Proper Little Madam

Does anyone else remember that Clarks shoe advert from the 1970s, where a little girl exclaims, “My mum says I’m going to grow up to be a proper little madam!”? I’ve been searching for it online but the only upload of it has been deleted.

I remembered laughing with my family about it as a child. Perhaps the little girl in the advert dared to be a little bit choosy about her footwear and insisted on a particular style. Not surprising that the 1970s billed that as ‘upstart’ behaviour from a girl. I was reminded of it this morning when watching Sheryl Sandberg’s 2010 Ted Talk about the lack of female leaders in the workplace, and the follow-up in 2013 after the publication of her book, Lean In.

In the second talk Sandberg brings up the subject of women who take the lead being called ‘bossy’ and how that starts at a young age. I’m sure I won’t be the only woman who remembers the word being applied to herself in school, and the words ‘proper little madam’ have stuck in my head as a by-phrase for the way women of any age are viewed for having an opinion on things.

This is something I’ve been musing on recently, as I’ve had some really unexpected ‘micro-attacks’ on having an opinion, all from other women. I expected these to come from men, especially as my very first blog post attracted the following passive-aggressive response from ‘Geraint’:

My favourite phrase (referring to the proliferation of blogs/social media) is “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should!”

As much as I admire your new adventures it’s a big like those who write blogs about being pregnant/unemployed/married etc – it’s tricky but nothing new/unique and therefore should be confined to a personal diary.

Otherwise it’s just attention seeking.

Sorry 🙂 x

I particularly loved the smiley at the end. I read this and thought, “Here we go…” preparing for the onslaught of trolls waiting to silence women like me who dared to express thoughts and opinions online. But thankfully that didn’t happen. Lovely Geraint (a fellow Welshie!) seems to have been a one-off.

No – what’s actually happened a year on is that I’ve pretty much been told to either shut up or ‘tone it down a bit’ by mainly women. I’ve been told my blog appears ‘spiky’, ‘judgemental’, ‘aggressive’, ‘bitter’, arrogant’, ‘opinionated’, ‘angry’, ‘difficult’ and ‘challenging’ by people who seem to have had nerves touched by what I’ve written. They’ve even warned me that it might put men off. (It’s actually quite a good asshole filter, truth be told). 

I’ve been told that they don’t agree with everything I write, even though I’d never expect them to, yet they never comment or respond to anything I say publicly, only one-to-one. Maybe I should be grateful for that.

All of this response seems to have been exacerbated since I wrote Awareness Is All back in May, about my take on feminism. Women, it seems, have a problem with me being feminist and would prefer it if I piped down a bit and got on with being a woman quietly, like everyone else. (Good job the suffragettes didn’t do that, eh?) I’m challenging the world they’ve bought into, perhaps even compromised themselves for, and they don’t like it. 

I have received my Women’s Equality Party Founding Member card this week with pride. It is the first time I have felt strongly about anything political and I’m determined to be part of the movement to redress the ridiculous levels of economic, political and social inequality that exist. And they do exist, whether everyone acknowledges them or not. And as the party line states, ‘equality is better for everyone’, not just women.

The upshot of this micro-barrage is simply that I am even more determined to have an opinion and express it publicly. Every time I get ‘shushed’ I want to shout even louder. I’m starting to think that the very best thing a woman can be called is ‘opinionated’ and ‘attention-seeking’.

If blogging isn’t an attention-seeking act, then what is? Everything about this is in the choice. I can seek your attention with my views but you don’t have to give it to me. If my followers happen to agree with my opinion then great, if they don’t, fine. Either tell me in a comment or not. It’s up to you. It’s just my not-so-humble opinion.

As I write, there is a Twitter conversation going on about whether or not book bloggers should be ‘critical’ of the books they review. I am aghast that this is even a question. If we can’t give an honest opinion about something in a reasoned, intelligent way, then what on earth are we doing this for? Just to be nice?

I’d rather be a Proper Little Madam any day of the week.

Advertisements

Awareness is All

Recently I’ve been giving a lot of thought to my take on feminism. It informs most of my blog posts, and indeed I started this blog (in part) to retain a public ‘voice’ when I was being silenced in a very male environment. I generally don’t use words like ‘feminism’, ‘patriarchy’ and ‘women’s rights’ in my posts because I know they can attract unwanted attention and put some people off what I’m trying to say, but all of those things inform my writing, and I think about them every day.

But today I’m saying it out loud. My name is Lisa and I am a feminist. I haven’t always been, but it’s become an important part of my life in the past few years, with the rise of the female voice, particularly in social media.

Last week I went to the launch of Polly Vernon’s Hot Feminist book in Waterstones Piccadilly. She is a journalist I really enjoy keeping up with, both in her Grazia magazine column and her Twitter feed. She is a strong voice in contemporary British culture and I’m interested in what she had to say. I’d heard her on the radio the day before and been surprised when I found myself disagreeing with her stance on feminism – and it took me a while to process it. She is in favour of a ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’ take on women’s rights, stating that she’s quite happy to let a bit of manspreading, all-male panel shows and wolf-whistling go by, in order to concentrate on the ‘big’ issues of rape, the pay gap, female genital mutilation (FGM) and abortion rights. She states that she loves fashion, beauty and staying skinny, but maintains that these are things entirely for her own love of them, and nothing to do with doing them for men. At the same time she says she loves being sexy and fanciable. Hmm.

This is where she and I part company on the subject. To me, all of the small stuff that objectifies and demeans women gives rise to the big stuff like rape culture, and there is no doubt that an urge to be sexy and fanciable to men comes from socialisation among women to do so from a young age. Fashion, beauty and body-consciousness come from the same source but Vernon is unable to see the connection between these elements. She has rebadged them as her own desires, seemingly completely unaware of where they came from.

This is when I realised what sort of feminist I am – one that advocates awareness. I am all in favour of women doing exactly what they want – whether it’s being a housewife, making a living in sex work, living for fashion or a being a glamour model – as long as they know WHY they have the urge do those things. We’ve been socialised to want to please men, be sexy and beautiful for them and be their homemakers while they go out to work. If you decide to turn that into a way of life or a way of making a living, then that is your right, but just know why you’re doing it and be happy. Like Vernon, I want to be sexy and fanciable too, and I love the odd ‘hello beautiful’ comment, but I know why I want those things. I try not to need them, as a way of managing my expectations, but the urge is there and I know where it comes from. I’m not going to pretend that I want to look sexy purely for myself.

Similarly, men have been socialised to objectify girls and women, to see them as something they are entitled to comment on, touch and have sex with. Relatively few men are aware of that fact, which is why there is a such a backlash from them when we refuse to accept their comments or have sex with them or when we say we want Page 3 removed from our papers and more women on panel shows. We’re rejecting a thing that is so ingrained in our culture that many people, men and women, refuse to believe it’s actually there. They think we’re making a fuss. In fact, the main reaction I’ve had from (mainly male) friends when they’ve asked about my feminism is a questioning whether what I’m saying is actually true. I believe that the scale of it is so massive that they’d rather deny it’s even there or that they might be party to that male sense of entitlement to women.

I usually point them in the direction of Laura Bates’ excellent 2014 article: “10 common comments on feminist blogposts”. The very first comment, that ‘this is not an issue specific to any gender’, cites the statistical evidence (from 2012) that floors any argument to the contrary. Women are not yet equal to men in any sexual, political, or economic arena and yet Twitter is filled with people arguing with feminists to prove that what they’re talking about is real with yet more facts and statistics. We certainly have them, but why should we keep having to prove it? To me it feels like the science vs creationism argument – the science behind feminism is so obvious to me that saying that it doesn’t exist feels like I’m arguing with someone who maintains the world was built in seven days by a man with a beard in the sky. I might as well give up. But I’m not going to stop believing in it.

I can understand why men feel under attack from feminists because we are directly attacking the male bias in our society – otherwise known as ‘patriarchy’. It’s not their actual individual fault that it’s there, but many men feel as though we are saying it is. We’re not. They’re a victim of it too – does no one think that there is a correlation between the high rate of suicide among young men and the pressure on them from a young age conform to traditions of masculinity? I’m fascinated by the subject, and Shakespeare was too. His tragedies are littered with men who fail to conform to the norm and are angst-ridden and suicidal because of it.

If you’ve grown up in a culture of male privilege and entitlement, where you are the privileged one, then you’re not really going to have a clear counter-view you, are you? Just accept that, and be aware that this social system has an effect on you, as well as all the women around you. If you’re a young woman who thinks there’s no need for feminism because ‘we’re already equal’, just know that we’re not. Yet. If you’re a young man who says he has a ‘problem with feminists’, stop and think about what you are saying. You are saying that you don’t approve of equality for women. Most men I’ve met who’ve said that clearly don’t believe in inequality.

Awareness, awareness, awareness. That’s all I’m saying.

This is my feminism.