and you will find that’s where permission resides. Turn within and recognise your own strength.
You already have the capacity to choose.
That recognition sounds prosaic in some senses but is in fact what will transform women, and in turn, the feminist movement in the 21st century.
Standing in your power is something we’ve been taught to regret as women over the centuries. Now is the time to rise collectively. To say, we will define life on our own terms and we will choose. Men, you are welcome to support us or not, and still this is irrelevant to our experience, because we know our own strength and we support one another.