Thank you for the ‘compliment’

In case you’ve not read much of this blog before, or in case you do and hadn’t noticed: I like baking. I also like to cook. I know how to wash clothes and iron a shirt, though I’ll admit I’ve not written about that before. I quite like cleaning. The other night I sat in front of the television and tacked up hems that had come down on a pair of trousers and a dress; I did ‘mending’. I know how to darn (if not very well) and embroider (even worse.) I was never great or particularly enthusiastic about sports at school. I get “over-emotional” when I’m tired, often like a cuddle after sex, and sometimes cry when I’m shocked, scared or angry as well as when I’m sad.

I can use power tools. I have a toolbox. I can set up my own speakers, assemble flat pack furniture, put up a shelf, wire a plug. I’ve worked in a professional kitchen and been colourfully sworn over vats of steaming lobster consommé. I lift weights at the gym and eat protein bars afterwards. I enjoy driving. I own a Haynes manual for my car and learned last year how change its oil. I can shoot, and own a gun. I can fight, and own sparring gloves. I have taken things apart to get a better understanding of how they work, and then attempted – with occasional success – to put them back together again. I have an increasingly high pain threshold, and I often hide any pain I’m experiencing. I have felt unable to express my emotions.

I’m listing these traits because society so often defines them as feminine/girly, or masculine/manly, to the extent that it is so engrained in me that it was easy for me to do. Always’ recent videos highlight how in society, ‘being a girl’ or doing something ‘like a girl’ has been generally accepted as being weak or doing something weakly or badly. ‘Manning up’ on the other hand is exhibiting strength.

But I am/can do/have all of things listed above and my being female is in no way causally related.

I’ve spoken to female friends about feminism over past months and have been shocked that a number of them don’t consider themselves feminists. But some also seem to think that feminists somehow consider themselves to be superior to men, or even hate them. The launch of the #HeforShe campaign last year and Emma Watson’s speech at the UN Headquarters has caused the issue of feminism to a ‘trending’ status, and for the sake of furthering the clarification she provided, I’m going to copy and paste her definition here.

“For the record, feminism by definition is: “The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.””

Being a feminist doesn’t mean hating men. To me, it means simply that I am worth no more or less than the man standing next to me because he has a Y chromosome and I don’t.

The problem is, people do expect and tolerate different behaviours from individuals based on their gender. Last Autumn I mentioned on Twitter an incident of sexual harassment I experienced. Nothing overly traumatic, but it was most definitely sexist and most definitely derogatory. And while I received sympathy in response to my tweet, in the same (virtual) breath I was told – including by other women – to take it as a compliment, because they wouldn’t do it if they didn’t think I were attractive. Now, I have been complimented in the past – genuinely complimented – and at times even by complete strangers. These unknown men and women have generally preceded their comments with words such as “I hope you don’t mind me saying…” or “I don’t mean to intrude, but…” and they have always spoken at a reasonable volume. They have never been shouted at me at top volume or across the street, have never been accompanied by jeering hoots of their companions or car horns. More importantly, they’ve never been overly personal, never included commentary on what they’d like to do to me, and have never, ever involved the words ‘tits’, ‘pussy’, ‘my cock’, ‘fuck’ , ‘suck on…’or anything similar. Comments directed at me by strangers in the street and including these words are not compliments. They are harassment.

Being told to take them as worthy commentary, positive or otherwise, on my appearance suggests that my worth is somehow not the same as that of a person who walks the same street without harassment. Either it is more, i.e. my looks earn me this (unwanted, undesirable and often intimidating) attention, or it is less; because my looks mean that I should be punished with it. Either way, I don’t understand why my face, the size of my chest or length of my legs should affect whether I can walk down a road in peace and more importantly in safety.

But it does. For the record, I have tried to stand up for myself against sexual harassment before. A man in a nightclub put his hand up my skirt, I stood my ground, and told him in a colourful manner to leave me alone. And I got punched in the face. Funnily enough, despite wanting desperately to stand up for myself and my views and tell people who ‘compliment’ me in the street where to go, this experience left me less willing to, and more likely to let things slide in order to protect myself and to avoid any similar or, perish the thought, worse repercussions. I shouldn’t have to endure verbal sexism in the street in the first place, forget tolerating it because I am too afraid to answer back.

A friend of mine is active in online forums, and told me last summer that people online had told her she’s a feminist because she’s ‘fat and ugly so no one wants to fuck her’. The comment was categorically inaccurate; she was pregnant at the time. But any truth or lack thereof to any comments like these is immaterial. Nobody should be subjected to insults like that, regardless of their appearance, weight, gender, skin colour, race, ethnicity, religion or beliefs. But even ethics aside: weight, appearance and sexual desirability have absolutely nothing to do with whether or not you’re a feminist.

I grew up with two working parents, which means I had a working mother, one I looked up to, and up to whom I continue to look at twenty six years old. She was and is a great mother, and always had time for my brother and me while maintaining a full-time job and a career with a distinct upwards trajectory. She wouldn’t have achieved everything she has in the way she has without my Dad’s support. I know this right to the very centre of my being, and in that way she was blessed. But she wasn’t supported by a man. Rather, she was supported by her partner, her spouse, her lover, her friend, and the other parent to her children. My father’s gender was and is irrelevant. A slight tangent alert here but for a distinction I think is important. I hear people speaking on the radio about how childcare is an issue for women. It’s not; it is an issue for parents. Women getting turned down for jobs because they might want to have children, when a man in the same situation wouldn’t be; that is sexist and is an issue for women. Rape also is not a female issue: women rape people, and men get raped by people. It’s a people issue. But when we are told that women are encouraging or somehow deserve rape because of their choice of clothing, when a man walking around topless in denim shorts wouldn’t be told the same thing; that is sexist. Somehow ‘men’ and ‘women’ get dropped into sentences when so often what should be said is ‘people’.

“Men cheat.”
“Women make excuses.”
“Men don’t listen.”
“Women nag.”

All of these comments should be gender non-specific. A good test for a sexist comment is to replace the gender with a skin colour or race. If it sounds racist, it was probably sexist. The reality? People cheat. People make excuses. People don’t listen. People nag.

Returning to my pre-tangent thought process: my mother is still a pretty phenomenal woman, and at fifty-four (sorry Mum) she is still achieving and accomplishing. I’m not saying she is without fault – find me a person who is – but I have seen a bit of the world in the past quarter century or so, have met some incredible people, and she is still the woman I admire most, and any faults she does have most certainly aren’t a result of her gender. When I was a child, I asked her – apparently with some trepidation – whether she’d mind if I were a housewife when I grew up. Her response is one of the greatest summaries of feminism that you could give a six- or seven- or however-old-I-was child: she taught me that I could do and be anything I want, and no one should force me to do or be anything else simply because I’m female. If you take anything from this post, please let it be Mum’s message. Whether you are male or female, if you believe that no one should have to

  • do anything;
  • be anything;
  • be subjected to anything;
  • be made to feel anything;
  • be denied anything; or
  • be forced into anything

simply because of their gender, then you are a feminist too.

Thanks for the compliment

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