I identify as a feminist. (I know, scary right?) You have no idea the reactions I get when I tell people I’m a feminist, but I won’t get into it, as that’s a whole other blog. But I am going to tell you why I am a feminist.
- When I was 5, my grandparents told me I could not go play in the woods with my cousins because I was a girl. I was confused, angry, and felt like it was a punishment for being a girl.
- When I was 7, my aunt told me and my female cousin, that we could not go on a bike ride with her as there were only enough bikes for the boys. I understand that adults have to make difficult decisions at times, but did she have to make it about my gender? I was angry, felt rejected and had a great sense of injustice.
- When I was 7, I asked for a building kit for my birthday from my grandparents, I got a kitchen and cooking kit. I was annoyed.
- When I was 8, I was walking through an open air market place with my parents and a man walked by and touched my bottom. I felt uncomfortable but thought it was a mistake, he then did it again and I felt panicked, he then did it again and burst into tears. My parents were confused at why I was crying, I didn’t have the words to tell them what happened, I was just overwhelmed.
- When I was 8, I was playing in a field near my house and a teenage boy, probably 14 or so came up to me and told me he was going to ‘fuck me’. I didn’t know what that word meant but I knew by the way he said it I had to get way fast, he went to grab me and I ran as fast as I could back home. I never told my mum because I was worried that I would get in trouble. I don’t know why I felt this, I just did.
- When I was 9, my uncle’s neighbor flashed me from his bedroom window when I was playing in the garden. When I told the adults my aunt came out with a camera and pointed it to his house. He shut the curtains. When back inside the adults all laughed about it and told me that in life there are dirty old men. I felt uneasy.
- When I was 11, a group of girls in my class told me I had to start wearing a bra because my breast were showing. I felt ashamed and embarrassed and confused, why did I have to hide my breasts? I got my mum to buy me bras the next day.
- When I was 13, a boy at school lifted up my skirt in the school corridor between classes. His friend’s laughed and I felt humiliated and scared. I told my teacher, she told me ‘boys will be boys’ and I should just ignore it and they would leave me alone.
- When I was 15, my mum told me that I had to watch my weight as boys didn’t like fat girls and that I would never get a good job if I was too big. I was angry and deflate. It didn’t matter if my grades were good and I worked hard.
- When I was 16, a boyfriend pressured me to have sex, when I refused he dumped me and told his friends I was a whore. I was angry and ashamed.
- When I was 17, the first time I went to the pub a man told me I had really ‘nice tits’. I was uncomfortable and embarrassed. My friends reassured me it was a good thing that men found me sexy.
- When I was 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, I was groped and pinched on the bottom or my breasts when out clubbing by a range of men. I was angry, annoyed, eventually thought it was quite normal.
- When I was 18, my grandfather told me I had to be careful about the number of boyfriends I had because men didn’t like ‘tainted meat’. I was furious but didn’t say anything because I had to be respectful of my grandfather.
- When I was 19, walking home from university a man tapped me on the shoulders, I stopped thinking he needed directions, he told me I be really pretty if I wasn’t so fat. I was so surprised I stood there looking at him, unable to utter a word. I was furious, deflated, embarrassed.
- When I was 20, whilst walking through town a man told me to ‘cheer up hen’. I was so angry, how dare he tell me to cheer up, my grandmother had just died but yet I still had to be a pretty happy object to be viewed by men.
- When I was 21, I was wolf whistled by 4 men in a van. I ignored them, they slowed down and told me to get in for a ‘good time’. I was terrified, no one around me seemed to acknowledge this was happening.
- When I was 22, walking to the train station a man followed me, winking at me every time a looked at his face, even though I changed my route a number of times, he followed closely. It was getting dark and I was very anxious. He came up to me and told me to come with him. I quickly walked all the way to the station never looking back.
- When I was 25, when in a cash machine que a man whispered ‘whore’ into my ear as he walked past.
I am now 40, and although I have many more example of everyday sexism, harassment and low level sexual assault, there are fewer every year, which is a relief. Sadly the statistics show that under the age of 25 you are significantly more likely to experience sexual violence.
So there it is, that’s why I’m a feminist, because the vast majority of this would not have happed to me if I had been born a boy.
(by a RASAC Youth Ambassador Volunteer)
So, what is a feminist? Easy: someone who is on board with one idea; All humans, male and female, should have equal political, economic and social rights – with no bra burning necessary, because let’s be honest, bras are expensive. As a woman in the 21st century I need feminism because I don’t want to have to fear for my own safety at night when I walk on my own. I’m a feminist because I want my unborn daughter to have the chance to grow up into a strong, intelligent person, who has exactly the same opportunities as any man. Feminism is still relevant because domestic abuse, a gender pay gap and sexism is still relevant. Even if you’ve never personally experienced any of these things, other women do every single day, and feminism is leading the way to eradicating this, full stop.
If you take a slight glance at our media industry and flip through a magazine or listen to the lyrics of popular songs, unfortunately you’ll find a recurring theme: the sexualisation of women and girls. These images are damaging and slowly they are becoming more graphic with the messages behind them increasing in aggression. Many people have grown blind to the seriousness of this offense, and don’t acknowledge its devastating social impact. Advertisements have gone as far as featuring women in degrading poses and acts that promote violence and sexual harassment towards women. Dolce and Gabbana released an advert in the US that involved a woman being pinned down by a male positioned on top of her, whilst three more watched on. Over exposure to this behaviour has had an engraved impact on the younger generation as mental health has become a more stagnant issue than ever. Eating disorders and body issues alike are an everyday nightmare for teens and the media normally encourages this way of thinking. However, feminism is currently sweeping social media off its feet with the introduction of movements and hash-tags such as #heforshe, #yesallwomen and now #meetoo which trend for weeks at a time. This is encouraging feminist conversations and brings women together to talk about issues facing women on a daily basis, and with the help of celebrities (Beyoncé, Emma Watson) it’s happening a whole lot faster.
It’s important to credit how it isn’t just the media who sets destructive standards for young people, as pornography is easily accessible through the internet and children as young as 10 claim that they are addicted to watching porn. There is a staggering amount of growing evidence about the impact of porn on men's and boys' attitudes towards females, including their expectations and assumptions about sex and their tolerance of sexual violence. Within extreme porn, women are objectified and presented as mere objects without feelings or desires of their own but that’s not the worst of it; a lot of pornography is proudly misogynistic. Women are beaten, humiliated and used all to the extent of man’s pleasure. Porn doesn’t showcase men and women as equal partners, sexually speaking, underlines a warped viewpoint of sex that promotes rape culture. This is the basic of feminist criticism towards porn. If the education system and parents took it upon themselves to teach children and be brutally honest about sex, many youngsters wouldn’t have to turn to the internet and porn to find answers to their questions about sex. Feminist and activist Jennifer Baumgardner states, “Having a reproductive system is very powerful and a huge responsibility. It’s borderline child abuse not to provide the tools for young people to understand their bodies and what they are capable of.” This shows that in order to tackle sexual assault in the future we need to kill the root presently which lies in the pornography industry.
Women face inequality in all sectors of life in comparison to men, one being that a woman must break through a metaphorical ‘glass ceiling’ in order to establish a career for herself. The best paid women who work full time earn around 20 per cent less than the best paid men who work full time, the same difference as a decade ago. On average women have lower incomes than men, work in lower-paid sectors of the economy and are less likely to reach the top in their chosen careers. In regards to women in power, only a quarter of MPs in the House of Commons today are women. This underrepresentation of women reinforces the idea that women are weaker than men and don’t have what it takes to run a business, company or country. In the contemporary world women no longer spend their days at home bringing up children and doing household chores. Women in thetwenty-first century are mothers, business owners and are also risking their lives on the frontline in warzones alongside men. The campaigning group ‘UK Feminista’ has taken up the cause of the living wage which highlights that feminism is for both genders just as the living wage effects both men and women. Women are getting more involved in political and social issues as this new wave of feminism has come back more determined than ever.
We must take it upon ourselves to remind our daughters, sisters and friends of the cliché that beauty comes in many shapes, sizes and colours despite what the media preaches. We must take the time to reverse the years of brainwashing and teach young men and boys about gender equality and erase the stigma associated with the word ‘feminism’. The next generation of young people are to be raised as a society who aims for change and equality for both genders, and until that day comes I recognise as a feminist and will not play into the hands of society. In the words of Emmeline Pankhurst, “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave.”
I have recently been invited to a 10 year Anniversary party for the Rape Crisis Scotland Helpline and it’s got me thinking. Becoming part of the Rape Crisis movement just over 10 years ago has changed my life. For the first time I got to work with a team of people who all identified as feminists.
They actively addressed power imbalances and encouraged me to have a seat at the table. Now I’m a working class woman from Fife – I didn’t have training in Feminism or indeed even know what a ‘feminist’ was. Feminism was explained to me by a man in a rock band. Ironic? Perhaps not. I did know that I was often treated differently because I was a woman – I hadn’t been allowed to play rugby at school and was instead forced in to the violent terror that is school hockey. I had been judged on how I looked (too pale, too frizzy), how I dressed (too baggy, too much on show) and how I spoke (Who is Ken? Barbie’s boyfriend?!). But I got to sit with these amazing women, from diverse backgrounds and I had a space. Now I struggle to speak up in large groups, but as I grew accustomed to the ways of these rebellious women, I was encouraged to do so.
Slowly I began to realise that not only did I have something to say, but it was valuable. I thought we could change the world. And in some ways, we have. The National Helpline has answered around 35,000 calls since it began. I think it’s fair to say that some worlds have been positively changed because the Rape Crisis movement exists. And that quiet rumble has grown in to a roar. We are busier than ever. We want the world to be a safer and more equal place for all. We listen, we believe and we support. I urge anyone who identifies as a woman and has any free time to look in to how you can become part of this too. It’s awesome and it changes lives.
(By a RASAC Youth Ambassador Volunteer)
Participating in the ENYA 2017 project really has been an influential and enlightening experience for me. It all started at a small organisation in Perth known as RASAC - the Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre, a charity that aims to help women, girls and young boys deal with issues relating to sexual violence, however big or small. A lot of people wouldn't expect a boy like me to be volunteering at what many would consider a 'feminist' organisation; personally, I find the work that the RYI (RASAC Youth Initiative) Youth Ambassadors do highly beneficial and impactful, both for me and other groups we've worked with.
We began work on ENYA in early 2017, by looking at identity and relationships. Doing activities and looking at these topical issues in great detail was something that I felt hasn't been explored enough before - in school, at home and elsewhere. After laying the foundations for our recommendations we discussed the impact of technology on identity and relationships; with an emphasis on social media and how accessible it is to both the general population and those who maybe shouldn't be using it - and, by proxy, potentially harmful and frightening information such as pornography and cyber-bullying. It was agreed that these were relevant and pressing issues, so we chose to incorporate our views and suggestions on how to improve it into our list of recommendations for the ombudspersons. Other topics we found to be important were a proper work-life balance and age-appropriate and easy-to-access information being given to children and parents, specifically regarding sexual and mental health.
Me and one other Youth Ambassador were selected to represent Scotland in Paris - an opportunity that I was ecstatic to have been given. I am studying French in school, so I thought that getting to visit France would be a good chance to develop my language skills as well as meeting young people from all across Europe, learning about their cultures and issues relevant to them and forming lasting bonds with people who I otherwise never would have gotten to meet. The conference itself definitely exceeded my expectations of what it would be like; I had expected well-ordered, formal discussions about our issues and recommendations - which was certainly a part of it. However, plenty of chances were given for breaks and socialising with the other representatives from elsewhere, most of which I have retained contact with and I am glad to have done so. The range of ages was a great thing to have too - people from the ages of 14 through 17 all had different ideas and issues to share, but everyone appreciated and considered each idea equally in order to make our final list to send to a follow-up conference of the ombudspersons in Helsinki. We are pleased that we and our friends in Wales and Cyprus are to attend representing all 22 of the young people who became so close over just two and a half days.
Overall, participating in ENYA 2017 has really developed my views and opinions on a wide range of topics, gain important life skills relating to communication and rational thinking, as well as allowing me to form lasting bonds with many incredible people who I otherwise would have had no idea existed. I urge anyone who has the ambition to go out and do something like this as part of a volunteering project or a school group to do so; truly, it has changed my outlook on life.