- Lauren Deveney
We could all be Feminists
Lauren Deveney recounts her experience from being anti-feminist to anti-patriarchy during her time at university. She addresses her own shortcomings in her attitude towards feminism and other women and how she learned to redress these to become an active intersectional feminist.
mage description: Using collage and red ink, the female figure is the centre of a bulls eye like pattern. The photo of the central figure holds an expressive position, her hand is up to the image while her body turns forward. The red circular lines surrounding her focus our view, not only through direction but by the contrast of the red ink and the black and white photo. Putting the female figure at the centre of the bulls eye is reminiscent to a sort of feminist thought; microscopic, targeted, and intentional.
Growing up, I never really understood what ‘feminism’ meant. To me, feminists were angry, bra-wielding protesters who didn’t shave their armpits. With the benefit of hindsight, I can recognise the unfair prejudice and internalised misogyny I held against feminists. However, instead of beating myself up about it, I have recognised the patriarchal influences that have informed my opinions. I’m not saying my opinion was fair or justified, but when coming to university my friends and peers sought to educate me in a respectful and non-judgemental way. They didn’t criticise me or put me down for not being as ‘woke’ or politically correct as them. Instead, they took the time to allow me to grow and figure it out for myself, whilst supporting me from the sidelines. It was this compassion that kickstarted me into wanting to be a feminist and I want to underline the importance of this – we can’t hold everyone to the unrealistic standards of always knowing the right thing to do or say. It is far more productive to educate people rather than punish and put them down.
In this article, I briefly want to discuss how I overcame my own internalised misogyny and prejudices in an attempt to better my understanding of feminism. I hope that this might encourage other people to know that it is never too late to try and not to be scared of judgement from your peers when you will inevitably slip up along the way.
I want to start by explaining why I initially didn’t identify with feminism. Where I was from, being a feminist wasn’t the ‘cool’ thing to do; boys in school would ridicule you as a ‘feminazi’ and in those early years, we saw their validation was key to social survival. Although I regret this, I do not judge myself for assimilating to their ideal at that time; it would be unfair to hold a young girl to such standards. Instead of blaming the individual, we must look to the more institutional sexism at play. If this hadn’t existed, then girls would feel more comfortable speaking out in favour of feminism.
During school I was, and still am, a very feminine girl. I love to shave and wear fake tan and makeup and initially thought that this was what feminists hated, assuming that they rejected femininity as ‘sexist’. This was obviously misinformed, and I had allowed patriarchal rhetoric to inform my opinions. It wasn’t until I read Scarlett Curtis’ Feminists Don’t Wear Pink, that I truly understood that feminism is about doing whatever the fuck you want. During school I felt rejected by the feminists I did know for being girly, and perhaps I held it against them by rejecting feminism altogether. However, now I realise that they too were victims of this patriarchal rhetoric and that this was just another example of how women are too often pitted against each other. Instead, rather than letting this distract us, we should come together to understand and fight against the greater forces at play - the institution of the patriarchy.
Curtis’ book led me down a rabbit hole of considering why I did what I did and for who. I had never wondered whether I shaved my legs and wore makeup for the benefit of the male gaze before, yet reading this book helped me to realise that I am allowed to do what makes me feel beautiful and comfortable in my body and gender identity for my benefit. Had men not created these feminine ideals going back hundreds of years, but particularly prevalent from the Victorian period, then perhaps I would not do these things. However, although these ideas are unfortunately entrenched in society, when I do these things, I do it for my own pleasure and comfort without a single thought for whether it pleases a man. I have taken control of the cards society dealt me as a woman. All these things do not make me any less of a feminist - unfortunately, it just took me a while to realise this.
It wasn’t until my first few weeks at university, when I was surrounded by a whole new set of people with different life experiences than me, that I began to question my own opinions on feminism and wider issues of equality. I realised that these people who had different upbringings than me still held similar outlooks on fundamental principles of politics and social equality, allowing me to understand the different forms feminism can take. It wasn’t until I found friends who encouraged me to scrap all my preconceptions surrounding feminism, that I had been fed through right-wing media, and to look at it as ‘gender equality'. It was then that I discovered I was a big fat raging feminist. And more importantly, I was proud of it.
Over the past three years, my relationship with feminism has only gone from strength to strength. I have, of course, had slip-ups along the way and had a support network there to help me work through any remaining misconceptions I had without judging me for it. It was not until much later in my feminist journey when I’d come to grips with its fundamentals that I began to develop my understanding into a more intersectional and informed way:
The first thing I realised was that men can be feminists too. I was able to build healthy and long-lasting friendships with the men in my life once I came to terms with this. Some of my closest friends are men and I would not be at this stage in my life without them. I also learned from this that most men are just as invested in gender equality as I am. They just don’t like to admit it because of the stigma attached to feminism, which also put me off in the first place. Realising this and finding compassion for men allowed me to see them as allies, instead of enemies to the feminist plight that I previously understood them as.
This second one is slightly different and is something I have only really been able to focus on over this past year. A woman’s journey through feminism is constantly changing and evolving. Feminism, particularly fourth-wave feminism, means nothing if it is not intersectional. The recent feud between influencers and authors Florence Given and Chidera Eggerue has shown to me that feminism must be diverse and equal for it to really work as it was meant to. White feminists need to stop speaking over Black women about intersectional issues that affect them far more than white women. When I first sought to learn more about feminism, Florence Given’s novel Women Don’t Owe You Pretty was a huge inspiration to me. I learnt to take control of my feminism and my body and use it in whatever way I see fit. It is with a certain degree of regret that it has only been recently that I have been made aware of issues that Chidera Eggerue quite rightly spoke out about in that her work has been appropriated by a more ‘palatable’ white voice. Putting women like Florence Given on a pedestal of ‘all-knowing feminist knowledge’ is a setback in fourth-wave feminism in the fight for intersectionality.
White feminists must endeavour to focus on the issues Black feminists face today if we want to call ourselves feminists, at all. Feminism can no longer solely encompass the narrow views of middle-class white women; we have progressed past that and this wave must elevate those women who society has let fall through the cracks. For me, equality means just that, whatever race, gender or sexuality you identify as. Another recent attack on feminism comes from trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs), which is pulling the progression of the feminist movement further and further back. Women I would previously idolise, such as JK Rowling, have come forward and argued that trans women do not deserve the same rights as other women as they are ‘invading our space’. I remember feeling so incredibly and utterly disappointed when I read the ignorant and downright offensive Tweets posted by Rowling this year. So again, my understanding of feminism evolved to keep up with the world around me and I learned about issues I had not even considered before simply because they did not directly affect me. Flavia Dzodan encompasses this, stating - “My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit”.
It may seem counterintuitive to my argument that I, being a white woman, am using space to chronicle my feminist journey. However, I am speaking out to my individual experience and no one is saying that we can’t still have a voice; just that it can’t drown out those of non-white women on issues that are theirs to talk about.
I could have sat here all day and written about every feminist experience I have ever had or every person that has influenced my concept of feminism today. In this article, I have just given a few examples of some things which have set me up on my feminist odyssey - a journey that is far from over.
Further reading (if you fancy):
What A Time To Be Alone, and How To Get Over A Boy- Chidera Eggerue.
Queenie- Candice Carty-Williams.
Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment- Patricia Hill Collins.
The Awakening- Kate Chopin (a fiction novel but trust me here).
Wide Sargasso Sea- Jean Rhys (one of my favourite fiction novels- again, trust me).