I’ve been calling myself a feminist for as long as I can remember. Well not quite but nearly. My first clear memory of the word is from when I was 11 or 12. My sister had done something (I don’t remember what) and my mum said ‘Aren’t you a feminist?’ My sister replied with simply ‘Yes. Obviously.’
I know now that neither of them really knew what the word meant but at the time all I could see was that it was important to my mother that sister was one. Once the argument between them was somewhat resolved I asked my mum what a feminist was, I had heard the word before but never really been sure what it meant. She told me that it was being an independent woman and believing that everything you do shouldn’t be to please men. This may have been what she thought feminism was or she may have been simplifying it for me. Either way or however misguided it may have been, I liked the sound of this feminism thing and decided that I was one.
It wasn’t until later, a few years into secondary school, that I became a capital F Feminist and fully grasped its true meaning. I wanted gender equality, I could see that there wasn’t gender equality and I wanted to do something about it. By December of year 10 my naïve self decided that I was ready to preach my thoughts to the world. So when in English we were set the task of persuasive speeches I knew immediately what I would do. My speech would be about feminism and the misconceptions of the word. In my mind, I had imagined what would happen. I would finish my speech to a standing ovation after which all misogyny and prejudice would be eradicated from my English class. Let’s just say that this wasn’t the case.
Now, I don’t think my speech was a mistake. In fact, when it first happened I thought it was amazing. The amount of girls in my class who told me they thought they were feminists after hearing it completely blew my mind. I had done it; I had persuaded! Soon I would be writing articles for the guardian and having twitter chats with Caitlin Moran! (Unsurprisingly these things are yet to happen.)
However, my joyous victory was to be short lived and I quickly built up a reputation, especially amongst the boys, as ‘the Feminist girl’. I would have doors slammed in my face and told that I must hate men. I wouldn’t be handed work sheets in lessons as I obviously didn’t believe in ‘chivalry’. I couldn’t get through a day without having my beliefs being questioned and I was asked countless times ‘but what about the men?’ It was frustrating and disappointing and made me so annoyed. I would retaliate, call them ignorant and try and shame the people who mocked me. This didn’t help. I quickly became known as ‘The angry feminist girl’. I had reacted how they wanted me to. I had proved their point.
The intense teasing didn’t last forever; these things rarely do. After a few months it had subsided to quips and low level disruption, such as ‘Hey Feminist!’ and ‘but what’s the feminist perspective on razors?’ This I could handle. I would ignore it and it would go away. They were petty teenage boys, they weren’t misogynists, simply products of the patriarchy. The girls who were against me, I had a harder time dealing with.
A desire for equality was simple to me, I had always had it, so when girls began to disagree with me I’ll admit I was shocked. In my mind, I was fighting for them, for us, and I had no idea why they could not see that. They were fine, they claimed, and told me that I needed to get over myself. That maybe if I had a boyfriend I would feel better. It wasn’t ladylike to be angry. It got to a point where with some people, we could not have a conversation without feminism being mentioned and mocked. I knew what I believed in but few people seemed to agree. It became harder and harder to defend myself. Some people were just doing it to wind me up, I know that. I knew that what I was saying wasn’t unreasonable, I knew that people wanted a reaction. Nevertheless, I began to resent the word ‘feminist’. I still believed in it, of course, but I hated the way it was stigmatised and generalised. In my speech I had spoken about the misconceptions of feminism but all I had done was encourage them.
I’m loud, opinionated and strong willed. I’m not ashamed to strive for equality for all women. I’m not ashamed to be angry.
Since becoming known as ‘the feminist girl’ I’ve thought about revoking my beliefs more than a few times. Maybe I should stop calling out sexism, maybe I should stop expressing my opinions. Maybe I should claim defeat to the patriarchy and scream YOU’VE WON. But I’ve never done it and I never will. I’m proud of what I believe in; I’m proud to be a feminist. I’m proud I made that speech and I’m proud of the conversation it started and the opinions it provoked (good or bad). If I had stopped being myself and calling out sexism, than I would have given the patriarchy what it wanted. For women to be submissive and silent. For women to have no voice in how society is. That has never and will never be me. I’m loud, opinionated and strong willed. I’m not ashamed to strive for equality for all women. I’m not ashamed to be angry. Of course I’m fucking angry. In many ways feminism is all about being angry. Angry about the pay gap, angry about abortion restrictions, angry about transphobia, homophobia, racism, angry about the things that are shit in the world. But I’m also an optimist. I believe that the world can and will be better. (Just not only by me making speeches.)
I don’t have the perfect way to respond to sexism and all the crap people who say crap things. I’m 15 years old. But the beauty of it is that NO ONE DOES! I’m learning and I’ll get better but I’ll never be perfect. In the meantime, I’m trying my best. You should too.