What feminism means to me: aka ‘looking for empowerment at the bottom of a Chanel purse’.

What feminism means to me: aka ‘looking for empowerment at the bottom of a Chanel purse’.

I have agonised all day, trying to think of an angle for a post for International Women’s Day. Helen Razer just rocked it’s socks off and I like to think that I can ride on those coat tails and take some credit… you know… seeing as I convinced her to start blogging again… and just utter an “EXACTLY WHAT SHE SAID” kind of thing. But unfortunately, I feel like I kind of need to add my unstructured thoughts into the pile in order to make sure that the day doesn’t pass without me saying something.

Being a feminist permeates every facet of my existence. My feminist outlook on the world is so pervasive that, in many ways, it is like the air I breathe, in that I don’t really consciously think about it anymore. I also often make the mistake of assuming that every woman is a feminist.

And I frequently forget that there are lots that aren’t. And as I ponder that thought for a moment, I realise that I truly don’t understand how you can be a woman and not be a feminist. I just don’t.

Being a woman makes us inately disadvantaged in our society. Yes, it still does, and in many ways, the anti-feminist backlash, the pro-fashion, pro-consumer, “stay-at-home-by-choice”, anti-female-body movements are more destructive and pervasive than ever. Where Sex and the City is celebrated as an act of modern feminism… where weight loss products and diets and hair removal and plastic surgery are marketed in the name of “self improvement”… and buying Chanel handbags and Gucci sunglasses are not acts of mindless and repulsive consumerism but instead presented as a means of empowerment, so long as you use your own money (that is still 75% of a man’s wage, or from a lower paying, part time job).

Don’t get me wrong when I say these things: I am not necessarily judging women who don’t really know any different, having grown up in a generation that truly believes that they are equal with men, and that the Spice Girls are their yardstick for the “girl power” movement. It truly isn’t anyone’s fault, because you know, we have come a very, very long way. Don’t get me wrong: I feel fortunate for being born in a time where anyone even gives a shit that I am writing about what feminism means to me.

I also do not blame men. I have a husband who understands the inate privilege that white men in particular have in our society. Partially because I explained it to him, partially because he’s witnessed my career and the pressures of being a working mother. He understands the concept of privilege.

We are all blind to our own privilege. Those things that we don’t think about because we just don’t experience prejudice or barriers because of it. I am white, University educated, first world, able bodied, heterosexual. With all of these things there are unspoken advantages. But I acknowledge it, and I always try to see that others who are not these things might have it tougher.

As a woman in our society, I experience the world very differently to a man. Men don’t meet with clients and have those clients say “well, it keeps your brain busy whilst you have children, at least” when referring to my full time, family-supporting business. Men are generally not the first person called when your child is sick at daycare, interrupting your work day for the 4th time in a month. Men are generally not asked about their children or marital status in job interviews. Men are entrepeneurs and women are “mumpreneurs”. It’s being treated differently (often like a bloke at the pub) by a male sales assistant because you are older, or fatter, than the young blonde he just fell over himself to serve. It’s lots and lots of little things, every day, that tell me that the world has in many ways changed… and in many ways stayed the same.

Trying to explain to a man that a woman is the default position in our society for childcare & housekeeping is hard, because they just don’t get it. This not only puts down women, but it also devalues a whole lot of men who are passionate, equal partners, or who stay at home with their kids. They say that they contribute, but noone expects them to do it and not complain about it. The default role for a woman is to have her body held up and judged: when walking down the street, when seeking medical care, when going to a job interview, when shopping, when blogging, after having a baby… you name it. Our bodies are public property.

Our bodies are still matters of public policy when it comes to abortion. The churches are even worse when it comes to policing of women’s bodies. We still do not have adequate maternity leave or family friendly workplaces. We still have a culture of women hating each other and competing with each other over who has the latest Bugaboo pram (the Mommy version of the Chanel handbag), and harassing anyone who doesn’t parent the same way. It’s about the way I parent my children as equals, whilst trying to reject “Mommy” politics. It’s why I swear and don’t apologise for it. It’s why I refuse to fit into a mould of what a woman should be and say. It’s why I blog, it’s why I run a business, it’s how I think, how I view the world.

It’s how I try to navigate the inbuilt assumptions that I am an extension of my husband and children, not a separate human being with goals. I am thankful that I am allowed to even have the goals in the first place, but we are kidding ourselves if we think that we have come even close to achieving true equality between men and women in this society.

So for people like Germaine Greer, Betty Friedan, Edith Cowan, Eva Cox and my very own grandmother (who grew up in Catholic Ireland in the 30s in a convent, after her unmarried mother died)… all of you… thank you. Not only for the path you paved for us, but for continuing to live your lives so that women can eventually afford their very own botox injections on their very own credit cards. And for the few of us who still believe, for better or worse, that we can achieve anything if we work hard enough.

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