What is a Feminist?
This morning I tweeted about International Woman’s Day and said simply that I have never been happier to be a girl.
And it is true… this is why.
Pre-separation I didn’t really think much about the concept of the Feminist. I’m ashamed to say that for me at that time it brought to mind men-hating bra-burning women with radical political views and clothes made from hemp.
Back then I was a woman who definitely enjoyed being one, but not for the right reasons. I enjoyed having an interest in clothes and make-up and having doors opened for me, I believed that you had it pretty good if you were supported by a wealthier partner and didn’t really see myself as a strong or powerful person, woman or not. A Feminist to me was someone I would never identify with: a bolshy, potentially offensive and masculine woman. The opposite to myself.
So what is a Feminist?
I had lived with a strong male presence in the same household my whole life – my Dad has always worked very hard and was the breadwinner in my family and then I moved in with my ex-husband at the age of 18, who always earned more than me. As many of us do I associated earning with power and easily fell into my role of the wife: cook, housekeeper and general caretaker. It never crossed my mind that it would possible for me to push forward in my career and achieve that same status or higher; I assumed that as the woman I would be the one to have a baby or two and stay at home to care for them. And this was a life plan I was happy with.
One of the hardest things about my divorce was the deviation of my life from this plan. All of a sudden I was be expected to think ‘like a man': lead a household, make all the decisions, earn all the money. It was a situation I’d neither pictured or wanted myself to be in and it was terrifying.
On the contrary for me this divorce journey has been hugely positive. I have learned that I am strong, I am capable… that I am a Feminist. Just because I am a woman does not mean I have to fall in with a set of outdated values dictated to me by society. I am not a man-hater but a woman-lover and my gender will not hold me back from being who I want to be.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says in her famous essay, We Should All Be Feminists (the first feminist text I ever purchased and very highly recommended, see an excerpt here):
Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important… marriage can be a good thing. It can be a source of joy and love and mutual support, but why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same?
A Feminist is not a woman who hates men. She is not a woman who believes in crushing men, in being all-powerful. To me a Feminist is a woman who has the power to embrace her femininity yet make strong and informed choices about her own working, family and personal life, to know she is able to decide whether she wants to go out to work or raise children, or to work and then raise children and then work again… it’s her decision. The right for a woman to choose to live her life in a way that suits herself and her family best and feel strong and empowered while she’s at it – for me that is Feminism.
Since my split I have a wonderful new appreciation for other woman, the likes of which I hadn’t had before. I was always a guys girl, feeling uncomfortable in the company of women I didn’t know or women who seemed to be by my judgement overly feminine. I was worried of being judged by other women (ironic…), of the bitchiness that I know can be so prevalent in larger groups of women (sadly still true). Give me a group of men over a group of women any day and I would have been happy.
But now I thrive off other women. I enjoy the energy of women, especially that of mothers who, having gone through the inhumane sleep deprivation, hospital stays, teething, disastrous nappy changes and heart expanding love know that our gender can do anything. That is the most important lesson that motherhood has taught me – that our potential as women, each and every one of us, is absolutely limitless. I believe in the sisterhood, that by and large we are here for each other. I feel I belong here and I support my fellow women in our journey in motherhood and life.
The struggle between family and working life is still real and I don’t know how to conquer this. I doubt if any of us will ever discover the answer. I start a new job tomorrow as an Account Director for a Marketing Agency close to home and though I have managed to negotiate less than full time hours I know the juggle will still be difficult. I have the yearning that my children are so young and they need me – the days are long but the years are short – but then I also have the instinct to push push pusht to get ahead, smashing that glass ceiling, working as hard as I can on behalf of me, my family, women of the world and Sheryl Sandberg to show just how good girls are.
I want to be out to work, I want to be showing my children by example that they can achieve absolutely anything if they work hard enough and I want to feel proud that I myself worked as hard as I possibly could, every single day.
And I can do that, in lipstick and heels if I want to, because I am a Feminist. It might never be easy but it is real.
Happy International Women’s Day!