August 27, 2018

Preaching To The Converted, Or Not?

Luckily, being a bad or ‘guilty feminist’ is socially acceptable. Definitely partly thanks to the Guilty Feminist podcast which attracts huge crowds for live shows and boasts over 30 million downloads. Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist memoir is all about being an imperfect feminist too, and if a brave and brilliant writer like Roxane can admit that, then perhaps we can all feel that little bit better about being flawed too, even if we do have the best intentions. I am definitely not a perfect feminist. I don’t even know what that is. There still seems to be so many contradictions with what the word even means, and a new book is soon to published by Penguin called Feminists Don’t Wear Pink And Other Lies curated by Scarlett Curtis includes essays from different women on what it means to them. Gemma Arterton recently said in a Guardian interview: “You know, I don’t even know what the word ‘feminism’ means any more.” It shouldn’t be confusing (Caitlin Moran once described it as meaning ‘’I’m neither ‘pro-women’ nor ‘anti-men’. I’m just ‘Thumbs up for the six billion” — but it still seems to be a tricky subject to talk about openly.

Along with every other twenty-something girl in 2012, I first discovered what modern day feminism was when I read How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran. My bookshelf consisted of mainly white women: Amy Poehler, Tina Fey and Sheryl Sandberg. I devoured the words of Ashley C. Ford, June Sarpong and Reni Eddo Lodge. I began to read all about intersectionality and social and cultural layers to the F word. Now, my TBR (to be read) book pile is sky-high with new feminist anthologies. According to the New Statesman, Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls “became the most funded original book in the history of crowd-funding.” Feminism is selling like hot cakes.

So, now, in the last year of my twenties, I am recalibrating and reflecting on what feminism means to me right now. One thing I’ve realised, is that I’ve spent the last few years magnetically attracted to women. Not sexually, but professionally. It’s been wonderful. Women’s voices, women’s groups, women’s networks, women’s funding, women’s prizes, women’s awards, women’s private Facebook groups, women-only members clubs, women’s memoirs, women’s everything. I am surrounded 360 degrees of women. A magic roundabout of women. A hall of mirrors. I’ve made incredible new friends, and I’ve opened up in ways I just wouldn’t have if it wasn’t a women-only safe space. It has been integral to my growth and confidence. Being away to share setbacks, failings and impostor syndrome moments and asking stupid questions about mooncups with other women has been genuinely helpful.

But does feminism mean only hanging out with other women? Of course it doesn’t. So why do I feel like I never see any men (apart from my boyfriend and friends outside of work?) Why do I only surround myself with women? Why is it only women that come to my events? Why do I only really follow other women on social media? My Instagram analytics tell me that only 8% of my followers are men. It doesn’t help that I am self-employed, but even if I worked in-house as a journalist most of my colleagues were women. Somehow it feels harder now, to meet go out of my way to meet men in my industry. How do we properly invite men into the feminist conversation? I think it’s super important to be speaking to men.

I heard ManRepeller’s founder Leandra Medine on a podcast recently ask why it appeared that simply Being A Woman seemed to be a political statement in itself these days. I made so much money in March this year, thanks to International Women’s Day. It felt both good and strange. I was invited to plenty of things, to talk about being a woman. I am not complaining. But why did my earnings peak in that one month, instead of the other eleven, too?

In the last few years, my career has gone from strength to strength, a book that led to an award-winning podcast that led to another book which became a bestseller. I am invited onto radio shows, panels, events, conferences, but I’ve noticed that I am rarely alongside men at these events. I do get it, the pendulum has to swing the other way and so it should. It’s a good thing to be surrounded by so many interesting women. But I feel I should be conversing and hearing the points of view of my male contemporaries too. Being surrounded only by women makes me feel comforted, warm and safe. Maybe it goes back to my childhood too, I have three sisters, female best friends, I went to an all-girls school for my teen years. But it’s not the real world. I feel like in order to grow, in order to be challenged, in order to get better at my job, in order to feel truly ‘equal’ in the world, I should be exposed to men and male voices much more regularly (and who aren’t just shouty eggs oin Twitter). I want to be surrounded by inspiring, helpful, interesting men. I want to have new conversations. I want to hear men out. I want more men to speak up and be feminists.

I know that in order to achieve gender equality we need the scales to swing the other way in order to achieve the balance. We need more women in senior roles, on TV, in politics and lots more women given platforms across the board. Whenever I do public events or create content, I feel like I am speaking to a sea of brilliant woman, which feels good, but also feels like I am constantly preaching to the comforted. I speak to a room of nodding heads (more or less) — so perhaps what I’m saying or proposing isn’t doing much, because the audience is already in the know or read the same article as me. We need to not mock men when they ask what they can do to help. We need to not be defensive when a male friend asks what feminist books he could borrow to read. We need to speak to our boyfriends and male friends about feminism and include them. We need to share statistics and research with men too and not assume everyone knows what we know. We need to bring men in, not leave them out. This is not a ‘let’s feel sorry for men’ article. This is simply saying: let us work alongside. Let’s have some uncomfortable conversations. Let’s work towards a common goal of equality. Together.

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