Thursday, April 1, 2010

How I became a Feminist - and what about you?

Alright, so it's been a while. I could apologise but we both know it would be hollow and insincere.

For those of you who are particularly missing me (you know who you are, I don't answer your emails and there are restraining orders in place), you can catch me musing and ranting in equal measure on all things feminist and women's rights at the amazing and truly inspiring Women's Views on News, of which I am a proud co-editor. Failing that, you can find me similarly ranting on Twitter or on Facebook. I'll be back here whenever I get the chance, but the pub comes first and we all know it.

Today, I was tasked with writing a biography for my page on Women's Views on News, which was a very surreal experience. This, combined with a great day at the launch of UK Feminista last Saturday has led me to recall how I got involved with the feminist movement in the first place.

As I just noted in my biography - it should be autobiography, really, shouldn't it? - I became a feminist aged 12 years, when I learnt all about the history of the suffragettes at school. Up until then, history as I knew it was all about what men had done in the world, and learning about the Pankhursts, the Cat and Mouse Act, WSPU and Emily Wilding Davison changed my perception of women forever.

It also led me (via the library) straight into the feminist movement of the late eighties. I'm not sure at the time I understood much of it, but I did understand that this was a time and a place where women met as equals and expressed their hopes, their anger and their passion. Being 13 and pumped full of hormones, I was all over that like an attack of acne.

Within weeks, my ragged copy of Spare Rib was accompanying me to school every day and proving an odd contrast to my friends' copies of Mizz and Just Seventeen. I would read bits of 'The Female Eunuch' to my family over the dinner table leading to unlikely conversations (Dad: "Yes, Sarah, I know I'm an incomplete female. Now finish your tea...") and campaigned loudly and vehemently for women's rights. I've never looked back.

Well, until my mid-twenties, when I entered the world of working for a living and my dreams of becoming the next Sylvia Pankhurst faded into the background. Working for Women's Views on News over the last few months has re-kindled my interest and refocused my awareness on the state of international women's (lack of) rights today and I'm very grateful to the wonderful, inspiring founder of WVON, Alison Clarke for getting me involved. If you're a professional or an aspiring writer, head over to the WVON site and volunteer your skills, we're always looking for new contributors and editors.

Because of WVON, I was also lucky enough to attend the launch of new feminist activist organisation UK Feminista last Saturday, which brought me into contact with about 150 young women (and some men) who are working hard to change women's worlds for the better. It was a fantastic day and I look forward to seeing great stuff from all involved with UK Feminista over the coming months.

It's great to be back in the world of feminism, both for the consciousness-raising side and the political activism. Since I was involved the first time, I've discovered Buddhism, which is leading me to some interesting places in dealing with the sometimes overwhelming rage that is part and parcel of finding out how badly treated women still are, all over the world.

In some ways life was easier in the years when I wasn't involved in feminism, but ignorance is certainly no bliss. I've never found a way to get around the constant nagging sense that our culture is threatening to overwhelm my very sanity. Feminism and feminists are a sure fire way to restore my sanity by verifying that 'it's not just me, then', as well as rediscovering that sense of purpose, direction and meaning in life. Just the small things, eh.

But what I'm really working up to here is one central question for you, dear Reader: how did you become a feminist?

And for those of you wavering in uncertainty on the sidelines: what keeps you from describing yourself as a feminist and what do you think it would take for you to want to?

Answers please - it's what the comments box was invented for.