Tag Archives: feminism

I want to be ‘one of those people’

I’ve spent a lifetime wanting to be ‘one of those people’. Whether it was a person with a placard outside an embassy or the person at school that could eat the entirety of a pear (core/pips included) without so much as a flinch, there have been lots of little and much bigger things that I have wished I could do.

Seeing myself as perhaps rather a sedentary bystander (if that isn’t too much of an oxymoron) of life in general, there has always been a kind of knot of frustration deep below the sheltered layers of quilted laziness and fatigue in my under-achieving brain.

I want to do good stuff, great stuff even.

I read history books, I get Wikipedia ‘Articles of the Day’ and that’s not to mention the constant reminders in the news – they are all showing me images, footage and sound of those kind of people out there doing really important things, while I sit under the glow of halogen office lights, my biggest success of the day being typing at a ridiculously fast rate and buying my favourite soup from the food trolley before it sells out. It’s not quite what I had in mind when I drooled half-asleep over A-level set texts and stayed up buzzing on Pro Plus at uni believing that all that shit really did matter.

It’s a curious thing, watching people. And I don’t mean in a creepy, follow-you-home kind of way. The ones around me now are consumed by the screens before them, some plugged in with headphones too, hypnotised by the modernity of technology. But I am talking about those other people again – the ones who find themselves in warzones, in protests, in conversations about things that matter.

How? I have always thought. How do they end up there and how did I end up here? No-one in sandals approaches you when you hit adulthood with a big signpost asking ‘Do you want to do something worthwhile with your life or do you want to focus on you for a bit longer?’ If they did, I was too busy sleeping or watching Eastenders.

And as much admiration as I had for those other people, I couldn’t help but hate them a little bit too. The irony hey? I didn’t just do nothing, but I also resented the people who were doing something.

So it was surprising, even to me, to see myself breaking out of this mould last weekend and becoming ‘one of those people’ who seemed so intangible previously.

There I found myself, among around 7,999 other women walking down Regent Street towards Trafalgar Square, the wind whipping up the passion in our cheeks, the crisp colours of marble statues striking a pose against the sky radiant in blue. It sounds fantastical, magical, and it was.

In my previous experiences as an outsider to days such as this, I had always suspected, and actually hoped, that the event itself was rather dull; that the excitement seen on the faces of those involved was just because they so desperately wanted to be having fun; that really their feet were aching and they were dying for a cup of tea.

Yet on London’s Million Women Rise march on 6 March 2010, as cold as the temperature was that afternoon, I didn’t care one bit.

On a purely personal level, the sense of purpose and unity that arose from being part of ‘something’ that wasn’t an office party or a queue for a bus was really quite enlightening.

Listening to the voices of women whose lives had been about plights of passion and fights for rights seemed to lock into place that knot of frustration that had been tightening in my brain, and it made more sense. The frustration could become motivation instead.

It’s not so hard to be part of something. It only takes finding a cause that you believe in (and there’s a million out there) and actually participating in it, – whether that’s through signing petitions, attending rallies, emailing MPs or telling friends, the gain far outweighs the effort every time.

We are always told that today’s generation lacks that sense of community that existed in previous decades. I don’t personally agree with that, I think we have just become more global and network more extensively through the aid of technology. Yet there is something special about being part of something that matters.

I have chosen women’s and gay rights as my principal areas for concern because I believe deeply in equality. Along with my usual daily grind of work and more work, I am finding time to develop my interests in these areas and, in doing so, have met some wonderful people and learnt some fascinating stuff. The more I learn, the more awake I feel. That empty coma-inducing mentality that I survived on before is learning how to really think and feel again – that incredible self-awareness so key to human beings is no longer being wasted on flickering screens and chit-chat alone.

My individual actions as a fledgling feminist may not make a discernable difference, but knowing that, as a collective, I am part of a movement that has and continues to empower and demand change, is motivating in itself.

So if you’re feeling a little lost/bored/intellectually and morally deadened/any of the above, then just consider becoming ‘one of those people’. I can certainly recommend it.



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Women’s rights can’t be wrong

Tammy Wynette said it well really. Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman (I’ll selectively ignore the rest of her song lyrics for the purpose of this blog). But she had a point. It is hard. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining – I’m not saying I want to start pissing standing up or take testosterone replacement, but I feel quite justified in my right to moan about the burdens that womanhood has placed on my shoulders.

I attended a discussion group recently. The topic was whether lesbians in this country should care about lesbians in other countries – where approaches are more hostile – and what we should do about it. The question prompted a variety of responses. In the main, it was heartening to hear that people cared; they wanted to help, but weren’t sure how. The idea of setting up a human trafficking ring to bring over Nigerian lesbians was raised, but as with most good ideas, practicality reared its ugly head. We just aren’t well connected enough to the underworld of London.

But what of those people who are subjected in other countries to harsh and often brutal responses to their sexuality? How exactly can we help? It’s not like hunger or poverty – I can’t just pack an old shoebox full of unwanted toys and clothes and send it off with a wing and a prayer. With the exception of talking/writing and, in doing so, raising awareness, there’s very little I personally can do that is short of packing my rucksack and heading off with a ‘Gay and Proud’ placard and a big red target painted on my back.

It’s a depressing thought and a sobering one at that – I am lucky. Sure, it was tough telling my Dad that I thought that rather than saving up for a wedding he should start a fund for IVF if he ever wanted a grandchild, however, my life is not in danger and I am not persecuted for my beliefs.

It was with interest that I listened to one person explaining that we should leave some matters up to the people in their own country to sort out. This caused some outrage, but I remained quiet, not sure what to make of such a statement. The person argued that, if such laws (such as anti-gay legislation) had been voted in by the people of the country, or the main religious movement there dictated that it was wrong, it wasn’t for us to go over with our rainbow flags and demand change. What about the gay people who are born into that sort of country, some asked. ‘They can just leave and come here or somewhere more tolerant.’

This is exactly the sort of argument that some people base their anti-Iraq sentiments on – it’s not up to us to go sorting out other countries’ issues and problems based on our own principles of democracy. There is some logic in this perhaps. It would certainly lead to less conflicts and an easier life for people over here.

However, this laissez-faire attitude is like putting the brakes on world development. It’s the ‘let someone else worry about that because it doesn’t affect me’ kind of thought that allows bad stuff to continue and gain momentum, making it not just bad but terrifying.

Sure, it’s not really my problem that there’s a lesbian in Iran living in fear because it’s against her religion to be attracted to women. She might get beaten for it. She may just have to shut up, shut down, spend her life in denial/hiding. What can I do about it? I’ll just thank my lucky stars that geography saved me from a life of misery.

I’m sorry, but I can’t do this. It just doesn’t feel right to turn a blind eye. How on earth will things ever improve if we don’t consider the world as a global community, as opposed to one fragmented by man-made borders that our ancestors gave names to?

As a lesbian, you are given a label. I am therefore more likely to be interested in the lives and fates of others like myself. But going back to my original point (if you can remember back that far!), what about my role as a woman? Surely there’s enough other women that I don’t have to care too much about their rights – I’ve got enough on my plate with gay issues haven’t I? Yet another question that I find hard to answer and one that arose from the discussion group.

While talking about the persecution of gay people abroad, we stumbled across the subject of strip clubs. There was a general consensus in the room that, as women who like women, we should care about women’s issues. It’s a fairly logical argument I suppose, but not everyone agreed. Despite the common conception that many lesbians are avid feminists, many aren’t much interested in the rights of women beyond their own sphere of influence. It got me thinking… should lesbians be expected to carry the torch of women’s rights moreso than any other woman? Historically, yes, this has often been the case, giving many lesbians their atypical ‘man-hating’ label in the process.

The subject arose when it was discussed that a lesbian club in London featured women pole-dancing and stripping. ‘So what?’ argued one woman. ‘Like men, I like looking and it’s just a bit of fun.’ Another vehemently argued the opposite – that it is this kind of ‘fun’ that damages women worldwide, perpetuating the myth that women are a commodity that can be bought and sold as readily as a cup of coffee – that it is acceptable to judge women aesthetically and solely from a sexual standpoint. It is a tough call – I hear the first woman – why should she care? Just because she sleeps with women in her private life, like many thousands of men, she enjoys looking at women sexually and feels justified in doing so. By being gay, she didn’t take an oath to look out for the rights of other women, gay or straight.

So why is it that the majority of the group took the opposite approach. ‘Who better to care about the needs of women than us?’ said one. And maybe she’s right. Being gay by no means suggests that you must be a feminist or an activist of any form, but the nature of our sexuality means that we take an interest in women and the needs of women, both straight and lesbian.

As women, we should be outraged at the idea of women stripping for us in a club because they are one of us, regardless of our sexuality. By ignoring the issue, we are agreeing in principle to the sexualisation of young women, deeming it acceptable even to other women who, in reality, should be the friend and not the foe. On a superficial level, most gay women would have to be chemically castrated to not find the idea of half-naked dancing women attractive, but we must think with our heads not our libidos. We have a duty to do so.

Maybe men don’t have to do this, I am sure many don’t as they gain gratification from the idea that these attractive, often drug-dependent or poverty-stricken young women are actually dancing for their pleasure (and not the dirty cash that pays their undeclared wages that are not protected by employment laws). Yet I for one cannot switch off and just think of them solely as sexual objects. I see another ‘me’ (albeit less good looking and with arguably smaller tits and a less flexible hip action).

I am well aware that there is an argument, often by women in the business themselves, that stripping is a life decision that is well informed and well paid; that they are not coerced and not exploited. Individually, for those women, that is great. I am glad to hear it. Yet it cannot be ignored that in many cases this is just not true. And stripping for cash is often a pre-cursor to a much more dangerous activity – prostitution.

Should we as women shoulder more responsibility? It seems like many of us believe yes, myself included, however my reasons for believing this are kind of vague. I just care. I am just not really sure why I do.

Being a woman is a label that many of us share. It is a unique identity, yet is also so generic. Beyond my own experience of being a female, I care deeply about others’ experience of it too. It should be something positive – something that can be freely explored within the understanding and accepting framework of a more general society. However, as is the case for many lesbians, many women too face discrimination and stereotyping, in this country and further afield.

I strongly believe that I have a duty to care about other people, whatever their sexuality, religion, race or indeed gender. If being a woman means that I better understand the needs of other women, then I should take this belief and put it to good use. The women’s movement has come on leaps and bounds in this century and the last, but it is by no means a fait accompli. For this reason, I will continue to write about these issues and try to encourage others to feel the same. By staying quiet, I am tacitly acknowledging that there is nothing that needs to change in the world and that isn’t something that I am prepared to accept…


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