So… here it is! Column number one. Never thought I’d get here, certainly never thought I’d have my own column, but the Scene seemed keen, so who was I to argue? Welcome to I Use the F-Word, a fortnightly column about all things feminist and quite a lot of my opinion, but don’t let that put you off. Ladies – feminism isn’t just a movement, like hipsters, it’s a big deal. Get in on the action. Fellas – men who are feminists are hella hot, but we can tell if you’re faking it, so maybe make yourself a sandwich and settle down to give this a read.
I’ll admit I was a late bloomer to feminism. Despite attending an all girls’ grammar school for six years, feminism wasn’t ever really a thing that was spoken about. It was like they wanted to keep us the subjugated masses lest they have a revolution on their hands. (And boy were we subjugated – ridiculous dress codes and all. We weren’t even allowed to show our shoulders, lest anyone get the “wrong idea.”) It wasn’t until the end of Year 12 that I really got on board with the whole “equal rights for women!” thing, after meeting an alumni of my school who was a proper feminist – ranty, sweary, passionate, but funny, sassy and intelligent. She knew her stuff! She had proper opinions about things like abortion and contraception, and she didn’t use big confusing words – she was chatty and it felt like I was having a chat with her over coffee. Inspired, I read around. I learned the vocab. I was feelin’ it. Women are oppressed! Down with the glass ceiling! End FGM! Yeah, I got intense. I think my school got kind of nervous, especially the English department – after three consecutive pieces of coursework on feminism and equality for women, I think they were moderately concerned that I was going to burn my bra in front of the Head’s office and lead a revolution. (I do have previous on the revolution front – but that’s another story.) Quiet little Liz was quiet no more – she had ideas, big scary ideas backed up by millions of other women and empirical evidence.
Despite attending an all girls’ grammar school for six years, feminism wasn’t ever really a thing that was spoken about. It was like they wanted to keep us the subjugated masses lest they have a revolution on their hands.
I think their real fear was that it would spread. In all my time at secondary school, in all 1100 pupils, besides me I knew one other feminist. One. And she was much more militant than me – she broke the sixth form dress code and argued with the deputy head over her “right to tights.” She read de Beauvoir and Plath and scowled on use of the word “slut.” She preached on women’s rights from the backseat of the school bus, and argued with our more religious friends about the oppression religion placed on women. My school were concerned. They didn’t want “it” to spread. Feminism was up there with its other least favourite F-words (although teachers seemed to like Fridays as much as us, and my English Language teacher used the f-word with relish as part of our lessons) and so I was never encouraged.
When I said I wanted to write – well, that was out of the question. Nice grammar school girls didn’t do silly things like write! They did lovely professional things like become lawyers or doctors or insurance brokers! My statement of “I want to be a writer” was met with slightly amused stares, like I was about to shout “just kidding! Ha ha ha! You should have seen your faces!” or an expression which clearly conveyed “that’s very nice dear, but that’s a hobby. What do you actually want to do for money?” My becoming a feminist writer would have been their worst nightmare. Well, here I am! A nightmare in lipstick, brandishing a copy of Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch, ready to bash any protesting men over the head and burn my bra outside the embassy. (OK, I might be exaggerating. A nightmare in pyjamas, I’m more of a Caitlin Moran feminist, I’m not going to bash any men, unless they harass me, and no woman with an ounce of sense would burn her bra – those things are expensive.)
So when the Scene asked me to do an opinion piece off the back of my first article about coming out, I got a bit cheeky. “How about a column?” I asked. “My own column, about feminism and…. stuff.” If you don’t ask you don’t get, I thought. Is this cheeky? I’ve only written one article and now I want an actual slot writing and – “Yeah sure.” Oh bloody hell, I hadn’t considered that. Now I had to think of a name. An actual proper grown up name. Admittedly, it took me almost a week. My first choice was inspired by the deity that is Caitlin Moran – “How to Be a Woman.” But that was unoriginal and I couldn’t name my column after her book, because, well, she’s a genius and this is just me blathering. I put on my thinking cap. (OK, I went to sleep.) “Womenology” sounded like a Cosmo article on waxing and beauty, plus it didn’t exactly encourage male reads. “Femaleology” sounded too anatomical and didn’t exactly roll off the tongue.
It might sound hypocritical but I didn’t want to use the word “feminism” in my column title. For one thing it puts men off, and to be honest, most men are in need of a little feminist education. Secondly, it puts most women off, because most women don’t know what feminism is about. It’s not about bra burning, or forcing women out of their homes and into work. It’s not about growing your leg and arm hair and becoming a political lesbian. Being a feminist is simply about choice. If you don’t want to wear a bra, you go ahead. If you’ve got enough dosh to afford to burn your bra… knock yourself out. Feminists aren’t saying you can’t be a stay at home mum, or a housewife – they’re saying it’s fine to do that as long as you want to, and you’re not simply doing it because your husband wants you to. We aren’t saying don’t shave/wax/epilate, but if you want to de-hair yourself, do it because you want to, not because you feel you have to. And if you’re a lesbian – wicked, you’ve already stuck two fingers up at the patriarchy, and you’ve done it because you like women, not because men are evil subjugators from Mars. (Well they might be from Mars. Research is inconclusive.)
Caitlin Moran proposed one simple test to tell if you’re a feminist. Question one: do you have a vagina? Question two: do you want to be in charge of it? If you answered yes to both questions, you are a feminist! My feminist friend-slash-mentor defined feminism as anyone who wants women to be in charge of their own vaginas, or simply appreciates that no one can infringe on our choices as women purely because they are male.
Caitlin Moran proposed one simple test to tell if you’re a feminist. Question one: do you have a vagina? Question two: do you want to be in charge of it? If you answered yes to both questions, you are a feminist! My feminist friend-slash-mentor defined feminism as anyone who wants women to be in charge of their own vaginas, or simply appreciates that no one can infringe on our choices as women purely because they are male. Simply: if you think that women should have equal legal, social, political and health rights to men – you’re a feminist. Congratulations! While we don’t expect men to fully empathise with all our causes (abortion being a prime example) we appreciate their support with little things, like not being sexist, doing their share of the work, and campaigning with us.
So bearing all the prejudice against the word “feminist” in mind, what the heck was I meant to call my column? At first, I did what I thought was the logical thing – I Googled. After trawling through twelve pages of search results for “feminist column names” I quickly found that a lot of the results were extremely anti-feminist, and subsequently gave up. Second inspiration idea – music. I sat down and scrolled through my iTunes, but the only song that jumped out at me was Lily Allen’s Hard Out Here, and I figured that the Scene might have an issue with me calling my column “Grow a Pair of T*ts” (although it would attract a large male readership.)
It was only after several days of pondering that I remembered a campaign run (ironically) by Cosmo called “the F-word.” Stars including Nina Nesbitt and Professor Green donned t-shirts to support feminism (see fellas? Men can be feminists too, even big tattooed ones like Professor Green.) and one of the slogans was “I use the f-word, do you?” Bingo. There it was! My column name. Ready made, tongue in cheek, and I’ve got photos of several celebrities wearing t-shirts with it on, although that really just provides me with humour more than anything else.
If I’ve lured you here because you thought this was going to be an article about the f-word, I am very sorry to disappoint you. If I’ve lured you here on that prospect and you’re actually still reading this – hurrah! I hope you’re now at least a partial convert, and you’ll keep coming back for more. Similarly, if you’re here because you knew this was gonna be about feminism and you read it anyway – salutations. You’ve made it to the end of my first ranty, rambly column, may you keep coming back for the ones to come.