What made you a feminist?

(105 Posts)
SugarMousePink Fri 19-Mar-10 07:18:06

Tried to start this thread last night but MN was so busy it kept timing out!!

I thought it would be interesting because I'm a nosy old bag to find out how people have become/are becoming feminists.

So - spill the beans! Were you raised as a feminist? Did it develop later in life? Or do you just like dungarees? grin

SugarMousePink Sat 20-Mar-10 10:01:20

So glad someone else picked up on the Minette Marrin issue! The column she wrote recently about "alpha mummies" made my blood boil!

I'm still waiting for my family to begin (hopefully one day!) but I don't know when I get to that stage (fingers crossed!) if I will want to cut my hours down and spend more time at home, stay at home FT or to hop straight out of the birthing pool and back to work shock grin like Dr Helen Wright did.

Either way, it's bloody hard enough as it is for women to tunnel through the glass ceiling and achieve high profile jobs that have traditionally been the province of men, without one of your own slinging arrows at you! I agree, some women want to be at home with their kids and current govt policy doesn't lend itself to that if you are already employed, but some women don't. Some want to work and have something outside of the home for them. If you'd spent years building a career that you loved, why should you be expected to suspend it just because you've had a baby, if you don't want to?

Beachcomber Sat 20-Mar-10 11:09:03

Gosh becksydee what you say about your work sounds very interesting. I bet there are lots of interesting thread subjects there where you could write an essay that we would all be very interested in.

SugarMousePink Sat 20-Mar-10 15:16:58

Seconding Beachcomber - would love to hear more about your experiences there Besckydee...

motherinferior Sun 21-Mar-10 14:16:50

I was brought up allegedly to be one; then I realised just how sexist my upbringing had been, and became what I would term a rather more aware feminist when I was, ooh, 19.

Solo2 Sun 21-Mar-10 16:01:40

Re-writing Enid Blyton aloud with my sister but changing the names/ genders of each character to highlight how ridiculous it was to polarise girls/ boys in specific roles....NOT wearing the 'right' girly clothes and having girly hobbies and always identifying with male role models on TV/ in books....Reading Spare Rib at University and visiting the local feminist bookshop in same town, avidly reading all feminist lit.....

....Later...realising I didn't have to pander to the needs/ tastes of men in order to become a mother and having children alone using a donor....This has got to be the most liberating act of my life. There was a period between teens and late 20's when I 'learned' to do the feminine thing/ look the way men expected (and other women) etc in order to 'get a man'/ join the female race...

Despite having a SAHM mother and a highly regarde father in a profession in the public eye, realising that a lot of the power lay with my mother and her female ancestors - matriarchs in charge of huge extended families where the women had the power...yet of course also were disempowered by societies norms...

But these things dishearten me now....having twin sons who have imbibed sexist attitudes despite being raised solely by me - given the pressures of their peers and societies ("Don't be silly Mummy, nurses are women and doctors are men!" etc)...seeing the pressure on younger women to wear uncomfortable clothes and make-up and act a certain way in order to 'fit in' (obviously highly dependent on the individual as some proactively choose to dress and act a certain way for their own desires)....Being suspected of being a lesbian, even by my own late father who I thought knew me well, only just because I chose to have children alone and haven't been in a relationship for several years....

mathanxiety Sun 21-Mar-10 17:07:52

I grew up in Ireland. (And maybe that says it all...)

One of my earliest memories of sexism in action was seeing and hearing the crude and unbelievably hostile invective hurled at 'wimmin drivers' by men in their cars and from the pavement in the early 70s. The anger of men at the invasion by women of their 'turf' was clearly visible on their faces and in the clenched fists and various hand gestures, and nobody thought anything of it. I see raunch culture as an extension of that anger, a revenge fantasy against women.

My family background was very bourgeois, where the women were sent to finishing school and married off, but my Dad in his own way (mainly a lot of cautionary tales about the perfidy of men and their tendency to blame others for their own failings, and also through teaching us to play cards really well) tried to prepare us to watch out for our own interests as women. He had very lefty leanings, hated elitism despite a very elitist education and upbringing, and had great sympathy for the downtrodden in Irish society as well as for the oppressed British working class. So thanks Dad.

ElephantsAndMiasmas Mon 22-Mar-10 11:19:15

Absolutely, glasjam: "What made you not a feminist?" Will take that and use it.

wastingaway Mon 22-Mar-10 14:24:44

I was a 'tomboy' growing up, but also liked barbies etc. I just liked what I liked. My Mum was a hippy librarian type, so if I wanted barbies I got barbies, if I wanted cars I got cars.
Mostly played outdoors, and made up stories though. I think imagination helps one see outside the stereotypes around us.

I got into left-wing politics around 16, read The Whole Woman at 20 and have gone downhill ever since, so I am very glad to see this topic! smile

Fennel Mon 22-Mar-10 15:24:58

I wasn't raised as a feminist, though there were elements, my father always insisted we girls shouldn't let people tell us that boys were better at maths or science. But I always noticed inequalitites. And observing my parents - insufferable overbearing father, mother pandering away to his every whime, uncomplaining while doing the housework and childcare and also a full time professional job and further degrees - did make me and my sister react strongly against traditional gender roles, and marriage too. We've both been active feminists since our early teens. My mother doesn't get it at all, she can't see why a woman would want to be a feminist.

My first feminst campaign was aged 6 in infant school, the boys did woodwork, the girls got to do sewing. I organised a campaign and the girls were permitted to do woodwork. We chose to make dolls' furniture grin

mathanxiety Mon 22-Mar-10 18:17:12

Did the boys get to do sewing?

PS I love the word 'whime' -- it's perfect (no sarcasm intended here, I really think it's brilliant)

Fennel Tue 23-Mar-10 10:48:50

It's good isn't it "whime". Though a typo. I could be a mixture of whim and whine.

No, the boys didn't get to do sewing. For some reason they didn't complain about this.

SkaterGrrrrl Tue 23-Mar-10 12:28:23

Obviously political anger at the status of women the world over. But on a personal level:

One of my sisters was raped in her early teens. Cant even begin to describe the anger. This incident more than anything makes made me realise how "the personal is political". Rape didnt just hapen to someone I love, it happens to women as a class.

A mum who waited on 2 husbands hand and foot doing all housework, cooking, childcare etc. One husband left her for another woman and the other spent every penny of her money and ran up massive debts until she finally left him. She now lives alone and is broke, doesnt know how to budget or insure her car - she doesn't even know her bank sort code (or where to find it). Relied totally on her husbands, both of whom nearly destroyed her.

My father has 3 daughters and a son. The sun shines out of the son's ass. Different rules apply to him, because he is a boy. The favouritism is palpable.

I went to all all girls school where we were encouraged to be very academic and very ambitious.

Reading Women Who Run With The Wolves as an impressionable philosphy student hmm

Kathyjelly Tue 23-Mar-10 12:36:33

My dad refusing to let my mum drive the car because "women are no good at that sort of thing"

Jazzicatz Tue 23-Mar-10 12:45:54

Lots of reasons, but one of the overriding for me was listening to my mum come home from work when I must have been about 9 and telling my dad that her boss had asked her again to get her tits out and had spent all day sexually harrassing her. My mum still can't see there is anything wrong with that and just excuses it as 'that's what men do'. Since then I have been shocked by the continuing objectification of women and the politics of rape.

msrisotto Tue 23-Mar-10 12:49:44

When I was looking for a job to fund travelling after school. My family are into development and i've known builders all my life but I was laughed at when I asked about working with them as i would distract the men.

I never really thought about it or any of the other casual sexism i came across until i left home (my dad wanted a boy, i was the last child so he treated me like a boy in effect, playing sport together etc). At home, I never felt sexism, it was when I left home i was affronted with it.

A lecturer at Uni introduced me to feminist literature and i was fascinated.

dotty2 Tue 23-Mar-10 12:55:59

Being brought up by parents who encouraged me to believe the world was my oyster - even though they definitely would not describe themselves as feminists and persist in addressing letters to Mr and Mrs (DH surname). It's odd that those two traits should go together in their attitudes, but I guess they got the more important one right.

And - more controversially - my faith as a Christian. I know that for many people the church has been - and continues to be - a repressive and patriarchal institution, and that lots of what the Bible has to say about women is incompatible with feminism. But I believe in a socially-constructed Bible (that is, it might have been inspired by God, but it was written down and edited by men who were a product of their time and culture). And, for me, a crucial message of Christianity is that we are all made in the image of God - whatever our gender, race, or sexuality etc - and that it is our calling to take that seriously in our relationships with everyone around us. I feel quite diffident expressing that view on this thread - but it's my experience.

motherinferior Tue 23-Mar-10 13:01:50

Ooh, that is interesting, Dotty2. (I have just read Sara Maitland' book on silence, by the way.)

mathanxiety Tue 23-Mar-10 14:31:12

Dotty2, I feel that way too wrt Christianity. Am RC, and people tend to see a massive contradiction between the conduct and attitude to women of the RC church and how I see things, and wonder how I can reconcile the two, but I take the same tack as you do.

Fennel Tue 23-Mar-10 14:38:01

I was actually introduced to a lot of feminist thought through the church and through reading and listening to feminist theologians, my family are evangelical Christians. I spend a lot of effort trying to reconcile the two before realising that for me Christianity and Feminism are incompatible. And I could never ditch the feminism. That was a long time ago now though, but I suppose you could call it an influence in that the first active feminists I met were Christians. (which may just reflect the lack of intellectual and political stimulation in small Wiltshire towns 30 years ago. It was hardly Greenham)

GardenPath Wed 24-Mar-10 03:41:29

Becoming an 'unmarried mother' (in the early 70's) at sixteen and having to sacrifice an education and thus a life because I didn't have her adopted. Not a choice her father had to make. Not that, as a working class girl, an education was considered particularly important.
And the slow dawning of realisation that, while I'd been a 'tom-boy' all my childhood without even thinking about it, played cricket, football, done all the most dangerous 'dares', was 'one of the lads', (and god forbid anyone who gainsaid), earned my 'place' in the club, never even considered, consciously, I wasn't as 'good' as anyone else, I was, in the end, only a girl after all. The inequality and unfairness of it all hit me right between the eyes.

And resentment - that bearing and raising a child, probably the most important job anyone can ever do and one that about half the population does - is not recognised as a contribution to society, is not work, and has absolutely no value. You have to have a proper job for that.

Not that I'm bitter or anything.

mtor Wed 24-Mar-10 04:47:15

Both my parents left school at fourteen and wouldn't have identified with the language of feminism at all. They were also both quite old school in terms of how they saw and applied gender roles. Yet they did share out the work and the responsibilities equally and made decisions together. There was very much a shared power relationship in the house that I grew up in. When I left home it was (and has continued to be) shocking to me that this wasn't everone's experience here in the uk even amongst those who apparently had the same upbringing. I know that the expectations my upbringing gave me make me appear challenging to others (mainly men) and there is something fascinating to me in that my low key, non politicised, essentially conservative parents managed to do this just through living their lives together in an equal partnership. I think that this might be the start of why I am a feminist (although of course then you think about equal pay, sanctioned discrimination, and the fact that most States do so very little to ensure that rights of their female citizens are respected.......and why would you not be a feminist)?

DemonChild Wed 24-Mar-10 12:41:53

I think I've always been a feminist, my parents always led me to believe I could do anything I put my mind to. My mum has had a very successful careers in fields that are considered 'male' (stockbroking and IT) and she has never let her gender stand in the way of her career or ambition.

BUT, I didn't have the mental agility to work out why some things angered me growing up. For instance at my (all boys, except for 6th form) school, there were boys who used to walk past me saying 'smile, cheer the fuck up' and it used to infuriate me and I didn't know why. Now I know it was because I didn't like or respect these boys and had no desire to make myself 'appealing' to them. But they just assumed that I should care about their opinions.

A small thing I know but I've only just worked that out.

antoinettechigur Wed 24-Mar-10 21:49:39

I really struggled to respond to this. Don't know why. Maybe because being a feminist feels like the right, default setting.

Anyway, DP and I were watching the last in the Feminism series the other night. He hadn't seen the other ones. We have been talking about feminism a lot recently (thanks to MN, I think!). So DP was quite interested in the programme but didn't understand why women would become feminist activists, he felt isn't it enough just to try to live by your principles. Also, he asked, isn't being a stripper or lapdancer or lad's mag soft porn model a choice and so not a negative thing?

That discussion made things click into place for me. We talked about the differing messages girls and boys get, that our daughters are at risk of being more compelled to think and worry about their appearance and appeal than our sons. We talked about what kind of choice being a lapdancer is, why would someone feel "empowered" by being groped by a stranger? Also that I think that every woman I know must have lost count of the number of times she has been given the message that her body is not hers - by being groped, leered at, insulted for not meeting an ideal, otherwise sexually assaulted. I have truly lost count of the number of times a man has physically impinged on me in one of these ways - but I feel for a most men, fortunately, the experience of being invaded or scrutinised in these ways is rare.

So that's why I am a feminist.

Also I'll never forget my aunt being refused a mortgage because she was a single woman (in the 1980s). She was told that the bank would look again at her application if my elderly, sick, retired grandfather would co-sign. She was a solvent woman who had been in the same professional job for 20 years.

She kicked up hell and managed to get a mortgage. But even then I knew it was so wrong that she had to fight.

RonaldMcDonald Thu 25-Mar-10 00:15:06

seeing so many strong, proud, women being treated like shit and having little power to change their lot

so, birth, really

Petsville Fri 26-Mar-10 20:41:49

I was born one, I think - became one consciously through seeing my mother being miserable and downtrodden at home through conforming to social expectations that a mother of young children shouldn't work, and my father expect to be waited on hand and foot, and realised there was a name for what I was when I was 11 or 12 and started reading feminist texts. Spent the whole of my childhood and teenage years fighting family expectations (my father comes from a very conservative patriarchal culture), got away to go to university and never looked back.

Another Christian feminist here. And some of the most inspiring feminist women I have known personally are priests who fought for years and years to be ordained.

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