Standard Issue writers explore when they knew they were feminist. Hazel Davis had several ‘yikes!’ moments before her alarm went off big time.
I am not proud of the following story.
When I was 19 I went to Alaska on my own. I was having a whale of a time in the gorgeous coastal town of Seward when I met a lively and intelligent young Canadian woman called Amy, who was studying feminist theory (or something) at a clever Canadian institution. We, in turn, hooked up with an 18-year-old super-bright lass called Abby, who was at Columbia.
I delighted in my new clever friends and enjoyed their company. We spent some very happy times on the tugboat of a fisherman we’d palled up with. It was all very idyllic.
One day, sitting on the boat, Amy turned to me and said, “What does feminism mean to you?”
I can barely bring myself to write this. I DIDN’T EVEN QUALIFY IT WITH A (MISGUIDED) “Obviously, I’m speaking from a position of privilege…”. Instead I said, “Well, it’s never really been an issue for me. My dad pretty much let my mum do whatever she liked.”
No, don’t go. I was 19! It wasn’t my fault. Oh fuck.
I can’t remember whether Amy and Abby shared a look BUT I’M PRETTY CERTAIN THEY DID. I sometimes think about this conversation and die inside (and I am almost certain they do too).
“My partner would try to talk to me about the pay gap. I’d retort with nonsense about women being weak and silly and that all they had to do was man up a bit.”
Anyway, I’d like to say that was the turning point. It wasn’t. I pretty much carried on in this vein for the next few years. I’d say well into my 20s and maybe even, ahem, further. I was alright, Jill. Nobody had ever hindered MY progress. I’d got the jobs I wanted. I wasn’t in an arranged marriage. I wore DMs, I didn’t care too much about clothes. Lucky old emancipated me.
Every now and again I’d toss out a pompous, “Well it’s today’s men I feel sorry for” and every now and again my other half (a man) would sit me down and patiently explain (not mansplain, EXplain. On this, he did actually know better than then-me) that feminism wasn’t actually about whether nobody had ever groped me on a bus or whether my mum had ‘had to’ shave her legs or not or whether my dad was willing to cook dinner.
He’d try to talk to me about the pay gap. I’d retort with nonsense about women being weak and silly and that all they had to do was man up a bit. He’d explain to me that my plentiful non-sexist experiences didn’t matter because inequality was structural. And I didn’t listen. I’d – oh god I did this – say things like “but the word ‘feminist’ is so aggressive. I’m an EQUALIST.” I continued to maintain that men couldn’t do right for doing wrong and that it was all blurry these days. Oh god.
And then one day, in my early 30s, I had a baby. A girl baby. I have always violently hated pink anyway so was adamant that I wouldn’t dress my children in it. And we had a stockpile of brightly coloured babygros at hand. But the inevitable ‘girly’ presents came anyway and were politely put to one side.
When my daughter was a few months old, a family member bought a beautiful (non-pink, as it happens) dress with exquisite buttons right up the back. We were going out to dinner with her and I wanted to show willing.
My partner went to put the dress on the baby. Suddenly he stopped: “Fuck this. It’s going in the bin.”
Hormones raging, I hoiked it out and shouted, “What’s wrong with you?!”
He held up the dress, pointed out that it resembled a straitjacket. Pointed out that the heavy buttons on the back of clothing which would be worn by someone who spends their days on their back was an aggressive and restrictive thing to do in the name of beauty. Pointed out that good, well-meaning people don’t even realise this and go along with it in good faith because, hey, a dress is a dress. Pointed out that it’s structural.
And that time, I listened.
Read more of our writers’ feminist lightbulb moments here.
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Hazel Davis is a freelance writer from West Yorkshire. She has two tiny children but the majority of her hours are taken up with thinking about Alec Baldwin singing sea shanties and the time someone once called her "moreishly interesting".