“Strengthen the female mind by enlarging it, and there will be an end to blind obedience”
When MsElouise asked me to write a short piece on “my feminism” within 72 hours, I figured it was a pretty easy assignment. Hey, I’ve owned a copy of The Female Eunuch since my mum gave it to me as a present for my 16th birthday, I own all of Ani Difranco’s albums, and I’ve been wearing Doc Martins for over a decade. Feminist credentials clearly established. How could it be difficult to put it into words, add in a joke or two, and brag about my generalised awesomeness?
Yeah. Not so much.
Turns out it is difficult to articulate precisely what “my feminism” is when I have never before had to do so. There are so few actions I take that I consider to be “feminist” or “non-feminist”, or that really refer to my gender, a feeling that was intensified by rereading previous friday feminausts. I don’t teach young woman self-defense, I‘ve never gotten on a bike for climate change, I don’t have a live-in partner to share out the daily tasks of living with and generally, I have never felt that I live in a patriarchal society that requires convincing people that no, my female brain won’t burst into flames if I’m allowed to do maths. In the absence of a sense of obvious institutional and societal oppression, it seems that I have never actually had to take a deliberately feminist action.
Is it possible then that I in fact am just faking my feminism? Perhaps my life consists of enjoying the success that other woman have fought so long and hard for whilst not having to take a stand or make any effort myself.
Or just maybe there is something distinctly feminist and politically significant about this? I came to the conclusion that my feminism resides in taking full advantage of the gains of previous generations, and being able to pursue my own path through life to the fullest without having to battle through the problems of being a woman with intellectual pretentions. My feminism is an awareness of the debt I owe; and a commitment to working as hard as I can to honour the work of previous generations.
Let me lead you through this.
In the mornings, I get up at a terribly unreasonable hour (8:30 am) to walk my dogs, eat breakfast, and attempt to dress myself. At the age of 27 I am, sadly, still a student, but I am not ‘over the hill’ and meant to be desperately searching for a husband. My breakfast is, um, hearty and I have never felt the need to restrict my calorie intake to provide more food for my family (as many women in poverty stricken areas of the world do), or to appear as a dainty woman (5’11 and 85 kilos; dainty doesn’t come in to it. Kickarse awesomeness, on the other hand….). We will not discuss my fashion choices, because people tend to make fun of my Target track pants and hoodies. (I’m just too gangsta). As I began to write this, I wondered if I could expand any of these things into “my feminism”.
But then I realized that my feminism is more than a funny tidbit about my lack of fashion sense. Because after breakfast my day really starts; the rest of the day is about the hard work and occasional (fine, daily) meltdowns that come with a PhD. I sit at the desk (ok, on the couch, one dog on either side trying to help me type) and I get to spend 8, 9, 10 hours a day trying to understand the world just by the power of my brain (strong tea helps too). I am proud of the work I have done in the past four years, and when I think about the experiences I have had, I am amazed. I traveled to the Harvard University archives in Boston and in the National Archives in DC, I got to read documents that were classified as top secret fifty years ago and revealed the most intimate details of American history. I’ve traveled to China, New Zealand and around Australia on the university’s dime to present my research. I’ve taught undergraduate students and in a year or so, when all the marking is done, I’ll be 28 years old and have a PhD (so that’s DOCTOR RantyPants). Truly my mind has been strengthened and enlarged by this experience; and above all, beyond all recognition I may get from that prefix “Dr”, the PhD has made me acutely aware of what my brain is capable of, and how truly disconnected from my gender that ability is.
So that was an enjoyable paragraph of self-congratulations; so what? Here’s so what: I got to do it. I’ve never had to fight gender-prejudice to get to this point. To be sure, there are many old academics that have some trouble with the idea of women in academia, genuine quote;
“intelligence scares off men, so if you do a PhD you’ll never get a husband”
and even many women in academia are more comfortable with men. We face new battles, new challenges, and biases that are harder to confront because they are no longer institutional, but part of the culture of academia, thus harder to eradicate.
Yet, I have never faced being forced out if I got pregnant; I have never faced a glass ceiling that is utterly unbreakable, and I have never, ever, felt that my gender has hindered my intellectual capacities.
I didn’t have to fight as hard as other women have had to fight to be allowed to explore my capacities and how far they might take me. So I have a duty, and my feminism lies in that duty. I have to prove Wollstonecraft and every feminist who came before me right; give women an equal chance, and just see what they can do. So the first thing I’ll do when I finish this article? I’m going to ask MsElouise to point me in the direction of something I can do to ensure that all Australian women get the same chance that I got.
Because just imagine what we can all do.
Rantypants is a PhD candidate at Monash University who will be handing in her thesis in July 2011. Maybe. Her research focuses on American influences in European history in the mid 20th century. She likes beer, books, dogs, pizza, pasta, chocolate, red wine, and hopes one day to get a job where she gets to wear grown-up clothes.