My introduction to feminism came via my father. I was probably around 12 years old at the time and he was talking disparagingly about a woman he worked with. Apparently, this woman’s crime was that she wasn’t ‘feminine’ enough, and that she was ‘probably a lesbian’. I remember wondering why my father was being quite so vitriolic towards her – I’d never heard him talk about any of his male colleagues like that. (Incidentally, this woman went on to become a very successful crime author with numerous books to her name; my father has been trying to get his one and only book published for the best part of twenty-five years. I’d mention the words ‘flogging’, ‘dead’ and ‘horse’ to him if we were still in touch, but we’ve been estranged for many years.)
My mum was not a feminist. I say that not so much because she expected my sister and I to undertake household chores on behalf of our brothers, but because she was was so very scathing of other women. Not older women – they were spared – but any woman who had the temerity to wear ‘too much’ make-up, or not enough make-up, or who cut her hair too short, or who wore it long over the age of 35 were either ‘too manly’ or ‘mutton dressed as lamb’. Likewise, any women who had several sexual partners was a ‘whore’ and a ‘strumpet’. I remember being aghast and upset by a news report about a man who tried to rape a two-year-old girl whilst her mother was asleep in the other room. The man broke the little girl’s leg and was only prevented from raping the child when the family dog started barking at her attacker. I couldn’t comprehend how the dog knew it was wrong and yet the human didn’t. My mum’s response – ‘why didn’t he just wake the mother up if he fancied a bit?’ – missed the point by a country mile.
Feminism has become such a dirty word. I say to people: ‘it just means that you believe women are worth as much as men’. It’s really not rocket science. Sexism is such a deep-rooted part of our world that women themselves fail to recognise the numerous ways in which they have been adversely affected by it. I can’t blame them – it took me enough years to recognise it for myself, so deeply is it ingrained.
Imagine this scenario: a 15-year-old boy is waiting at a bus stop. A car pulls up and the middle-aged female driver (a total stranger) winds the window down and asks if he would like a lift. The boy says a firm ‘no’ and the woman gets shirty with him and yells ‘alright, no need to be like that’ before speeding away. Reverse the genders and that is what happened to me.
Any woman reading this will be able to relate similar stories. Everyday Sexism, where women and girls can share their experiences, has so many similar examples it is ridiculous – ridiculous, I mean, that so many women and girls are subjected to so much sexual harassment by some men on a daily basis and NOBODY IS DOING ANYTHING ABOUT IT. Sorry for the caps, but it really galls me. This kind of behaviour is so commonplace as to be the norm. How can we continue to allow this to happen?
Who is educating our young men? Why are so many of them being brought up in such a way that they believe they have the right to abuse girls and women in the street and other public places? Women on the whole do not act this way. Women on the whole do not expose their genitals in public places to children. Women on the whole do not grope members of the opposite sex on the Tube. It all comes down to a sense of entitlement, doesn’t it? Some men think they are entitled to act in such a manner and nobody is telling them any different. If a woman dares to complain she is a ‘whore’ or a ‘slut’. If an entire group of women dare to complain, we are ‘feminists’, ‘lefties’, ‘lesbians’ or all three, and none of these terms are ever used in a complimentary manner. Being called a feminist is a slur and therefore wanting equality between the sexes is unreasonable, irrational even. If we dare to complain louder we are accused of overreacting, of ‘nagging’, ‘whining’, ‘moaning’, the implication being that we should put up and shut up.
Our own Prime Minister told a female MP, Angela Eagle, to ‘calm down, dear’ during a Commons debate. His excuse was that he was just using a well-known catchphrase. Yes, he was, but the question is: would he have used the same catchphrase had he been talking to a male MP? No, he wouldn’t have done. Harriet Harman quite rightly pointed out that ‘women in Britain in the 21st Century do not expect to be told to ‘calm down dear’ by their prime minister’. Of course we bloody don’t. Cameron’s ‘calm down, dear’ is the man in the street’s ‘shut up, slut’. He is the Prime Minister and he is allowed to get away with it, so what hope do our young girls have against the misogynists on the streets?