Saturday, 12 October 2013

Feminist movement

OK, so, as has become my habit, I'm using this blog to clear thoughts out of my head.

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: These thoughts are not always fully processed and are produced without malice or specific accusations to other people. Where behaviour is referenced it is, unless specifically declared otherwise, mine.

In my mid teens I became aware of the feminist movement. I don't recall the particular circumstances, but I do recall being deeply offended by it.

The message I received was that to be a worthwhile person I - by virtue of being female - had to better men at everything. I could never ask for help from a man, particularly if the help involved lifting heavy things or construction of some sort, had to solve all my own problems and was not allowed to want to be a stay at home mum because "that was what society had trained me to want" and I had to break free of that mould. The teenaged boys around me, it was pointed out, had planned careers. One wanted to be the manager of Alton Towers or work for Disneyland, others wanted to be lawyers, doctors or similar. I wanted to stay at home, raise a family and make things. I wanted to paint, knit, weave, draw, sculpt and build. That, I was told, wasn't what I really wanted. It was what I thought I should want because of social strictures.

Can I just check something here? Are you seriously telling me that you believe no teenaged female could possibly have figured out what she wanted from her life, while you were simultaneously using the teenaged boys' plans for their own future as examples of what I should aim for?

This very much coloured my opinion of feminists: people who were so convinced women had to be competitors in fields that were not previously open to them that they utterly disregarded the value of an individual's thoughts, wishes or dreams *because* she was female.

I've recently decided I may be borderline autistic - because a lot of the social things that happen around me, I'm completely oblivious to [IMPORTANT EDIT: Just discovered this may not be a symptom of autism. May be a perceived symptom, due to misinterpretation of other symptoms. Not sure, it's a bit confusing. Either way - disregard my belief that this statement is in any way accurate (01/11/2013)]. This held true when I was a child, so I honestly can't tell you whether I have ever had problems as a result of being female. I can say with absolute certainty that the first time I questioned my value as an individual was when a self declared feminist convinced me that being the female I was and wanted to be wasn't good enough.

As I've matured I've learned one thing with certainty. Teenaged me *did* know what I wanted. I now have another career and it's one that I love, but it took a lot of time, effort and chance to get me here. And at the back of my mind, I'm aware that if money was no issue I would probably spend the rest of my life living my teenaged ambition.

Anyway, back to the subject at hand. My feelings towards and around the feminist movement have evolved over time. There will always be misunderstandings: for instance, when I say I like chivalry1, the typical feminist response is that chivalry is an outmoded concept and women can do things for themselves now. I think: No. Chivalry is not an outmoded concept. The idea that only men can be chivalrous is what needs to be addressed.

Similarly, I see a lot of adverts or drives for women to enter Maths, Science or Engineering career paths. I don't see many trying to coax men into Early Years Care, Floristry or Teaching. It still feels like there is this idea that, again, men naturally know what they want at an early age without experience whereas women need to be shown how much they would like something if they just give it a go.

Doesn't this bother anyone else? Am I reacting solely from my own experience? I feel similarly uncomfortable when people start ranting about the proportional representation of any "minority" - well, yes, there probably are fewer black architects than there are white and some of that will be due to social history and politics. But some of it will be simply because there are many people out there who don't *want* to be architects and at least some of them will be black. You can run a drive in 1% of schools and spend a lot of time segragating people by some arbitrary characteristic and making sure that certain groups get to experience certain things.

Or you could treat everyone equally and let them choose who they are and what they want. Because, unbelieveably, it's not just the white middle class men who can do that. Everyone can. You just need to be prepared to offer support and encouragement where required.

And where there are people who genuinely cannot make up their mind: they will tell you!. And *then* why not offer them the chance to explore their options in more depth?

Alicia

1 I accept it's quite naughty, but nowadays I do drop it casually into most conversations where someone announces they are a feminist, just to see what they say.