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After learning more about feminism at university, I am now aware of my past mistakes. However, I am also more aware of the inequality within mainstream feminism.
Coming to university I paid little concern to my comments around women. While I was and am not sexist, I used to make lots of sexist comments and jokes. You name a female stereotype and I definitely used it and abused it. I fell into that ‘lad’ culture, where you’ll find ‘banter:’ rating women from 1 to 10 and calling your mate ‘gay’ if he does something not seen as ‘masculine.’ This could be anything because anything your mate does is ‘gay,’ and that’s just the way it is. This was just how I was, none of it was malicious or serious.
University opened my eyes. I began to realise how my comments were being received in a far more mixed environment. I began to realise how intimidating it can be when someone such as myself, who is often loud and confident, makes jokes about women – especially when all the guys in the group laugh leaving the girls feeling mocked. I also began to notice that my comments were genuinely hurtful for a lot of women. This didn’t go down too well with me to start with, I thought it was just girls being ‘girls’ and not having a sense of humour.
However I soon realised it wasn’t that at all. I’ve learnt a lot at university and one thing I’ve learnt is to appreciate how women feel in a society dominated by men, and that certain comments and jokes can be hurtful. I can also say that along the way I’ve learnt a lot about the position of women in society and the problems they face, for example sexual objectification, inequality in the work place, certain expectations on them and so on. I like to think I have genuinely developed a greater appreciation of the issues championed by feminism and now I find myself actively challenging sexist remarks. During the electoral debate a close friend kept on referring to Natalie Bennett as a ‘stupid bitch’, and it struck a chord with me – something I doubt I would have paid much attention to two years ago – and I ended up getting into quite an argument with them.
But, I’m not a feminist, it’s not for me. As someone who comes from a working class background, I know that sexism isn’t a joke, and I began to realise that feminism, or rather the feminism I’ve encountered during my time at university, isn’t really for the working class. For me, of what I know of feminism, this is a great betrayal. If women face inequality compared to men and the working class face inequality compared to the middle and upper classes then surely working class women are the greatest victims of sexism? Yet they remain widely unrepresented by mainstream feminism.
In terms of the feminism I’ve been exposed to, what I’ve come across mostly is ‘manspreading’, sexism in the media and famous people or people in authority saying sexist things. Pay inequality usually focuses on higher salary jobs and the gender imbalance in workplaces like parliament. I don’t see arguments in support of young mums who’ve had children when they were very young and now suffer discrimination. I don’t see articles about how young girls in housing estates are put at a disadvantage in life because of their social background. I don’t see these underprivileged women, who had a rough upbringing, who were failed by their school and are now either working in a dead-end job or living on the dole as full time mothers, being represented. Quite frankly, I feel the people who need feminism the most are simply being ignored.
The best example in this university that I can think of is the whole Uni of/ Solent rivalry. Yes, I understand you’re going to have rivalry between two similar groups if you put them close enough together. But the sheer relentlessness with which we bombard Solent with abuse is morbidly impressive. On the other hand, I see sexist statuses on Tell Him/Tell Her being shot down for being ignorant and sexist and if I had a penny for every, ‘it’s not okay to grab my ass in a club’ post then I’d probably be able to buy a pint (you need a lot of pennies for good stuff). Whereas there’s not really many champions of Solent. No one really cares when they’re mocked and a good Solent post on Tell Him/Tell Her is going to get over a hundred likes.
This takes me back to where it all began, how I ‘innocently’ used to make overt sexist comments without really understanding their impact. What I see with this Solent rivalry is a mass effort to ridicule people, women included, based on a perceived inferiority linked to negative stereotypes of the working class. So, while there is only around ten percent more students from working class backgrounds attending Solent then the University of Southampton, the women who attend Solent now face discrimination based on their gender, perceived social class and their educational choices. I don’t see them being represented by feminism here in this university.
What I do see is a middle class-dominated movement called feminism. After a simple Google search I realise this idea is becoming a trend. So I’m not a feminist. I acknowledge the presence of gender inequality and I wholeheartedly support gender equality, but I see inequality in feminism. I see middle class women worrying about middle class issues, forgetting about the masses of working class women who suffer the same and arguably even greater discrimination. My experience of feminism so far at university has led me to this view and, while there may be a platform for working class feminism (of which I am unaware), it seems to be almost devoid from our institution.
Although, for what it’s worth, I am more conscious of my manspreading.