Do I think of myself as a feminist? I’ve been thinking about this quite a lot recently. After the gender pay thing hit the headlines, everyone went into overdrive about gender inequality in a way I hadn’t really noticed since the late 70s and early 80s. At work a new women’s group was formed. I genuinely couldn’t decide whether or not it was something I was interested in becoming part of or not.
So I started thinking about what I did and didn’t believe about gender and came to the conclusion that I wasn’t interested because I’ve had a pretty charmed life and I’ve never really experienced any gender bias. My parents brought me up to believe that I could do anything I wanted to as long as I put my mind to it and they taught me to do lots of things. I can, for example, knit, I can sew – not just in straight lines but I can make clothing – I can cook, I clean the filter of a washing machine, I can strip down and rebuild a car engine, I can do the decorating, wire a plug. Yes, ok, if a light bulb blows, Phill changes it but that has nothing to do with him being male and me being female and everything to do with him being 6ft 2 and me being 5ft 2.
I have never been blocked from doing anything at work. I honestly don’t feel I have ever been passed over for a job because of my gender. Ok at a recent company meeting of my contemporaries from around the country there were only three women in a room of around 20 people. Is that because women were not given the opportunity to take up these jobs? Honestly, I don’t know.
And then I remembered how angry I was in my late teens when I went into a snooker club and wasn’t allowed to get served at the bar because I was a woman and how I once nearly got fired when an editor asked me to tell a junior reporter to wear tights because he didn’t like her legs and I told him exactly what I thought of him and his idea. Or how me and a number of other female reporters had to campaign to be allowed to wear trousers to work (that was circa 1988).
My mother would tell you that one of my earliest phrases as a child was ‘I can do it by my own self’. I really don’t like it when people tell me I unable or incapable of doing things.
The reason for all that preamble is that I went to have a look at the current exhibition at the Nottingham Contemporary yesterday not knowing what it was in advance and came across Still I Rise: Feminism, Gender, Resistance. And I’m glad I did because it finishes on Sunday (January 27).
I love Nottingham Contemporary. I love the variety of exhibitions it stages but I always enjoy the multimedia aspect of most of the exhibitions there. Still I rise included audio, video, photography, the amazing banners above, literature and magazines from campaigners and agitators, art, architecture, the list goes on.
I was fascinated by this photograph.
This was among the photographs of the Suffragettes (oh how angry I would be if I didn’t have the right to vote). This is an image of the Indian members of the Suffrage movement taken in June 1911. Not enough is made about the contribution of Indian women to the UK Suffrage movement and yet, while women in Britain got equal voting rights in 1928, Indian women had to wait until India was granted its independence in 1947 to get full voting rights – that’s 36 years after this photo was taken.
There were also many images of women from the Paris Commune. All the images were taken of women who were either executed or deported.
Statement cushions littering the floor in one of the galleries.
I love these. Some of the protest posters on display. There was also a great book of posters from the Red Women’s Workshop to flick through, along with a lot of literature from LGBTQ+, race and environmental activists including books and underground magazines. I could have sat there reading them for hours.
There were a fair few vaginas on the walls: either depictions of or anatomical explanations of, what to do with one, what not to do with one, what can go into one, what can come out of one. There was little to surprise me in that section.
What did get to me were the photographs of the mothers, sisters, daughters, wives of ‘The Disappeared’ campaigning for information about their lost loved ones in South America. There were just so many of them. The photographs were sad, angry, poignant and determined all at the same time.
I am still unsure whether or not I would class myself as a feminist per se. I believe no one should be discriminated against by reason of their gender, sexuality, race, religion, disability. I want to live in a world that is non-judgmental, fair for all and where everyone has the same opportunities. And would I fight against an injustice that prevented that? Yes I would.
I would protest with those women searching for information about their lost family members, just as I would have marched with the Suffragettes. But if men were denied the vote, I would also protest against that too. I don’t want women to take over the world, but it’s been a man’s world for a long time – actually, it’s been an affluent, educated, straight man’s world for a long time.
I think, on balance, I would describe myself as a humanist, rather than a feminist.