Browsing Category | my opinions let me show you them

a non-academic feminist

I discovered that I was a feminist on 4th June 2007.

I can pinpoint it with that much accuracy due to my old LiveJournal.  After a particularly bad week of being shouted at in the street or propositioned by strangers I’d made three ranty posts about street harassment in the space of 4 days. In third post, after linking to a no-longer-there site (which later became the Everyday Sexism project) I wrote:

I’ve never been very interested in feminism before, or campaigning for anything really. I’ve got on with what I believe in in my own way[…] Little drops in the ocean. But this has really got me wound up, and the more I dig, the more wound up I get. I can’t tackle this one in a little private way, I’ll probably end either in a ditch having been attacked by a bloke I’ve retaliated to, or in jail, having been arrested for thumping a bloke I’ve retaliated to. […] If I start wearing dungarees, stop washing, and start singing protest songs in parks, someone please kill me. Especially if I start talking about burning my bra.

A number of my friends gently took me to task in the comments:

Trust me dungarees, smelliness and bra burning are not a prerequisite to feminism. Feminism is about realising women are treated differently and less well than men and wanting to do something about it.

One linked me to the Fawcett Society’s “this is what a feminist looks like” campaign .

one commented:

I’ve always thought of you a feminist, even if you’ve never really been interested in it. Your world view seems sufficiently well aligned to mine that I think you have feminist sympathies.

From that point forward I started to think of myself as a feminist. I didn’t take any courses, or start reading any particular writers, but I started paying more attention to what was around me, what I experienced and started challenging  my own perceptions of sex, gender and gender identity. I continued to make ranty posts on my LiveJournal – but as time went on started to find the comments I was getting difficult to deal with. I found it hard to argue back when people disagreed with me. Specifically, when I discussed a feminist issue and men would reply with variations on a theme:

but not all men are like that

but men have problems too

but women are their own worse enemies/women do this too

Eventually I began to shrink from posting anything overtly feminist, or about harassment, patriarchy or objectification simply because I didn’t want to deal with a shitstorm of arguments every time I had an opinion. I didn’t have the language or the skills to argue the points that kept coming up over and over again. Other friends did, and largely did an excellent job of making the arguments for me, and I continued to learn from, and marvel at, the cleverness of my internet friends. It did put me off though, and ultimately I stopped posting anything controversial at all.

In the last few years there have been a number of things that have roused my feminist ire – only now the social media tool of choice is Facebook, not Live Journal. I’ve debated sexism in sport, the questionable feminism of Joss Whedon, gendered insults and swear words (try not using any for a week, it’s HARD.) and most recently That Snickers Advert.

Facebook doesn’t lend itself to debate in quite the same way as LiveJournal.  You can support what someone is saying by just a ‘like’. You don’t have to even construct a coherent sentence to agree. The comments fields encourage shorter responses. TL;DR now extends to a comment longer than about an inch. I also am less afraid of just unfriending someone if they really fuck me off. Perhaps that isn’t the most sensible way to encourage open discourse, but it’s my Facebook and I get to chose who has access to my life. But that has the result that I am discussing with a limited pool of people who already agree with me, and not with anyone able to challenge me when they take issue with me.

I am not coming up with my own ideas or theories – I am finding what other people have said and agreeing with them. I am  posting other people’s content; finding validation in my half-formed thoughts in articles written by ‘proper’ writers and going ‘THIS’ and posting a link.

Outside of Facebook, it’s a different story. When I first started this blog I had wondered if I would go back to posting some of my glorious feminist rants of the livejournal days. It felt like exposure. Write *MY* words about feminism? I can’t. It terrifies me. I don’t understand the language of feminism. I don’t understand the theories. I read an article in the Guardian about ‘fourth wave feminism and realised I didn’t even know what waves one to three were (I do now. I googled.) I  googled ‘intersectionality’  and still didn’t understand it. Sometimes I read articles about Feminism and feel really stupid.

I have had a number of discussions lately with female friends who have said they wanted to share things on Facebook, but felt that they couldn’t, because they didn’t want to have a big argument with people telling them why they are wrong and making them upset – the exact same fears that stopped me posting my thoughts on my LiveJournal. The most eye opening was a discussion with a friend who is a well established  blogger who I very much admire. She said that she shied away from discussing feminism because she feels like it’s a subject where she can’t write with any authority – she feels she has things to say but that her views will be rejected by feminist writers. This rang very close to home for me.

Mr RDP is a feminist. It’s one of the many attractive things about him. He’s also an Academic feminist. He wrote his dissertation on Riot Grrl and Third Wave Feminism.  He understands the terms and the language of Feminism. He’s read bell hooks and probably knows why you spell her name with small letters. He knows how to debate, and how to form and dissect arguments. As an academic, he carefully constructs an argument before discussing it, testing the hypothesis by debate.

I am an non-academic feminist.  My degree was in performance art. I didn’t even have to do dissertation – I created an limited audience participatory site specific piece (I built a maze and had monsters running around in it).  Sometimes I make sweeping half humorous statements like “I blame the Spice Girls.”  I am not prepared when people actually de-construct my argument – it confuses me because I didn’t really have an argument to begin with. With my arts background I start with a small feeling or statement and develop that into an argument through discussion, building a hypothesis by debate.

When I get involved in a discussion about Feminism my whole point of view, and perception, and all my arguments come from my position of being a woman, living in this world, and the experiences I have of it. I can’t argue from a theoretic point of view or say “well, bell hooks said…”because I haven’t read her. It makes me shy away from having discussions about feminism with Mr RDP because I end up feeling like my opinion doesn’t count because I’m an ill-read woman, and then he feels like I’m calling him an oppressive symbol of patriarchy and we both shout and I cry.

To hear my friend, an excellent writer and someone who has so  much to say, voice that she feels shut out of feminist discussion because she doesn’t have the right background made me feel sad. I might have struggled to understand the word ‘intersectionality’ but I understood enough about the concept to see that alienating women from having a voice because they haven’t got an academic background is not exactly in the spirit of third (or fourth?) wave feminism. I can see how it must be frustrating for those who have studied and read feminist writers to have ‘uninformed’ female voices sharing ideas or feelings that have already been covered by writers beforehand; but to say “well, if you’d read X then you’d see that this has already been discussed” is a classic shut-down.

Since my revelation of 4th June 2007 I am  a little older, arguably a little wiser, and a fair bit more Teflon of skin. I’m less afraid of a heated discussion, more confident in my feminism and happier to get stuck in to disagreements. I still consider myself relatively new to feminism. I’m still learning. When you are learning you make mistakes and you learn by them. Perhaps this blog post is a mistake I will learn from, but perhaps it will help me lose my fear of writing my own words about feminism in public.

We’re in an era where young people, male and female (and in between – but the gender binary is a whole other blog post…) are getting interested in and fired up by Feminism in an increasingly sexualised and gender divided youth culture (gendered Lego? REALLY?).  Feminism is no longer in danger of being seen as the discourse of protest song singing bra burning hippies. If anything, it’s in danger of going too much the other way and becoming acedemicised to the point of excluding those who come to feminism by another less formal route.

In order to continue to encourage people to declare themselves a feminist, we need to make sure all voices are able to be heard, and not frighten away or silence those who really feel they have something to say.

 

It’s all fun and games

I thought I had a breakthrough last night. We headed to our new local, a lovely big pub with artfully tatty decorations, mis-matched furniture and an excellent drink selection. Looking at the available options I realised they had my favourite beer (I am not generally a beer drinker but this one tastes like a Piña colada) and really wanted one. Not to get drunk, but just to drink it. That was a new experience. My breakthrough was short-lived however. It’s a popular pub so we managed to get a table only by hovering nearby people who looked like they were leaving. As they left and we sat down I saw the drink they’d left behind – a bottle of wine and two glasses and I felt that familar pang; the desire to get completely ratted. The desire was so strong it shocked me. Continue Reading

no spoke without fire*

I have been cycling to work since around 2006. It started as a vague attempt to get fitter and save money, but ended up becoming something I genuinely enjoyed.  Nowadays I only commute by public transport if I really have to and it makes me so grumpy and irritable that’s it’s best all round for everyone if I just get on my bike. The biggest unexpected benefit of cycling to work was far fewer illnesses – not just because you are a little fitter and healthier but because you are not in the plague pits of the tube or a London bus during rush hour. One zombie-lurgy ridden commuter sneezing on the tube can infect the entire carriage. I try not to think too hard about what sort of gross things that might be living on the seats or handrails.

I took the cycling proficiency test as a child, and cycled pretty much everywhere up until my bike was stolen shortly after graduating from University.  With my massive graduate debt and having got a job far from where I was living I didn’t bother to replace it. Therefore  before I took the plunge into full time cycle commuting six years later I dusted off my copy of the highway code and re-familiarised myself with the rules of the road.

Full Disclosure: I don’t drive. In fact, I can’t  drive. I owned a copy of the highway code from taking driving lessons in my early twenties. I struggled a great deal with the driving lessons. An hour into my second lesson my driving instructor said, “It’s ok, some people just aren’t meant to drive” which in retrospect was not as reassuring as he probably intended it to be. My problem with driving wasn’t about using the road so much as using the car. I couldn’t understand the gears. I couldn’t get a sense of how much space on the road I took up. I didn’t like not being able to feel or see where I was on the road, or be able to judge or control my speed. Reversing was completely unfathomable. I particularly didn’t like the way I couldn’t trust any other bugger on the road.

Cycling is completely different – you know where you are and how much space you take up because you can see it, you don’t have to sense it. You know exactly how fast you’re going because you can feel it, and you can control your speed with your own body. Cycling feels so natural to me, and every bike I’ve owned that I’ve truly loved has felt like an extension of my own body. Having a bike you love stolen almost feels like someone has stolen a part of you.

I enjoyed commuting by bicycle from my very fist week – discovering new parts of London by accident when getting lost, exploring different routes (fast ones by main road, longer but safer back streets, pretty but muddy off-the-beaten-track routes…) and was never without my battered A-Z in my bike bag (this has been replaced with a smartphone with GPS navigation app – because we LIVE IN THE FUTURE). It amused and irritated me in equal measure when people said “Oh you’re so BRAVE cycling in London. I wouldn’t dare!” or “Isn’t cycling very dangerous?”. I always reassured those people that it was wonderful – as long as you knew what you were doing and cycled safely it was no more dangerous than walking to work. I had a few near misses over the years – a few car doors nearly opened into my face; a few incidents where I was run off the road by boy racers or white van men; one nasty incident where I was actually groped by a man in a van while trying to turn right off a main road. But the near misses were occasional and the benefits of cycling to work far outweighed the downsides.

Things have started to change though, which is strange because over the last couple of years cycling has become hugely more popular – particularly in London and in the area in which I live/work in East London.

While  cycling has become more popular over the last few years it also feels like it’s become far more dangerous. I am having near misses regularly, and experience considerably more aggression from motorists. I am regularly run off the road by irritated, angry or oblivious drivers and am frequently verbally abused, often being told that I ‘don’t belong on the road’.

I’ve thought a lot about why this might be. There’s been much discussion over the last few months about cyclist safety, following a series of tragic accidents where 6 cyclists were killed in London within a fortnight. Every article, be it pro-cyclist or pro-car ended up the same – with a big debate in the comments section full of the same complaints. Motorists don’t look. They don’t indicate. Cyclists run red lights and don’t stop for pedestrians. Cyclists are too slow and get in the way. Motorists drive in bike lanes. Cyclists ride on pavements. Motorists kill baby seals. Cyclists steal the souls of first born sons. And so on.

I personally feel that part of the problem is this increasing media and Government rhetoric that pitches the cyclist in opposition to the motorist which actually creates conflict and defensiveness on both sides. Setting up cyclists and motorists against each other in to some sort of War of the Road is only going to exacerbate the problem and prevents meaningful change.

Personally I am a law abiding cyclist who obeys road signs and crossings and rides to the highway code. I find cyclists who run red lights and have no regard for other road users hugely frustrating. I also  find pedestrians who run out in front of me on a red pedestrian light, and drivers who run red lights hugely frustrating. I don’t dislike ALL car drivers, or ALL pedestrians, or ALL cyclists simply because I witness SOME of them doing Really Stupid Annoying Shit. A rhetoric which encourages Group A to hate Group B (and vice versa) because some of the Other Group occasionally do Really Stupid Annoying Shit is unhelpful and ultimately dangerous. It has the effect that people can feel justified in shitty behaviour towards each other.  A motorist feels it’s ok to cut in front of a cyclist or pass by too fast or too close because “fucking cyclists go through red lights bastards” and a cyclist feels it’s ok to scrape the side of a car or shout WANKER at someone because “fucking motorists never look and they all hate cyclists”.  Don’t even get me started on the motorists who feel I shouldn’t be on the road because they “pay road tax”. 

As a law abiding road user, I try to share the roads, and would like all road users to do the same, be they cyclists, motorists or pedestrians. I am fed up to the back teeth of every discussion – both in real life and online – of how to increase safety for cyclists being derailed by circular debates on who is the worst road user. Poor road use by some cyclists should not be an argument against putting in safer cycle routes or improving existing dangerous ones.  Poor road use by some motorists should not be an argument for banning cars from certain areas. To be effective it is vital that changes to the transport infrastructure in London  are made holistically; taking into account the needs of the most vulnerable road users (pedestrians and cyclists) as well as those of the majority of road users (car drivers) and the needs of London’s economy (public transport, delivery vehicles, HGVs). And I say that as a cyclist.  A fully integrated transport system is possible, but to truly visualise what that could be like we have to drop the Them vs Us/Road Entitlement mentality.

Having said all that I am going to be a massive hypocrite, but this is my blog and I’ll do what I like, YOU’RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME. I have a few requests to  make of my fellow road users, and to try to lessen the hypocrisy slightly I will make three requests from each group.

Pedestrians:

  • It’s Stop, Look, Listen. Not Listen, I Can’t Hear Anything So I’ll Suddenly Step Off The Kerb With No Warning While Texting Oh Shit I’ve Just Been Hit By A Cyclist.
  • Your child is not a canary. Please look before shoving your pushchair out into the road.
  • A cyclepath is a CYCLEpath. The clue is in the name. No, I am not cycling on the pavement, and it’s not called Smallchildonascooterpath.

Motorists:

  • They are called INDICATORS because they INDICATE. If you don’t INDICATE how is anyone to know where you’re going? Magical unicorn mind reading powers?
  • Please learn what this sign means and stop making rude gestures at me for cycling down this street the opposite way to you.
  • This is rule 163 of the highway code and it’s a good one. Please to be following.

Cyclists:

  • If you see this sign, GET OFF YOUR SODDING BIKE YOU BASTARD.
  • Look behind you regularly, especially if you are planning to move to the right. It is possible that someone is trying to overtake you, and if it’s a cyclist you won’t hear them. If you’re listening to music on headphones you won’t hear anything at all, so how about you especially look behind you if you’re wearing headphones. Or just don’t wear them.
  • Don’t go through red lights. They are either red to allow pedestrians to cross or to allow traffic to pass in the other direction. Also, it’s stupid and dangerous. Oh, and ILLEGAL.

I could go on, but I’d be here all night. And really, all of my bug  bears and annoyances of other people on the road could be resolved thusly:

All road users:

  • Obey the highway code
  • Share the road
  • Use some common sense.

Actually, I could boil that down to one rule, which I try to obey every time I am out on my bike:

  • Don’t be a dickhead.

Thanks to Mr RPD for the punny title.