Inspired by a conversation on twitter, I am running a series of interviews with women about their feminism. I’m hoping that other women will find our various paths to feminism interesting and we might also take strength from and pride in our stories. If you would like to take part please leave a message here or send a direct message to @sueveneer on twitter.
Thanks to @FireWomon for sharing her story.
1. At what point in your life did you begin to understand that you were a feminist?
My introduction to feminism was via my father. I was around 11/12 years old and I voiced an opinion on something – I can’t remember what – and he said I was turning into ‘a bloody women’s libber’. I had no idea what he was talking about. From my late teens onwards I called myself a ‘feminist’ because by then I had had enough time to notice how differently I, a girl, was treated when compared with my brothers, and I was angry about it. I had become aware by then that it wasn’t just me, too – I realised that this thing was called ‘sexism’. I’ve always hated injustice and that, to me, was the biggest injustice. When I got married at the age of 21, I walked down the aisle alone (‘no man’s giving ME away’) which at the time I thought was very feminist of me but obviously I lacked the radical feminist analysis then that I now have, else I wouldn’t have got married at all.
2. What is the focus of your feminism and how has this shifted over time?
I started off as a liberal feminist, which means that I bought the ‘choice’ argument. It’s not feminism at all, but it was dressed up as such and sold to us as such, and young women like me who came of age during the backlash against second-wave feminism bought it. I was concerned with equality for women and girls, and I wanted nothing more or less than that. I thought whatever men and boys have, women and girls should have too. I was very naïve about how the world works. I had no political analysis. The turning point for me was when I gave up my mind-numbingly boring job at the age of 27 and went to my local college to do an Access to Higher Education course. I then got accepted onto a BA at Liverpool University. I was a ‘mature’ student, so a good few years older than most of my peers, and in university I met people from different walks of life – posh people, basically. It was eye-opening.
Whilst I was at university, Germaine Greer’s The Whole Woman was published. I read that book until the pages fell out. It opened my eyes to things I simply hadn’t ‘seen’ before. Then I got even more angry at the state of affairs for women and girls across the globe. That book steered me away from liberal feminism and put me firmly on the path towards radical feminism. Still, I didn’t read any radical feminist theory until I was well into my 30s. It was then that my focus changed. I don’t want equality with males, I want liberation. I want liberation from patriarchy for every single woman and girl.
3. How has feminism affected your life/relationships/career etc?
Radical feminism has changed my life irrevocably. It’s one of those things, like riding a bike or leaning to swim: once you know it, you can’t un-know it. I went through quite a lengthy period of depression – actual, diagnosed, clinical depression – when the full weight of what we (as females) are up against finally hit me. It seemed surreal to me. My brain couldn’t cope with what it had learnt, so one day it simply shut down. Then followed months of recovery. I’m probably still recovering. Some days it all still seems impossible. But most days – I’m glad to report! – my anger motivates me. So *occasionally* my fighting spirit deserts me, but more often than not it is raging inside me, pressing for change.
As regards personal relationships, it’s coming up to a decade now since I had a relationship with a man. I don’t think having a radical feminist analysis is compatible with being coupled with men. My only regret is that I didn’t choose lesbianism sooner (because it *is* a choice which is available to every woman). Being a lesbian has liberated me in so many ways, it really has.
Being a radical feminist has caused rifts in (some) relationships with family and friends. I have much less in common with these people than I used to. I suppose, with regards to one or two particularly, I have gone through a grieving process of sorts. There is no going back now to how things once were. BUT I have gained much deeper, more satisfactory friendships in return. I now know some truly wonderful, remarkable women, who I am proud to call my friends. That feeling of sisterhood – I’d never had that before, with any other friendship I’ve ever had. My radical feminist friends are very dear to me. I can’t even begin to describe the feelings I get when I am in their company – feelings of love, respect, and above all warmth. Just writing about them gives me a warm feeling. This is one reason why I feel so passionately about women-only space.
4. What are your hopes and fears for feminism?
I am optimistic. I know of young feminists who are resisting the queer theory and liberal feminism which is being forced down their throats everywhere they turn. They are listening to both sides of the debate, they are reading radical feminist theory, and they are making their own minds up instead of following the crowd. I have huge admiration for them. They know ten times more than I did at their age. They are young, smart, and they are courageous. They make me feel optimistic about the future.
The fears I have are with regards to the ridiculous notion that ‘woman’ is an identity. This argument worries me greatly. Women can’t ‘identify’ our way out of oppression, yet we are being told that WE are the oppressors. It’s a complete reversal, and it’s deliberate, of course. In academia, women’s studies courses have all but disappeared – replaced with ‘gender’ studies – and women-only space such as colleges and even public toilets are under constant threat. This is simply not on. No oppressed group should be forced to share space with their oppressor. I will argue that to the death.
5. Who inspires your feminism?
Tons of women. The countless women who are raped, assaulted, abused, murdered by men, day in, day out, every day of every year in every culture. Women who speak their minds despite facing backlash. Women who can’t speak their minds because their jobs or families are threatened, but who silently work for women without expecting or needing applause. Women who work on the frontline in women’s services, refuges, rape crisis centres. Women who have broken free of compulsory heterosexuality and embraced lesbianism, despite the huge amount of stigma attached to this. Women who bring up children, especially those bringing up children alone, and/or those who are caring for elderly parents or other relatives. Women who are battling illness and carrying on regardless (and usually looking after everyone else or putting other people’s needs first). Women who I see in the supermarket, planning meals, getting in the weekly shop, trying to make ends meet, and doing it all mostly, or entirely, without any help from a male partner.
6. If you could recommend one book or film to a young woman what would it be and why?
It would have to be The Whole Woman. That would be the starting point, as it was with me. But there are loads more besides – if anyone wants a list of recommended reading, contact me @FireWomon on Twitter or by emailing me: firstname.lastname@example.org. There is always www.radfem.org too, a fabulous resource which provides free copies of texts by Jeffreys, Dworkin etc.