Standard Issue writers explore when they knew they were feminist. It took an old-school Tory dicksplash and a desire to work to make Ruth Bratt’s alarm go right off.
Up until the age of 14 I was a feminist without knowing it. I assumed that men and women had equality, because I’d not seen that they didn’t.
The microcosm in which I operated was one of equality and opportunity. In my lifetime, the head of state had always been the Queen, the Prime Minister had always been Margaret Thatcher, and all of the women I knew worked.
My mum went back to work when I was one, my grandmother was a deputy head, Meg (my best friend’s mum) worked, Mitch (who was my hero) worked, all our child-carers were women, who therefore worked; I honestly didn’t know it was an option not to.
And then I became aware of who my MP was, because Meg was ranting about him one day on our way into school. Ivor Stanbrook was an old-school Tory – anti-immigration, pro-hanging, and, as his obituary in The Telegraph states, “a harsh critic of all the ills of the permissive society: pornography, promiscuity, abstract art, Sunday trading, ‘trendy bishops’ and, above all, feminism, a movement he blamed for wrecking family life and pushing up the figures for crime, divorce and child battering.”
That’s right. Because of women like my mum, and Meg, and all the women I knew, including the Prime Minister, the country was going to rack and ruin.
“It was as if a veil had been lifted – suddenly you could see insidious sexism where before you had been blissfully ignorant.”
The reason Meg was so angry with him was that he was voting against tax relief for working women. His argument was that, “the Bill, if enacted, would be harmful to children, destroy family life” and that there was “overwhelming evidence that most mothers of young children who go out to work thereby cause psychological injury to themselves as well as to their children.”
He conceded, “Some mothers may be obliged to do so, but that should not blind us to the fact that the consequences of depriving young children of love and affection within a stable family unit cause much social evil, reflected in the high figures for crime, vandalism, divorce and plain cruelty to children.”
OK, but why do the women have to stay at home? Why can’t the love and affection come from the men? And where is all this evidence? And what did that mean for me? I wanted to work. Partly because I didn’t know I could choose not to, but mostly because I wanted to.
I was being educated – but what for? If I wasn’t supposed to go into the workforce when I left school, what on earth was I doing all this learning for? What was all my ambition for? (At this point I wanted to be a human rights lawyer, or a marine biologist, because I hadn’t yet realised I was shit at science.)
Meg was going to protest against him at his next public meeting. I wanted to go too, but was deemed too young. However, it awoke in me the very thing he was trying to avoid – the desire to be “hauled along by the wretched engine of feminism.”
It was as if a veil had been lifted – suddenly you could see insidious sexism where before you had been blissfully ignorant. I went to Camden Market and came home with increased rage and a bag of postcards with feminist slogans – the graffiti on a billboard of a woman lying on a car saying, “At my other job, I’m a brain surgeon”, and this one:
Plus a series of cartoons by Jacky Fleming (check her out – I think she’s bloody brilliant).
I had to do a talk for GCSE English, and I chose feminism as my topic, and avidly watched a series called Move Over Darling, all about the feminist struggle. My eyes were open – and for a while I became slightly insufferable, as I discovered more and more injustices and became self-righteous and a vegetarian, and wore hemp-rope hoodies and went on marches to free Nelson Mandela and ban the bomb and any other march I could find.
My social conscience had been woken up by a man described by his own colleagues as “Neanderthal”. It’s never gone back to sleep.
Read more of our writers’ feminist lightbulb moments here.
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Ruth is an improviser, comedian, actor, writer and the short half of double act Trodd en Bratt. She is rapidly becoming a middle class cliche who likes to bake and knit. Ruth is in Showstopper! The Improvised Musical currently in Edinburgh and about to embark on a West End run. www.theshowstoppers.org