There is a lot of discussion going on in the media, on television, in the streets and on campus about what it is to be a modern feminist, who should be one, who is one, what it means to not be one, and what feminism is. This can all seem quite daunting when you are beginning to consider your opinions on it, in the same way that say, Morris dancing seems daunting at first, or Arabic, or a cartwheel.
It is easy to feel that if you haven’t read up on the subject then you don’t have any right to talk about it – indeed, people on the internet especially will often tell you so, hurling facts at you like snowballs with jagged little rocks in them. I’ve certainly done it – pulled some dubious statistics out of the bag in a deranged effort to win an argument. Whilst I wouldn’t condone this behaviour (it tends to increase directly in correlation to the amount of wine I’ve consumed), I won’t stop getting involved in discussions I know relatively little about. Take Fifty Shades of Grey. I knew when it came out that I didn’t want to read it right then – as an English student I rarely stray from my reading lists (tragic) and I certainly wasn’t willing to put Twilight fan fiction at the top of the list when I had Tina Fey’s autobiography to get through. However, the concept really interested me. I knew I celebrated the idea that women who didn’t previously have access to erotic fiction felt more in touch with their sexuality. I loved the idea of reading being sexy – hurrah for the return of the imagination! And yet, I hated the idea that the author would directly and deliberately link (spoiler!! I think!!) child abuse with BDSM, and didn’t exactly love the idea of a fisting contract. All these opinions and I hadn’t read the damned thing.
Does this make me ignorant or rule me out of discussions? I don’t know! I’ve certainly had some interesting debates with academics who know seemingly everything about their subject, and left them feeling like I held my own, and also very excited to get started reading up on the subject in preparation for next time*. Feminism is no different. When the big F word crops up in conversation it’s easy to duck out, either behind the premise that ‘its not relevant to me’ (hopefully Belle Jar is changing your mind) or ‘I don’t know enough about it’ or my fall-to – ‘I don’t know how I feel about that’. And whilst claiming ignorance is easy, you’re not going to develop either your arguing, analytical, or feminist know-how by ducking out of a debate.
To say ‘I’m a feminist’ is, for many, a fairly big statement. It is loaded with historical, personal and cultural resonance. Yet feminism doesn’t come with a rulebook, and people arrive at the term through all sorts of channels and indeed all sorts of people identify as feminists. Considering how you view yourself and the world around you will often leave you feeling a bit clueless, but the fact that you are engaging with these issues is an achievement in itself.
I guess what I’m saying is – yes, feminism is a daunting subject. It is huge, it affects everyone and it covers some uncomfortable, unpleasant and upsetting topics. In the style of the patronising page in Glamour – Hey! It’s OK… not to know the facts, not to know how you feel, not to read the book – the most important thing is to get involved.
* If you are feeling keen to read up further on feminism but don’t know where to start someone whom I view as measured and intelligent likes this book for a historical perspective. It helped her understand where feminism comes from, how far we have come, and where we are going. See my English Student Disclaimer for why I haven’t read it – its on the list!