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There is an expression in feminist circles that once you put on the ‘violet tinted glasses’ (or had your ‘feminist awakening’) there is no going back. You will not be able to enjoy popular culture, politics, sex, motherhood, relationships or just about any other human, social or cyber interaction without dissecting the gender inequalities or other oppressive intersections such as homophobia, transphobia or racism.
I have become the annoying feminist that won’t let you enjoy an episode of The Big Bang Theory without criticizing how it reinforces gender roles and the myth of the ‘nice guy’. The one who will give you a textual analysis of the subtle or overt misogyny of every advertisement on prime time TV. The one people stop inviting to dinner parties because no one wants to hear her talk about period positivity, or reproductive rights, or the patriarchy in general.
So yes, feminism has ruined my life. Nothing will ever be the same again.
No safe spaces
Whether it is film, literature or pop music, no genre or artistic medium makes for safe entertainment once you have found feminism. The casual sexism and racism of most of what Hollywood has to offer is bad enough on your average day but horror, action, crime or romantic comedies are real no-go areas. Try watching Knocked Up without wondering why she didn’t just get an abortion. Or Meet the Parents without asking why every second Hollywood comedy ends in a white wedding. Or Wonder Woman, without wondering why her sidekicks were all men, the only other woman on the side of the ‘good guys’ being the secretary. Or why there are no speaking roles for the women of colour.
The questions are endless, the frustrations are infinite. You will spend the length of each movie tut-tutting, sighing, squirming or engaging in the occasional angry outburst. You’d be better off just not going to the cinema and cancelling your subscription to Netflix, especially now Buffy the Vampire Slayer (your favourite patriarchy smashing heroine) is no longer available.
All is not lost, however. In the obscure corners of bookshops, the rabbit holes of YouTube and wee hours of night-time radio, there is a host of diverse treasures to be found. Alternative writers, musicians, artists and filmmakers that offer other possibilities. Moving beyond the borders of Hollywood you can find gems like A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, The Secret Life of Words or Obvious Child.
As for books, I haven’t read fiction by a male writer in five years and I am happy to continue reading women’s stories in women’s words, hearing the voices of women of colour, queer women, trans women or women with different abilities. Stories that don’t tend to make it into novels by men. Stories that actually reflect things that I have lived through. Stories that don’t ignore, marginalise or brutalise women. When it comes to music I’ll take Bowie or Prince‘s gender bending, Nina Simone’s righteous poetry, Patti Smith’s beautiful poetry, PJ Harvey’s musings on war and destruction or Amanda Palmer’s two fingers to the Daily Mail, over yet another whiny, white male lamenting lost love, betrayal and generalised heartbreak.
Friends, family, partners – you can lose them all thanks to feminism. Once you start demonstrating to your brothers or fathers that you will not be picking up after them or cooking them any more dinners while they watch ‘the match’, or calling out that creepy Uncle on his inappropriate butt slaps or arguing about reproductive rights with your grandmother, it is highly likely that you will be henceforth uninvited from Sunday lunch.
With male friends, once you stop deferring to their male ego, refuse to laugh at their offensive jokes, challenge them on their mansplaining, or explain for the 50th time why #notallmen just serves to derail women’s issues, they might feel too ‘triggered’ by your repeated insistence that the patriarchy is the root of all evil and simply cut you out of their life, rather than deal with your constant attacks to their masculinity.
As for your gal pals, there are no safe bets here either. After a couple of rants about how monogamy is a social construct, heteronormativity is oppressive and the institution of marriage the ultimate trick the patriarchy has designed to trap women in unequal and economically disadvantaged power relations, the invites to hen nights in Galway and weddings in Wicklow will probably start to dry up.
When it comes to boyfriends, forget it. Romance is a trap and marriage is the nail in the coffin. In heterosexual relationships you can expect to live a life of torturous contradictions, orgasm inequality, endless arguments about who washes the dishes and/or self-imposed celibacy.
The dangers of becoming the scary cat lady are real, because who else can you surround yourself with apart from cats, 47% of whom are feminists? As for the other 53%, well they are not exactly going to argue with you are they? They’ll happily listen to your rants against the patriarchy as long as you keep the tins of tuna coming.
On the plus side you could find yourself surrounded by a community of brave strong women who challenge social injustice and gender inequality in their daily lives. You may have the pleasure of building relationships with people of all genders, who don’t get scared if you mention feminism and who are actually willing to listen to you. They may even respect your opinion and your right to voice it.
You might find that feminism can help you disentangle the imposed and damaging need that is bred into us as young girls to compete with other women, to put them down or to judge them for not making the same choices as you. You might find much more satisfaction in actually supporting other women’s achievements, lifting other women up and yourself with them, cultivating solidarity and sorority, working to end violence against women and fighting for reproductive rights.
You might also find yourself being open to building loving relationships with people of any gender, of breaking the monogamous and heteronormative, patriarchal mould.
As a feminist you might realise that only a crazy person would want to become a mother. When you look at it logically there is no good reason to put yourself through that. First of all, there is the issue that in Ireland once you become pregnant, your body ceases to be your own, you are a mere vessel for the safe delivery of a ball of cells or maturing fetus. They, incidentally, will have the same rights as you under our constitution and in a push may actually have the benefit of a state appointed lawyer to defend those rights.
If you do make it to labour, don’t expect to have any say over how you give birth, as I mentioned the fetus comes first, meaning that informed consent goes out the window. The doctor will decide that what is best for baby is best for you, no matter what the consequences may be for your physical or mental health.
This is only the beginning, maternity benefits in all but a few countries are appalling and for many women simply non existent. Paternity leave is a joke so don’t expect to have much help around the home after the first couple of weeks. Every decision you make about rearing your child from the nappies you choose to how you feed them will be questioned. You will be shamed if you bottle feed and shamed if you breastfeed, especially in public or for longer than is deemed decent.
And what’s going to happen to your career? They say women can have it all but it’s a lie. Of course fathers don’t usually have to make this choice but for mothers who work outside the home there is the so called ‘mommy tax‘, a generalised lack of understanding and flexibility in the workplace. Even breastfeeding rooms are being used for anything but breastfeeding. Childcare is increasingly unaffordable and benefits are being constantly cut. It’s an 18 to 30 year thankless slog depending on how immature and dependent your offspring turn out to be.
When you look at it all on paper it seems that becoming a parent does seem complete irrational right? That’s the thing though – the desire to have children often comes from somewhere beyond rationality and logic and feminism at least has the option of going in with our eyes wide open. More importantly, feminism has given us the possibility of choice, whether we want to be a mothers or whether we choose to devote that energy to ourselves, our careers or creative pursuits.
It is no longer a given that women equals mother. Feminism has given us the means to plan, from contraceptive options, to abortion, to how and with whom to give birth. Feminism has helped us understand that a family is not necessarily man a woman and their children, there can be two mothers, two fathers, or rainbow families. Feminism has helped us understand that not every pregnant person identifies as a woman. Finally, feminism has meant for me that if I do eventually decide to have children I can do it on my terms.
A friend of mine once said that discovering feminism was like discovering the world was not actually flat: a whole universe of new discoveries mixed, perhaps, with a little fear of the unknown.
There are times when I would like to swap my violet glasses for some rose tinted lenses so I could look at the world, watch a romantic comedy or read a trashy novel without feeling the burn of patriarchy or the rage of injustice. Once you put the violet tinted glasses on, however, there is no going back. I couldn’t write without feminism, work without feminism or breathe without feminism, although sometimes, just for a moment it would be nice to take a break from the quest to smash the patriarchy.