The Rise of Everyday Feminism
Guest blogger Aisha Mirza is a journalist and musician from London. She is an active supporter of EQUALS coalition member UK Feminista, and also UK Uncut. She features in our film My Feminist Body.
Feminism is rising everyday. As our political conscience has grown and empowered us to sit-in and shout back in dissent when we are told “we are all in this together”, the glaring inequalities that persist among men and women have also been brought to the fore.
The last year and a half has seen women and men taking collective action for feminism, regardless of whether the word was used. Parents turned their local banks into crèches in protest against the vast closures of sure start centres that have seen their only chance of affordable childcare disappear, and women return to the home to fill the gap. An all-woman group blocked George Osborne’s car as he tried to deliver the budget that has since seen domestic abuse refuges struggle to the point of suggesting ‘safe’ places for women escaping abuse to sleep on the street.
But there is another type of lesser-reported direct action, increasingly being perpetuated by individual women in small ways every day, and this is the key to finally making feminism accessible to everyone, and in the process, changing society. The personal is becoming political.
I spoke a little bit about this last year at the UK Feminista Summer School during a panel asking where “the front line of feminism” is. I began to realise then, that we all have our own front lines. In the 50s, the battle lines we much more clearly drawn. It was clearer where women were and were not allowed to go ,could and could not wear and say. Activism then saw inspirational women join hands and charge across those lines.
Half a century on, patriarchy has developed its control of women from inside our heads to a fine art. It has packaged up ‘liberation’ and sold it back to us more neatly than ever before. “You’ve got what you wanted!” it cries. “Power suits, some women in board rooms somewhere, short skirts and scented shaving foam, men in fancy-dress scaling buildings for the right to childcare, natural-look foundation and burlesque. Now please. Shh.”
Women have realised no-one is going to fight this for us and are rapidly recognising and reclaiming. We are taking direct action when we count the number of naked female bodies we see during the trailers at the cinema and point it out to the person we are with. When we check, while the film is on whether there are two named female characters, who talk to each other for longer than 60 seconds, about something other than a male. When we make note of who clears up after dinner and facilitate variation. When we demand to be allowed to do everything our brothers are allowed to do. When we stop starting our sentences with “I don’t know much about this but…” When we let our body hair grow and see how it makes us feel. When we actively support the women around us.
I understand this might seem like a stressful way to live, and too much to take on mentally, but it’s nothing compared to what women take on every day. The difference is, we’re in control of these thoughts. When we begin to fret about whether we look fat from a certain angle, or give blowjobs because we feel obliged, our new awareness springs into action, helping us to understand our individual worlds. And we are not alone. The internet is playing a vital role in joining up these spectacular moments of individual direct action and forming this new movement.
Examples are everywhere. Last year, when Topman thought t-shirts calling women dogs and encouraging domestic abuse were OK, the news spread across Facebook, the Topshop customer services phoneline was clogged, and within hours the t-shirts were discontinued.
The genius 101 wankers blog was started by a woman who was tired of the consistent harassment she would receive while riding her bike around London. She began writing funny anecdotes in which she would detail what was said/done, how it made her feel, and would pin-point where it happened on an interactive map of wankers that has since gone global.
Musician Kate Nash has been busy touring secondary schools, holding girl-only song-writing workshops in which she also talks about the unfair pressures of women in the music industry.
The Equals coalition are encouraging women to tell the women around them what they love about them. On Twitter, the wordy but nonetheless biblical FeminismTips and _Patriarchy provide us with “practical tips to help dismantle patriarchy in our everyday lives”. Everyday Feminism.
Practical is an important word. Too much of the feminism I have seen has been in the form of well-meaning but inaccessible conferences that preach to the converted and are irrelevant to the lives of the vast majority of women. With patriarchy so well camouflaged in the every day experiences of women and men, the first step is recognising that it exists at all. My friend describes this as The Gasp. The jarring moment when you realise that it’s not natural to wake up an hour earlier than your boyfriend to pluck, pout and perfume. When you accept that mainstream pornography makes you uncomfortable because it is largely created by and for men, not because you’re a prude. That is why the language of feminism has to be the language of the every day. Once you have gasped you do not go back, but as well as seeing inequality everywhere, you see direct action against it everyday.
Yesterday on the East London Feminists forum, an anecdote was posted by a woman who had changed the title on her water bill from Mrs to Ms. This was followed by a woman describing how she ripped out page three from a copy of The Sun that was on the tube on her way to work, and then another from a woman who had inspired her dad to submit a column about international woman’s day to his local newspaper. These women’s daughters, sons, partners, colleagues, parents and fellow commuters are all pushed one step further towards The Gasp by these small, powerful actions.
And before the inevitable chorus of “what about the men?!” that always follows articles about gender inequality, yes, Everyday Feminism is about men too, because this way, it comes to them. All they have to do is lay down their defences and engage, like this man did when he was asked “when was the last time you feared being sexually assaulted?”
I was lucky enough for my gasp moments to have been sparked when I was a child by my mother, the longest-running champion of Everyday Feminism I know. I gasped when I saw that everyone else had scales in their bathroom and when I got told off for saying the word diet. When she told me that the people who campaigned against the headscarf were the real oppressors. When she stopped women in the street and told them they were beautiful. When she unapologetically managed a household where she was the main breadwinner and supported her daughters in doing whatever they want to, as long as they can look after themselves. This International Women’s Day, gasp and feel the ripples spread.
Guest bloggers to do not necessarily represent the views of EQUALS. We bring you different perspectives on whether men and women are equals, and invite you to join the big inequality debate with us. Tell us what you think in the comments, then visit www.weareequals.org and get involved.
1 Comment + Add Comment
Got anything to say? Go ahead and leave a comment!
- Welcome to the school of frock
- EQUALS is hiring!
- Who Cares What She Thinks?
- Inequality in images
- Men and women must unite for change
- Five things you can do on International Women’s Day
- Make Your Own Competition
- Beauty, Humour and Stereotypes
- Best Bits: International Women’s Day 2012
- Fear of the F-Word
- EQUALS Live: A night to remember
- Photos: Emeli Sande, Katy B, Jess Mills and Annie Lennox rock EQUALS Live
- The Rise of Everyday Feminism
- Five things you can do on International Women’s Day
- Make you own debate starter film
- Protected: International Women’s Day press release
- 5 Bottles of Shampoo: What is this film all about?
- Female Beatboxers: What is this film all about?
- Young Mums: What is this film all about?
- First Night: What is this film all about?
- Amnesty International
- Birds Eye View
- Channel 4 Britdoc
- Fawcett Society
- Funny Women
- Good Screenings
- MADE in Europe
- One World Action
- Platform 51
- Save the Children
- Southbank Centre
- Sphinx Theatre Company
- The GREAT Initiative
- The White Ribbon Alliance
- UK Feminista
- Women for Refugee Women
- Women for Women International
- Women's Aid