So I went along to the “Firing Up Squad” session ran by my MP Stella Creasy that I mentioned last week, partly because I think our MP is awesome and partly so I might have something to write about. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and was quite nervous about having to speak to Unknown People.
I walked in to see a screen with I (HEART) FEMINISM. Good start. I do indeed (HEART) feminism, as you probably already know if you’ve been reading for a while, although lately I have been finding it increasingly more difficult to find the confidence to write about it.
Last week I wrote that I was struggling to find things to write about. I now have to admit that this isn’t strictly true. I have so many things to write about. For example:
- About how angry I am at some of the vile sexist t-shirts on sale for the world cup that objectify women and magnify a ‘lad’ culture.
- About how mind-boggling I find the continued misogyny denial is from all quarters in the wake of the Isla Vista tragedy.
- About the incredible impact of the #YesAllWomen hashtag, and how the discussion is pushing feminist discussion into the forefront in an unprecidented way.
- About how the strange twisted logic of the “MRA” movement can be seen as a closed ideology echo chamber, much like certain other hate groups, and why we seem to find it so hard to accept sexist groups as hate groups.
- About how the longer I don’t drink the more I realise that alcohol has far too much od a grip on our society
- About Rupual’s Drag Race and the light it throws on the concept of the ‘male gaze’…
All of these things were going around in my mind over the last few weeks but I felt unable to write about them and for one reason. I read too many comments “BTL” (below the line) on other wonderful articles about similar subjects by other writers – both male and female – and was so disheartened by those comments that it made me fear putting my voice out there. People can be really cruel, and dismissive, and downright scary in their BTL comments but that wasn’t just what put me off – it was also the sheer volume of comments from people who simply cannot grasp the issues at hand. Who use straw man arguments, whataboutery, demands for ‘evidence’ and their own personal anecdotes to disprove the writer at all costs, without really ever being able – or even willing – to consider the points made by the writer. I started to feel tired and overwhelmed at the task of writing about these things when writers more successful and more eloquent than me have failed. I’d even started to doubt myself in the face of the relentless bashing of feminist ideas on the internet.
In the first few minutes of her introduction Stella Creasy blew away my unspoken fears and doubts. “Let’s get one thing straight” she said. “You are discriminated against.” CVs are more likely to be considered highly if they have a male name on. Orchestras are increasingly holding blind auditions to eliminate gender bias. Women bosses are judged more harshly and are paid less than their male equivalents. You want evidence? There’s plenty. Stella also discussed how women are not brought up to be ambitious, or celebrate our successes, or put ourselves first when it comes to making big changes in our lives. Her point was proved when she introduced one woman as a “hero” and the woman shook her head and rejected the accolade. And yet, when she delivered a short but passionate talk about her experience of FGM and her ambition to raise awareness of it within the the UK, it was clear she *was* a hero, she just wasn’t able to comfortably hear that.
So far, so inspiring. And to have been inspired to get writing about things I feel strongly about is a pretty big boost. But that’s not all I got out of the evening.
There were a number of exercises designed to get us thinking about our dreams, our achievements and our plans in a real and confident way. I really struggled at first. It was clear that many of the other women at the event were high achieving, driven, ambitious and skilled. I almost felt like an imposter. I felt that I had no real achievements to speak of, and no real ambitions. I was actually pretty content with my life. I have a job I like which pays enough, somewhere to live and some hobbies that I enjoy. It started to occur to me as the evening went on that being “content” with things wasn’t quite true. It dawned on me as the other women spoke, and as we went through the exercises, that the reason I’ve no big ambitions or plans, or that I am not driving myself on, is because I am *scared*. I am scared of failure, and I am scared of being ill again. I have struggled a great deal with my mental health in the past and realised that I am living with being ‘ok’ because being ‘ok’ is safe. In an exercise about our recent achievements I discussed how I’d had my appraisal at work and got “exceeds” in all areas, and how I’d discussed with my manager how to get more experience in my role so I could perhaps in a year or so apply for a job like one I’d found on the internet I liked the look of, but didn’t think I was quite ready for. I saw this as an ambition to aim for.
My half-hearted ambition that I wrote for the excercise was the inexcusably vague “be more brave about making little changes that could make a big difference”.
It was when one woman said that she felt that it was easier for men to be ambitious because they were less afraid of rejection that I had a revelation. For one, I disagree. I don’t think all men fear rejection less. I agree that society is geared towards instilling a confidence in boys in this regard that it doesn’t in girls; but it doesn’t follow that it is ‘natural’ that men will fear rejection less. I definitely handle rejection better than Mr RDP, I thought. Mr RDP recently got a new job. It’s a great job, a step up from where he is, and he deserves is. But he nearly didn’t go for the interview, as he didn’t think he was ready. He didn’t think he was experienced enough. I told him he should go for it – it didn’t matter if he didn’t get it because it was great experience. That if he didn’t get it he could ask for feedback and work out what he needed to work on to get a similar job next time. It was clearly brilliant advice, I’d been proud of giving it and secretly took a little credit for him getting the job on the basis of my awesome advice.
As I was thinking this through, organising my thoughts to make my point about this out loud, it hit me. Why on earth was I giving such excellent advice, but not following it? Why I am rejecting a job opportunity because I am not ready when if it was anyone else I would be encouraging them to go for it anyway, because the experience is always valuable even if it’s ultimately a ‘no’. Why would I bully Mr RDP (because that’s pretty much what I did) into applying for a job when I am not prepared to take the same steps for myself?
My partner in the earlier exercise about challenging our ambitions and making them clearer and more focussed obviously saw that something was going on in my head. It must have shown on my face as she leant over with a knowing smile. “Are you ready to talk about it?” She whispered. I grabbed a pen and wrote on the blank piece of paper in capital letters:
TO DO LIST
- Get back into children’s theatre volunteer work
- Do my BSL exam and apply for the level 2 course
- Keep writing about feminism – don’t give in!
- Get singing again
I stared at the page in shock. I’d been so proud this year of giving up alcohol and sugar and starting a BSL course it hadn’t even occurred to me that there were all these things I wanted to do. But there they were, on the page – things I wanted to get involved in but was too sacred of shaking up the status quo. “You’ve missed one.” said my exercise partner with a meaningful look. I added to the bottom of the list:
And I have to, because we have to catch up with our partner in a month and tell them how we’re getting on with our plan.
Going into the event I’d had little idea of what to expect. It was astounding to leave having felt like I’d had the biggest, kindest, most loving and supportive kick up the bum you could ever imagine.
And my old List is getting a little longer.