Feminism caught me when I was studying art history in high school. Artists Judy Chicago, Barbara Kruger and the Guerilla Girls all clearly stood for something and that something was new to me.
At university I joined the Feminist Collective. We sewed environmentally-friendly menstruation pads and talked about issues every week. I liked the group but became unpopular by challenging a feminist truth – or may I say – a truth of this particular group. I said some men weren’t bad. I was still fascinated with feminism and still had much to learn but I became distant from this particular group.
For a while I worked for an Anglican organisation and even went to church. I could appreciate the idea of a man as head of the family and women as the heart. For someone who likes things lined up and orderly, this seemed logical. Yet in practice my innards raged with some of the things I heard the church say, particularly that women weren’t fit to be leaders or ministers. So again, I made myself distant from this group.
Down the line, I started a relationship. I moved away from my favourite city, Sydney, to live with a man in the middle of bloody nowhere, regional Queensland. We enjoyed seven years of mostly being equals and I even received his support while exploring my creativity and business side. The feminist in me felt good about this as I had been able to support him in other ways.
Alas we ended.
Afterwards the feminist in me kicked myself for following him to regional Queensland. How silly I was for letting a man drag me so far from home. But ultimately I became thankful for my choice in joining him. It has resulted in joyful fruits in my creative and business ventures here.
A few years of dating and single life set in. I joined another feminist group. We read feminist literature and discussed it, receiving insight, sharing stories and experiences. I loved it. Particularly because it seemed there was a term for the feminism which spoke to me: structural feminism.
I don’t want to focus on men personally, but address the system or structure that gives men the capacities to exert dominance, and creates unfairness and power imbalance between the genders. This was different to the university group in not targeting individual men but artfully pointing to the bigger picture of patriarchal society, and how that could be changed to then influence things at a micro level.
While dating, being a feminist put a black mark against my check sheet. I could see some men physically recoil if I mentioned I was a feminist. In order to reset the conversation, I’d chime, “but it doesn’t mean I hate men.”
Explaining my version of feminism, which was – and still is – evolving, had interesting results. Some eyes glazed. Some softened. Some just wanted to pay the bill and leave. Some men are surprised when I offer, but paying for my meal is important to me.
For those who softened, they heard I don’t hate any man simply for being so. Feelings that creates such divide don’t help anyone. These people learned I’m not a fan of a world that provides better opportunities for men. They heard I believe, hope for and sometimes campaign for things that give women greater opportunities, to change the architecture – or structure – of our society that creates the divide.
“So you don’t think all men are bastards?” Mr D said over a red wine.
“No I don’t, unless they actually behave that way,” I replied.
Just when I felt my single-life luck may have been turning with Mr D (who could just about tolerate my hairy armpits), things took an extra interesting turn. We began to talk about moving in. And I began to imagine the social and financial benefits.
Then I got a text. He suggested a pre-nuptial agreement, believing he had more to lose than me.
My blood boiled and I exploded. We took turns articulating and exploding until we finally agreed the pre-nup was unnecessary. I wanted to start the relationship on equal footing and create good foundations. We would both be taking risks. We also needed to understand the risk the other was taking.
Prenups are materially focussed not accounting for the immense contributions of women. In fact, the demands of our non-financial contributions create our economic disadvantage.In this particular case; I’d be leaving my social and business networks to move to another regional town, with fewer opportunities.I’d need to start a new business , and am likely to experience further social and economic disadvantage if I become a mother.
Entering a long term relationship has all kinds of risks: including financial, social, emotional and physical. It was an achievement to feel heard and to hear each others’ side. I learned what he feared and he understood what I had to lose too. We came to an understanding and moved forward with hope.
I feel I’ve been a naughty feminist. I’ve dated men, enjoyed the sense of security partnership can bring, and I’ve thrown my life into the air on a chance things will fall on the right side of the coin with a man. Even after previous failure.
My feminism isn’t about men being wrong. It’s about sharing knowledge and perspectives with others – especially men I am close to– about what feminism is trying to achieve.
For an equal world to exist, more than ever we need to understand one another. We need to listen. Find a middle ground and both be okay with dismantling the structure with happy hearts together. Knowing that better things can come when equality is found.
On International Women’s Day I will be extra grateful for all my relationships with feminists and challengers of feminism – artists, religious figures, dates and partners – as these connections and encounters are important in coming to an understanding what my kind of feminism is out to achieve.