It was a short exchange over Twitter that started me thinking. A #saysomethingnice hashtag was floating around and I had tweeted an online friend to tell her that I thought she was kind and funny, and that I really liked her. She had replied back saying:
“Well then I think you are strong, amazing, defiant and kickass! I am rather envious of you. x”
Which was lovely and made me smile, of course. But perhaps more confusedly than anything because the truth was that I just did not recognise myself in those words at all. Strong? Amazing? Kickass???No, not me. And then a realisation hit me and I thought, my god, is that really the impression I give of myself with my words? Because honestly, it just isn’t true.
And then I got to thinking of a much wider picture, of how feminists are often regarded as “strong” women; stronger and braver somehow than supposed “other” women. I don’t necessarily think that’s true either, nor do I think the idea particularly empowering – not for anyone. We are all of us just women getting by, having a lot of the same experiences, interpreting and reacting to them in our own way. When you are a woman living in a world that does not value women equally, simply learning to survive and thrive as best you can is brave enough.
Defining ourselves as feminists and writing, however passionately, about feminist principles cannot ever make us impervious to the daily grind of male supremacy. Indeed, I think sometimes it is because we are so affected that we become so inspired. We empathise with – and are angry on behalf of – all women yes, but the anger is generated from within our own selves as a reaction to our own lives and experiences. The personal is political after all.
So if I am enraged by the incessant body fascism depicted in glossy magazines, then please know that this is always at least partly informed by the fact that after birthing and feeding three children, I find my own stretched skin so hard to accept without judgement.
And if you read me railing against street harrassment and shouting about the right of women to go about their business without being subjected to the endless staring, cat-calls and intimidation that occur daily in our public spaces, then understand too that the last time I walked alone down a dark street, I was approached by a strange man whose low muttered obscenities frightened me so much I ran straight out into the road to get away from him and was almost mown down by an on coming car in the process.
Know that feminism for me is neither an abstract concept, nor an academic exercise. I can intellectualise and deconstruct and pick apart patriarchy’s every premise, but I will still suffer the same pains and indignities of having been born female in a mans world along with everyone else. My feminism is born of lived experience. Really, it was the only rational response.
And of course it isn’t just me. In fact I was reading an article by Helen Lewis in the New Statesman recently – the article was about intersectionality, but it was this passage that jumped out at me:
“Here are some of the things I know that the kind of feminists regularly decried for their privilege have had to deal with, in private: eating disorder relapses; rape; the stalking of their children; redundancy; clinical depression; the sectioning of a family member; an anxiety disorder that made every train ride and theatre trip an agony. (Yes, one of those descriptions is me.)”
There are none of us immune to that daily grind. Even those feminists who might be considered some of the most successful, celebrated and widely read. Outspoken, vocal feminists in the public eye. Surely they must be the strongest of the strong? But take a peek below the surface and what you discover are ordinary women who can still struggle right along with everyone else.
And no, I do not mean to imply that being in receipt of privilege does not have a significant bearing on a womans life experiences (from a purely personal perspective I cannot remember the last time I could afford to go to the theatre for a start), and nor do I wish to paint women as hapless victims. Certainly not. My intention is simply to draw focus on our common humanity, our common experience, our common strength, our… commonality.
Because there are no “strong” women as set apart from “weaker” women. Feminism is for everybody. The words I write and the values that I hold true do not make me inherently more powerful than anyone else. And with that I’ll leave you with Ani di Franco who invariably says it better than I ever could…
Jeni Harvey: Writer, feminist, mother. Likes cake, hates Jeremy Clarkson. These are my principles – if you don’t like them, I have others. @GappyTales or Huff Post