I had never really understood Feminism. Back in the noughties when I took my History A-level, feminism was a thing of the past. As far as I was concerned we had completed it once women’s right to vote had been achieved in 1928. Now, after a few years of experience in the big bad world, I can see there is a lot more still to be done.
I attended an all girls school and we were sold the dream. We could have any job we wanted, marry who we wanted, if we even wanted to marry at all, and children; they were also optional. Most of our teachers were women; they were our role models. If they could have a fancy countryside house a few miles from the beach, a nice car and a family, then so could we. It didn’t really occur to me to look closer to home because the two worlds were so different. Perhaps my own mother hadn’t achieved everything she wanted to due to the limits of society, but she also left school at fifteen and had her children very young. Anyway, I knew my life would be different from my mother’s. I believed I could have it all, or at least most of it.
Alongside the uplifting education we received, there were strange elements of sexism at play at the school. When I first joined, the pupils were amidst a battle with the Parent Teacher’s Association and the Governors over the uniform update including the option of wearing trousers. I had just spent the last 6 years of my school life with my legs covered and I was devastated that a presumably pro-women all-girls school would then deny their pupils the option of covering their legs. (The reason I wanted to cover my legs was of course because society demanded smooth shapely calves, with a light tan, which I knew even at eleven years old I would never be able to achieve or maintain, but that’s another story.)
I distinctly remember a friend was suspended for shaving her head for charity, obviously it was too short and too unladylike. She stayed in hiding until it was deemed presentable enough because, of course, hats weren’t allowed either. We were often pulled up on our choices concerning our hair design against the tight rules and regulations, right down to the detail of which scrunchie we were wearing. I wondered if the boys in the neighbouring school were equally harassed for how they looked.
I always found it entertaining that we had to learn how to put a condom on a banana, whilst the boys must have slept through their lesson on menstruation and pregnancy, if they had one at all, if my experience having to explain it to them was anything to go by. I remember the fear of pregnancy was drummed into us so hard, most girls were on the pill before they left school. Not because we were all whores servicing the boys in the school field at lunch, but because education was too important to us for it to be destroyed by a silly mistake. It was clear even then, that it would be the girls who suffered the consequences in that situation.
I got a paper round as soon as I could but I knew friends that “weren’t allowed” whilst their brothers were. Their fathers were limiting their independence from a young age based on the perceived vulnerability of girls from the potential actions of men. My own father, whilst I was encouraged to go out and earn money, had issues with my sister and I having boyfriends; a stark contrast to his enthusiasm over my brother’s multiple girlfriends and sexual exploits. He is a year younger than me.
The trouble with change is it happens slowly. Here we were almost eighty years after women’s suffrage had been achieved with presumptions about gender still hanging around. Unfortunately not a lot has changed since then, either. I know, however, that I am one of the lucky ones. I grew up in a part of the world where while women and men might not be on quite an equal footing, it’s a better situation than some. I got an education. I was able to go to school and to university. Crucially, I have been able to make my own choices; they were not defined by my gender and not decided by my father.
I do, however, think we have some way to go. Feminism is the focus of equality for the female of the species, but there is much more equality needed in this world. Equality for all people regardless of gender, race, sexuality, mental and physical health. I don’t understand why in 2020 we are still trying to close the gender pay gap or why there are so few women in the top jobs. Why does it feel like the country is being run by exclusively white men from Eton? I hope we can increase the visibility of diversity across all groups, including those from poorer backgrounds in all industries. Encouraging young people, like our teachers did back then, that they can be this person, they can do this job. There should be no limitations on ambition.
History is what has defined certain groups to have a so-called easier time today and history is where it should stay. Feminism, however should be in the history books with an asterisk. *the pursuit of equality is still ongoing.