It’s often hard for people to pinpoint exactly when they became or rather, realised, they were a feminist. Reading some of our friday feminaust pieces reflects that. Usually becoming a feminist is more like a journey of discovery, evolving out of certain events or experiences.
Personally, for me there are two clear events that define my ‘feminist journey of discovery’ (don’t worry, this piece won’t start talking about ‘yonis’, though I sense your trepidation). The second event was one of confirmation and horizon-expansion: my first Sheila Jeffrey’s lecture on feminism at the University of Melbourne. “Ahh, yes, Sheila” I hear you murmur. It’s hard to be a student of Melbourne Uni and not have something to say about Sheila. And mostly people say that she gave them their feminist ‘lightbulb’ moment – even if they don’t agree with everything she says.
However, this post is actually about my first memory of being unfairly limited by my gender. It was a definitive experience, and it started with SuperTed. Like most Australian children growing up in front of the TV in the late 1980s, I fondly remember shows like Captain Planet, Inspector Gadget and Superted. After Captain Planet, SuperTed was definitely my favourite show. It is essentially a cartoon about a teddy bear who is apparently ‘defective’ and gets rescued from the depths of a space factory by a spotty man (called Spotty!). It turns out the ‘defective’ bear is actually a super teddy bear (called SuperTed!). He sports a red cape, runs around the galaxy breaking things with Spotty (although well intentioned) and ends up having to call upon Mother Nature to fix it all. The sexist undertones are clear enough to me now, but at the time I thought SuperTed was awesome.
Now to my formative experience. I was in kindergarten, probably 4 years old, and I had two friends who happened to be boys. I remember saying to them as we ran outside, “Lets play SuperTed! I’m going to be SuperTed!”. One of my boy friends turned to me and said, “You can’t be SuperTed, you’re a girl”. I stood stunned, not knowing what to say but knowing that it wasn’t fair. And to add insult to injury, as he ran off he called over his shoulder “You have to be Mother Nature”.
I can’t be SuperTed, I’m a girl. I have to be Mother Nature. Well we’ve all heard that before haven’t we ladies, in various forms.
Even though I didn’t then know what word/political theory/mode of critical thinking I would later adopt to voice my outrage at sexism, misogyny and misandry, I remember knowing that it was wrong for me to feel disadvantaged because I’m a girl. To be told I can’t do something due to convention and not due to fact (for example, I fully accept I cannot make my own sperm), still enrages me beyond belief. How was my 4 year old friend to know that I couldn’t be a better SuperTed than the SuperTed on TV? Why did he assume that he couldn’t be Mother Nature just because he was a boy?
I knew then and there that I didn’t want to be complicit in how gender can be applied as a constraint. I’m pretty sure the small altercation over SuperTed ruined my friendship with the boy beyond repair, and that eventually I ran off with another friend to spend a few hours speaking our own made-up language. While I sometimes feel like I’m still speaking in a made-up language to some people, I’m confident I’m doing the right thing by defying convention.