Emma does a deep dive on her feminist experience, posing the quesion 'Should I be a feminist?'
My journey with feminism, and when I first began to ask myself the question ‘should I be a feminist?’, started with the black lives matter movement. I’d always assumed everyone was equal and being brought up in Northern Ireland, a country with a 98% white population I was very naive to the systemic racism that is so prevalent in our society. As I got older I started travelling to mainland UK and my eyes were opened and social circles expanded to the beautiful diverse cultures that others are from. I would devour any book I could find on white privilege and race in order to understand where I fit into the conversation. This is where I came across the gem that is Reni Eddo-Lodge’s ‘Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race’, please, please, please, if you haven’t read it make it your one book of 2020, put it onto your amazon wish list or at least go listen to a few episodes of her podcast.
Reni devotes a chapter of her book to the feminism question. She really highlights how even as feminists fighting the same fight we all come from such different, sometimes incomparable backgrounds and for some of us the idea of equality comes more easily. From, reading about feminism I wanted to know more about what it was to be a feminist before I made my decision as to whether or not I’d join the cause.
One of the first TED talks I watched was Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s ‘We should all be feminists’. Chimamanda jokes that as she started to call herself a feminist and other people told her what it meant to be a feminist she had to edit her feminist title and at one point became a Happy African Feminist Who Does Not Hate Men And Who Likes To Wear Lip Gloss And High Heels For Herself And Not For Men. It’s funny how so many people have a different idea of what it is to be a feminist. A lot of people imagine raging man hating women that don’t act feminine and burn their bras. There are so many stereotypes facing feminism, for example: feminists hate men, feminists are angry, all feminists are women, feminists are all pro-choice, all feminists are lesbians or that feminists don’t believe in marriage.
I’ve been in situations were the reaction to telling someone I’m a feminist has been ‘Oh no, you’re not one of those crazy women who shouts about women’s rights, are you?’. What’s so crazy about wanting to be treated equally? I think some men feel threatened by the idea of feminism, it challenges their self-worth and the idea that they’ve grown up with that men should be in charge. I’ve met other men who say they don’t see gender as a barrier or they don’t think about gender and that’s also part of the problem.
As a female engineer I’ve faced many barriers that are all because of my gender and while the men around me may not see them as barriers that’s because in the same situations they’re treated very differently. As well as co-founding STAND, I work on construction sites and instruct and supervise contractors to carry out work. For a bit more context, I’m a 24 year old woman working with a team of all male engineers and supervising an all male contractor work force. While the men I work directly with have gotten to know me and treat me extremely well, I still face difficulties out onsite.
Just today I was on the side of the road decked out from head to toe in PPE and as a work van went passed with men I didn’t know in it they started tooting their horn and jeering at me. I notice the second glances from the public that say, ‘is that a women?’ when I’m wearing highvis. And the one that gets me the most is when I’m with a group of men and a member of the public walks past and asks me jokingly am I keeping an eye on those men? Would it be acceptable to ask a man was he keeping an eye on a group of women? These small interactions may not seem like a big deal but over weeks and months it starts to add up and constantly feeling like you’re being treated differently because of your gender can become a bigger weight to carry than you once thought.
It seems that while so many of us say we want equality our actions don’t quite promote it. We need to ask ourselves why only 12.4% of all engineers are women in the UK? It’s definitely not that men are better at science or maths than women, in fact 79.8% of female engineering students get a first or upper second class honours compared to 74.6% of male students. When asked would you consider a career in engineering, 46.4% of girls 11-14 would but by the time girls reach 16-18 this drops dramatically to only 25.4% of girls considering a career in engineering. Society tells girls what they should and shouldn’t do, what roles are female and male. Until we start recognising and challenging gender stereotypes we won’t see the change that is needed for true equality.
I’ve often found myself saying ‘I don’t know if I’m a feminist, but I believe in equality’. This is mainly because of the negativity around feminism and other people’s perceptions. But it’s time to start reclaiming the feminist title and raise awareness of what it truly is to be a feminist.
Feminism – The advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.
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