I’m going to come out and say it: for the first 27 years of my life I wasn’t a feminist.
At least, I didn’t know I was one. I also didn’t know that most people around me were feminists – because they didn’t know either, and I’m sure many still don’t.
It was something Caitlin Moran said in her brilliant book How to Be A Woman that changed my mind:
“When statistics come in saying that only 29 per cent of American women would describe themselves as feminist – and only 42 per cent of British women – I used to think, ‘what do you think feminism IS, ladies?’ What part of ‘liberation for women’ is not for you? Is it freedom to vote? The right not to be owned by the man you marry? The campaign for equal pay? ‘Vogue’, by Madonna? Jeans? Did all that good shit GET ON YOUR NERVES?”
It was ‘jeans’ that woke me from my life-long reverie at the age of 27.
Listen: Mamamia Out Loud discusses famous women who refuse to call themselves feminists. (Post continues after audio.)
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never rejected feminism.
I grew up in the ’80s and ’90s, in the home of two liberal-minded artists where equality wasn’t a theoretical dinner-table debate – it was life. Feminism, though, felt like something in my mother’s distant past – something to do with her hairy armpits and dislike for laundry – and it felt tainted by an inexplicable negativity that the pages of Dolly never addressed. Women’s studies were never offered at my high school nor during my design degree, so I’d never thought too deeply about what a feminist really was, nor if I cared to call myself one.
Then I read Moran’s quote, was taken by how simply she defined the term, and felt incited and regretful that the term had become so mired and undermined that even I had largely ignored it.
After I read Moran’s How to Be a Woman, Tina Fey released Bossypants, Vagina by Naomi Wolf arrived, Lena’s Girls aired, Amy Schumer landed, Rebecca Solnit coined ‘mansplaining’, and I realised I was in the middle of feminism’s third wave and that it was about to change my writing forever.