“If not me, who? If not now, when?”

It’s only in recent years I have been identifying myself as a feminist. Not because of a lacking belief beforehand but simply because I was unaware of how oppressive some ideals in society still are; how certain limiting expectations of gender have become so normalised only a small proportion feel the urge to question their effect.

When I went back to education at 23, I really began to open my eyes. Perhaps I was ‘maturing’, perhaps it was that I felt stronger for getting through some tough times, perhaps it was that I was nurturing a healthier view of myself and an appreciation of what I have. Whatever it was, I began to crave that sense of inner strength and empowerment.

 

What really got the ball rolling for me was watching a clip from the 2011 documentary Miss Representation in a contextual studies class. It aims to disseminate issues of gender inequality, particularly towards the media’s portrayal of women but also how this affects men and boys. This is something film maker Jackson Katz highlights:

“We are socialising boys to believe that being a man means being powerful and in control.  Being smarter than or better than women. That our needs get met first in relationships with women. That’s not genetically pre-destined. That’s learned behaviour.” (2011)

 

It made me realise just how important feminism is for both sexes. The choice to be free to be yourself without the restraints of gender roles and expectations which are enforced for power and profit.

I read up on the subject, focusing first on attitudes to appearance and beauty, because this is where I have felt personally effected most in the past. It even became the focus of my dissertation.

I felt very privileged to be able to spend so much time writing about something I felt so passionately about and it only fuelled the fire as I delved deeper into this arena of struggle and triumph.

It changed me. Those books and articles cannot be unread, the videos and documentaries cannot be unseen. And it’s when you start speaking up and tuning in to all the daily occurrences that would come with the hashtag #sexism that you start to feel the boundaries, suddenly they become acutely visible. Certain off-hand remarks would have gone over my head years ago but now they knot me inside because I know comments like “You know what women are like” or “Man-up and don’t be such a wuss” only serve to reinforce gender imbalances that are systemic throughout all cultures and lead to much bigger issues like mental health problems and violence. I notice it everywhere from overhearing conversations on public transport to my favourite TV shows.

But with this new-found cause in my heart I’m often met with the same responses:

“Don’t you think you’re blowing it out of proportion? It’s just one little comment. Chill out.”

“Just calm down. It all sounds a bit aggressive for a woman.”

“You’re overreacting. It’s just banter.” …when stating how much I HATE rape ‘jokes’.

 

Suddenly you’ve become the killjoy. “Don’t tell that to Jenn, she won’t approve.” If I had a pound for every time I’ve heard that whispered…

Well you know what, that’s fine. Because I believe that women have to right to decide what they do with their bodies, that men should be allowed to cry without the fear of judgement, that sexual assault and violence against either gender is wrong and not great comedic material. I believe in equal pay, that pitting women against each other for economic profit is wrong, that cat-calling is abusive and not something to ‘be grateful for’. I believe that women should not be asked “what were you wearing?” when reporting an attack, that men should not be forced into hyper-masculinity to prove themselves worthy of their sex, that women have the right to be comfortable with their bodies at any size. I believe that men can be incredible allies in the fight against gender inequality and that feminists are not ‘man haters’. And a whole host of other things. And if that has made me a killjoy then so be it.

It’s true that once you become more conscious of these things, these systems, these social structures, they have less power over you. And for a while I considered just going about my life ignoring the foolish things that try to undermine our choices. I could do it, stop reading the articles and just live my life not noticing these things (even though they would still inadvertently affect me). But I am blessed to be in a position to make that choice…a choice that not all people have because of inequality. And THAT is why it matters. Those people who say we “don’t need” feminism anymore or that it “doesn’t effect men”, you are wrong.

Feminism, gender equality, they are such multi-faceted terms. I’ve seen many debates online about the importance of one particular topic over another; that aiming to change perceptions of beauty is ‘shallow’ and that media literacy classes for children are ‘unnecessary’. What I have learnt is that all aspects are intrinsically linked and all have important roles to play in creating a more balanced world. It is a vast topic and subsequently could never be covered adequately in a post like this. But just to start participating in conversations and changing attitudes should not be played down as each positive step is advantageous.

 

When U.N. Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson spoke this week about launching the HeforShe campaign, I can’t deny I had a lump in my throat. From all I have learnt in researching and participating in my own small way to this cause, I know how incredibly important this work is. How there is so much need for change still. We can each find our own way to respond to feminism in a positive way. Despite what the media is attempting to churn out, there is no wrong way to be a feminist because at its heart it is simply a belief. A belief that gender is not a limitation and that we all matter. Equally.

I urge you to watch this. I thought she was incredible.

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Think ‘Unlimited’

I have been lucky enough in between work this week to travel up to London for the career advice and inspiration sessions hosted by GoThinkBig.

I applied way back at the beginning of the summer and booked my accommodation and travel straight away because I was determined I would be going; luckily that paid off!

Entering into the final year of my degree *sobs* seemed like a fitting time to hear from people experiencing success in their chosen fields. You were able to select two of the four talks to attend and I was pleased to find I had gained a place on the fashion and media (sport and music were also available). It was clear when I arrived that I was in a very small minority of those above 25 but my old anxieties are now replaced by a quiet contentment that I already posses a certain level of ‘life experience’. And when I sat myself down next to a lovely young girl named Amy, 17,still at school and figuring out what to do with her life, it got me thinking about my own path.

I can barely believe it has been nearly 10 years since I left school. I spent a long time feeling like I hadn’t achieved enough and wasted too many years but I can now look back and see how all the experiences both positive and negative have shaped the very determined and ambitious person I am today. Now that all sounds a bit self-congratulatory but I’m not ashamed to say I’ve worked very had to get myself where I am now both physically and mentally. Soon to graduate and to start finding a career, to the outside it seems like I’m only at the start. It’s true I have spent a lot of time fumbling back and forth through the beginning chapters of my story before realising the absence of any clear plot; but like any good novel it has to be edited and re-drafted before it’s ready to reveal a synopsis.

The key is to know when to stop re-drafting and move on

..which takes me to the present.

Now in the grand scheme of things, being 17 wasn’t really that long ago for me, although it seems like decades ago. Perhaps this is because during that time in between you do the vast majority of developing who you are.

What they don’t tell you at school is that often you will be a completely different person heading towards your thirties than you were as a teenager. The decisions, loves, hates, aspirations may all completely change too. And that’s ok. It’s also ok I might add to know what you want to do from and young age and stick to it. More power to you!

Because of financial, social and just general stability factors, most schools tend to push a single focused career agenda instead of the ‘have a go at a bit of everything until you find your niche’ route. In theory I guess this makes sense but sometimes you’ll be better off for following the latter.

Make no mistake, I do not mean for people to drop out of school and be a bum until they have a light bulb moment; those only come from already engaging in something and stimulating your brain. Education is such a wonderful privilege and should be taken full advantage of. What I mean to say is, be driven by your passion and not what career you or others think you should have.

Because if you have passion, you will make it work.

This was the underlying notion put forward by all the GoThinkBig speakers yesterday. A special mention to Sabina Emrit, founder and editor of Access-Fashion who was kind enough to stay after and answer even more questions from me and impart some invaluable advice.

It was reassuring to hear everyone on the panel’s individual paths; how their career journeys were never linear, involved a lot of hard work but essentially bought them to a successful outcome. These are not people who then just sit back and rest on their laurels, you could sense the relentless desire to harness creative energy and ideas. What I really took away from the session is that qualifications do indeed help your chances at employment but enthusiasm and happiness are the qualities that are always remembered.

I also picked up the importance of not to ‘pigeon hole’ yourself with what you do. That’s one of the main reasons I chose a photography degree; I’m so used to the uncomfortable and worried expressions I’m met with when I say may not actually become just a straight photographer after I graduate. Why? Why, they ask me did I do it at all then. The answer is simple: because I love it. But I’ve never treated getting a degree as a subject specific, blinkered experience. I chose a degree I knew I could stick at for 4 years and not tire of it and one that would give me transferable skills so I would be able to branch out further into the creative industry.

When I think back to all the changes I’ve gone through in terms of who and what I want to be, I’m grateful for them. You can look back at things and see them as a ‘waste of time’ or you can realise the value of them, the key is to find what lesson you learnt from each of them and how it informed you to be able to move forward to what you do want.

At one point in time I have wanted to be one or more of these things…and I was very serious about them:

Mermaid

Fashion Designer

Vet

Storm Chaser

Swimmer

Opera Singer

Guitarist in a band

Wedding Planner

Creative Director of a magazine

Interior Designer

A character from Animals of Farthing Wood

Visual merchandiser

Gerard Way from My Chemical Romance’s wife (yes that IS an aspiration!)

Actress

Photographer

Curator

Author

Only a few will always remain unchanged and those are the ones you need to follow. Some are just physically impossible.

But inevitably change is what leads us to success.

Humans have been adapting since our beginnings, it is how we progress and grow individually and as a whole. So, if you get to 20, 30, 40 and beyond and feel the pull of a need for change, well there’s certainly no shame in that. It could be just what you need.

And if you’re doing something extraordinary, it may even be just what the world needs.