I have been alarmed (more like horrified), at how many young women dismiss feminism. “We don’t need it anymore!” Some give reference to the early 70’s and are convinced that things are different now. Really? Really?! Off the top of my head, here are some reasons why I am a feminist. I grew up in Sydney, in a little town (now quite big), about thirty minutes from the city. I grew up around folks you would find gathered in any town. I am in my thirties. Now here is why I am a feminist. My appearance was commented on from the time I was tiny. I don’t mean as in “you are a beautiful little girl.” Rather, “you will be a heartbreaker. Sexy little thing…You will be daddy’s secretary one day.” My appearance as a girl wasn’t part of the package of who I was as an entity. Rather it was isolated as being the sum of me. There was no “you have lovely blue eyes, the hue of the ocean,” the commentary was obscene and made me feel ashamed. All this before starting kindergarten!
I was exposed to pornography, chilled that this was what women were worth to some men. What a thing to look forward to as I grew! I was made to feel ashamed by being in swimmers or shorts in an Australian summer. If a man made a lurid comment at the local pools, I was to blame, not he. I was threatened at my local shopping centre, on more than one occasion. Walking back from the toilets, a local boy and his gang pinned me against the wall and I hit out wildly to escape. I was threatened walking down the street, and became used to being in a hyper-vigilant state.
Girls were referred to as hoes or bitches, and treated as such. Some were sadly immune and accepted the labelling. My first surgeon said that I could still be a wife and mother after sustaining injuries from male violence, not something I wanted to hear at fifteen after so much trauma. Even now, it makes me livid hearing children referred to as looking ‘cheap’ because they wear certain clothing. Children are never cheap, nor are young women. They are seeking identity and a sense of individual style. The manufacturers and those that demean them are cheap.There wasn’t a time when I didn’t feel threatened. I was a young girl on the train, going on an adventure with friends. A young guy (sometimes older), would often press up to me, stand over me, grope me. I felt rage every day at my pruning. It happened with makeup or without and was independent of what I happened to be wearing. It happened because I was a girl, and they were seeking control. I had to be ready to fight as the threat of harassment and worse accompanied me every day of my life.
I was sent to a private clinic at 14 years of age, as way of punishment by my father. The men wasted no time. I endured listening to them bet on who would “get me” as they sipped their coffee in the café. I was fodder, not a person. On one occasion, I slapped a male nurse, who sidled up and pinched me, whilst whispering a lurid suggestion. Contrary to popular belief, I was a person, not a thing. I had a wide vocabulary and love of science and the arts, and was a voracious reader. I was reduced to being a “little blonde.” When the man who later threw me off the building disobeyed his restraining order, he scoffed, “I showed my lawyer a picture of you, and he told me to go for it.” Told him to go for it. This wasn’t in another era. This was recent history! The court case eventuated, and I was treated as a slut. I was degraded yet again. My being on the pill for severe endometriosis was questioned. Everything was questioned. My mother was more devastated at the ravages surgery inflicted on my body-the scars seared into my flesh- than at the psychic wounds I carried.
If one survives the teenage years, there is more pressure to be found in your twenties. Pressure to look the part at work, pressure to have a family. I discovered that women with fertility problems have to fight a bloody battle to get to see the right doctors and then embark on a brutal drug regime. Every person and their dog sees fit to enquire as to when you plan to have children, as though one isn’t a whole woman without a child. The most personal and sensitive of questions is brought up on a daily basis. I had my daughter, but then the probing into having more kids started. The pressure and judgements were felt continually. Pressure to be a certain weight, dress appropriately, women judging women, whilst men look on. I am angry. Angry that our government doesn’t adequately assist women who have a child get back into the workforce. Angry at the condescending attitudes. Angry that working mums are judged, stay at home mums are judged, single mums are judged and single women are judged. Women in general are judged.
I am determined that my cheeky, impudent, artistic child can be anything she wants. I took her to see an elaborate display last Christmas. A church had crafted a village to represent old Jerusalem, complete with shepherds, bakers and craftsmen. On the way out, a Roman Soldier stood at the gateway, and demanded my daughter give a gold coin, or he wouldn’t let her pass. He had an arm over the exit, blocking her. “Then what will you do?” this burly man mocked. I was taken aback. She had gone ahead, so was alone at the exit and he was standing over her, close. I don’t believe he had any idea how intimidating it appeared. My seven year old looked up, smiled sweetly, and replied in a strong voice, “I will kick you between your legs if you don’t let me through.” I took her little hand and made a quick getaway. I had always been told to be polite to adults, especially men, and never make waves. Here was my seven year old, feeling able to stand up for herself, knowing she was safe to do so, knowing that this grown man was out of line. I thought about her quick response, and felt immense pride. She thought on her feet, standing her ground against a man. Immense pride. We need to watch what we say to our young girls. Enough with the commentary on their build, their hair, their appearance. Let’s hear more “your eyes carry the depth of the ocean, and your mind holds a library of wisdom.” Being a feminist doesn’t entail hating men, not at all. It means holding yourself in esteem. As long as there is a disparity in pay, the extraordinary emphasis on appearance, the condescending attitudes and violence, feminism must be a revered state.