Today I realised that I have become a feminist.
A rather strange thought, considering that I’ve been reading with a feminist eye for about a year now, and have held a few feminist opinions for quite a while. It is the active wish to change things, to make my own life an example, that has become clear today, and it’s both the end and the start of a process.
How can that sort of realisation be so sudden? Well, I think it’s because I have read two rather impressive books over the last two days – The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, yesterday and Remarkable Creatures, by Tracy Chevalier, today.
The Help, if you haven’t read it already (and you should), tells the story of coloured maids and their white ladies in Jackson, Mississippi, in the 1960s, and two of them who ignore the boundaries and work together for change. To change their world. Because in their world, the women have to change first, because only then the children will learn the change and make it real when they grow up.
Remarkable Creatures is about the lives of Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot. They were the first fossil hunters in Lyme Regis right at the start of the 19th century, and among the very best – and they too changed their world. The strange beasts washed up on the shore and embedded in the cliffs questioned the story of the world – how could there be animals that were obviously extinct, when God created everything to the best? Could humanity ever become extinct? Could it be possible, that the only explanation for these findings was a God that made mistakes?
The maids of Jackson risk everything – the livelihoods of their entire families. Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot hardly received credit and were almost social outcasts for their unladylike fascination with long dead animals.
Admittedly, both accounts are fictionalised, The Help in plot and Remarkable Creatures probably in characterisation. But these stories have their roots in reality. And they are about women who fight against a stubborn society, women who fight to be themselves and try to change the world around them to damn well accept it. Women who ignore conventions of what it means to be ladylike. They did it fifty years ago, they did it a hundred years ago, a hundred and fifty years ago and two hundred years ago. Why then, if women, and only considering Europe and America, have tried for decades and centuries and in ever increasing numbers to reach equality with men, this has not yet been achieved?
Do I really have to call myself an Equalist, as one of my mates suggested? Are there enough wrongs inflicted on men to warrant a fight for both sides? You can’t measure up pain against pain (and maybe that’s too strong a word), but as it is, I’ll remain with Feminist. Because I believe that saying, “well, men too suffer in this society” doesn’t cut it. They might suffer emotionally, but we are looking at material inequality. In other words, the difference is not so much a diffuse, obscure cultural thing, the difference, in short, can be quantified and it’s unit is the Dollar, the Euro.
Being a woman, on average, means lower wages, and I daresay, a higher cost of living. Why? Women are mainly responsible for children. I’m only guessing here but with so many divorced marriages, there are a lot of women who care for their children alone, more than men in similar situations. Women (well, here in Germany at least) have to pay more for insurances. Women are often blocked from high positions because they have or want children.
How about the cultural and emotional side?
Women who don’t have children and a career instead are reason for the lament that the birth rate is so low. Women who have children and still go to work are called callous, cruel, bad mothers because they don’t raise them themselves.
Woman who dress in a feminine way are subjected to the Male Gaze. Women who don’t are ridiculed or ignored.
A (male) comedian talking about his girlfriend and how silly and un-understandable she is, entertains tens of thousands. In fact, his show holds the world record for a live comedy show with an audience of 70 000 in Berlin in 2008. It’s revolting.
But nothing of this is new to you, I suppose.
I study Geology (that is the short version). I could have a scientific career. It’s just an option, but it’s a bit scary. But if I did that, I’d have to work in an environment of men for the rest of my life. Sod that, I’d have to anyway, it’s bound to be Geophysics for me in some way and let me tell you, there’s not a lot of girls studying with me and somehow I doubt that our percentage has shrunk over the years.
That’s not bad, I’m fine with guys, they tend to accept me almost as one of them.
But a geologist nowadays has to be prepared to leave Germany to have a chance close to a 100% to find a job. Even if it doesn’t come to that, I’d love to work sea-based, that is, on a ship. Which means frequent-ish, long-ish times spend aboard and not at home.
At this point this is all speculation, I have only been at Uni for a year. But if I get the job of my dreams, I’ll have to be ruthlessly modern to manage a family life with it, because I don’t see myself as the sort of woman who is content to stay at home once she has children. My mother didn’t and her mother didn’t either (both couldn’t, to be fair, but it means I never knew otherwise). Which leads to the problem that all this sets a lot of conditions for a man, and I’d want one to have a family with.
In my future I see the problems of the modern woman, linked to the problems of the modern family, invariably linked to the modern man. And since the woman has changed, the man has to change with her or the family is doomed. And isn’t the family the core of society?
So that’s why I think we need outright Feminism. Not so much to change the women, because they do it on their own. I don’t think my mother consciously intended to raise me as a feminist and neither did my grandmother, but their lives are necessarily role-models for mine and if I look at it that way, I couldn’t have turned out otherwise.
No, we need Feminism to tell the men about the Modern Woman, who she is, what she wants and what she needs. And that if they don’t recognise her now, they will when their daughters are leaving school, leaving university, and they realise that in our times, we need everyone to be modern. And I believe that this is already happening. Fathers and grandfathers want successful daughters and granddaughters. The sons and grandsons are taught by their mothers that their sisters are worth just as much.
But it’s not yet enough, and it’s something that still needs work. Women have the power, because they teach the children. When women and men do that in equal amount, we’ll know that we’ve arrived.