How I became a feminist

I’ve really enjoyed the posts on how people became feminists, and since I haven’t yet got the energy to write a real post I thought I’d post something I wrote towards the end of last year.

In some ways I was extremely precocious feminist. I still have my copy of the Railway Children which says “Happy 7th Birthday on the inside” and in which I had writeen RUBBISH in black felt tip pen over the paragraph near the end when the Doctor tells Peter that he must be nice to girls because they’re soft and weak. I grew up in the 1980s and really believed Girls Can Do Anything, and was prepared to fight for it.

But something happened in my teens, my feminism faded. I know why, and I know I’m not alone. To middle-class girls in all-girls schools sexism and misogyny often seem far away. I was taught by some of the coolest feminists I’ve ever known. My school had a quilt hung in the hall that said “Me aro koe ki te hä o Hine-ahu-one. Pay heed to the dignity of Women”. But it was an all women world and so feminism seemed unnecessary.

It was ridiculous, because sexism and misogyny were all around us, all the time. We didn’t recognise them mostly because we were too busy using them to try and destroy each other.

So all through high school, and into my first year of university I didn’t call myself a feminist. I was 18 when this changed, and I remember the change as a revelation. It wasn’t of course, I must have forgotten all the small thing.

I was babysitting, I’d put the kids to bed and settled down to do the readings for one of my tutorials. I was reading women’s accounts of growing up in Germany towards the end of the 19th Century. One woman was from the aristocracy, one was middle class, and the other were all working class women.

Most of the women had become involved in left-wing politics later in their life and their stories were amazing. The best of the fathers in the narratives were completely hopeless, most weren’t that useful, but they survived, and fought for their brothers and sisters. I was blown away by those women and their strength. They had all fought so hard for things that I saw as so basic.

But it was still school work, so as soon as I was finished being blown away I watched a movie the kids’ parents had left behind. It was called The Heidi Chronicles and I remember almost nothing about it except that it was about a woman who was involved in women’s liberation, and it showed how much she’d gained but how hard it was, and how it had cost her.

My response to the stories of women’s lives, both fictional and real was: “I have to call myself a feminist, I owe it to all these women who went before me, who fought so hard and gained so much to become part of that struggle.”

And that was the beginning.

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5 Responses to How I became a feminist

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  3. 3
    Sage says:

    That reminds me of a Naomi Wolf quotation from “Fire With Fire”: “The rights to vote, drive a car ,get an education, have a job, plan a family, get decent health care, have a say: You weren’t born with them. All of these were brought to you by the Feminist Movement. Feminism is real democracy. If you value thsse things, pass them on. Call yourself a feminist, speak up when you are put down, vote for rights for women, and give to women’s organizations.”

  4. 4
    Elena says:

    I have always, always been a feminist. Since I was little, I called bullshit when the priests said only boys couls be acolytes. I fought long and hard against my father’s unfair protectionism of me and my sisters when we hit puberty- I have to remember how that felt as my daughter grows.

    Interestingly, although I credit my feminism in part to growing up in the eighties, I have to say kids shows and movies from that time were unbelievably sexist when I see them again. The Muppet Movie has one female character who is an idiot, for example. All the girls on Happy Days were slutty morons. The male hearththrob in “Sixteen Candles” hands his passed out girlfriend over to the nerd to “enjoy”.

    Maybe I owe it all to “Free to be You and Me”.

  5. 5
    Barbar says:

    I’m a guy, and for a good chunk of my life (I’m in my 20s) I wasn’t a feminist, mainly due to lack of awareness (I wasn’t explicitly anti-feminist, I just didn’t think about it too carefully, and wound up taking some default positions that upon later reflection were anti-feminist). I don’t think there was any dramatic turning point, but I reached feminist positions on most issues simply by thinking, “What I would want the world to be like if I were a woman?” Moreover, I realized over time that the alternative to NOT asking this question — not taking the first-person view — was taking a social-role view, in which every kind of person has their place and other people should fit into their roles. And so there you go.