Helena Seager – “Feminism has always been about empowering women and enabling them to see their own worth and their own strength”

How do you self-define?

I’m a woman, I’m white-British, and I come from Devon originally. I’m heterosexual, and I would say that I’m a feminist as well. I think that if you’re a woman it’s a default, you should believe in the feminist ideals of equality, and women being as important as men.

What does feminism mean to you? 

To me, feminism has always been about empowering women and enabling them to see their own worth and their own strength. It’s about giving them the space to say, we’re not going to be dictated to by men on what we can or can’t do. From those ideals came the strive for social equality and legal equality. I think, in the past thirty or forty years or so, social and legal equality have come a long way, and it has been extremely beneficial for women all over the world, not just in the west. Nevertheless I think it’s still important that people call themselves feminists. However, I have a lot of issues with modern feminism, and that’s not really so much to do with its ideals but how it’s politicised in some areas. I find some debates quite uncomfortable to listen to, and I don’t think it’s always very helpful. It can be a bit counterproductive. So I think today, there is a difficulty in being able to say ‘Yes, I am a feminist’ and not having people suggest that you take that line of thought because we don’t all do that. I think that’s quite sad really, because while I do call myself a feminist, I don’t want people to believe I’m associated with certain strands of feminism that I find quite extreme.

What do the words ‘woman’ and ‘man’ mean to you?

To be honest, what came into my head straight away is the two different biological sexes, which are very different from one another. It’s hard really because sex becomes quite conflated with gender. It’s difficult to know how to define either of them, because obviously I advocate support for transgender people, and I think it’s very important that the rest of society does, but I think if somebody says to me, “What is a woman, and what is a man?’ I initially think of a biological woman and man.

When did you become aware of your gender?

I think I always knew I was a girl when I was younger, but there wasn’t so much pressure to be masculine or feminine when I was a kid, or at least I certainly didn’t feel it. So, I was probably a tomboy for quite a long time, and it didn’t really matter to me. I would say as soon as I hit my teenage years I was more certain of who I was, and it didn’t necessarily mean that I became overtly feminine. I realised that I didn’t have to be overtly feminine to be comfortable with being female. It’s always just been that way I think.

Do you ever feel unsafe due to your gender?

Yes, sadly. Probably not as much as I’m told I should feel unsafe by other people though. I think that there have been times in my life when I’ve subconsciously not wanted to be on my own in a certain situation and I wish I had my dad or my brother, or a man there, and I suppose I would feel a bit more protected than if I was walking through the streets at night, in the dark and on my own. I guess I feel unsafe with just general quite benign things like comments, and harassment. Harassment can be benign and serious, but when it happens quite a lot it does make you feel uncomfortable. I wouldn’t say it always makes you feel unsafe but I think, especially at University, there is very toxic lad culture. I also think that with regard to women’s safety,  the university isn’t doing enough, especially when sexual violence is concerned. I find it quite lacking actually. But I would say I still feel safe at Keele because I’ve got lots of friends, but I would definitely feel safer if I was a man.

Do you feel treated differently by men and women? 

Yes, I would say so, but not all the time. Fortunately with most of my friends, we all just treat each other the same, and it doesn’t matter if you’re a man or woman. However, if you’re not particularly familiar with somebody, I do find that some men can be quite condescending, especially in a university environment. They can often think that they’re more intelligent than you, and it’s quite patronising. Perhaps, my experience with women is that they can be very supportive, and wanting to stand in solidarity with other women. But at the same time, you can also get women who will just shame other women, and abuse other women because they themselves want to feel better and feel like the more powerful person, which I find really sad.

What do you think are positive ways that the world views women?

It’s quite difficult to think about it on an international level, because it’s so different from country to country. But I think since women have become more prominent socially and politically etc. People are starting to recognise that women can make just as valuable contributions. I feel the positive ways are being recognised more. They’re being recognised for their ability which is really good. I don’t think there’s a homogeneous world view, because certain places value women more or less, and in different ways.

Did you encounter any obstacles on your path to womanhood?

I thought it was quite difficult being a teenager. Living in the society we do, and perhaps being sexualised at too young of an age, and being expected to do certain things and be a certain way before you’ve even managed to mature and find out who you are, or feel comfortable in yourself. I think there are these expectations of young girls and it’s just not right. Especially when it’s such a norm as well. So if young girls were to go against that, it would be quite a risk to their personality. They would single themselves out and put themselves out there as targets of abuse just because they’re not conforming. When you do conform, you can still be a target for abuse so it’s kind of a lose-lose situation, and it’s not until you come out of your teenage years that feel strong enough and able enough to ignore all of that and to move forward.

What do you think about casual sex?

I don’t really see the harm in it, especially if you’re not hurting anybody in the process. I think it’s good for both parties to be responsible in using protection. I don’t have an issue with how many sexual partners a person wants to have, that’s absolutely fine. But if it comes down to catching something and giving it to other people, I think that’s quite immoral. So nothing is really wrong with casual sex, but I think it should be protected.

Are you pro-life or pro-choice, and why?

100% pro-choice. For me, I would say, a child isn’t really a human being until the point of birth. Until that time, it’s something which is being nurtured inside a host. The mother is what is giving the foetus life and helping it to grow, helping it to develop, so to then prioritise the life of a foetus over the life of a living, breathing woman, says to me that women don’t have any worth. That their only worth is to produce children, and if they can’t healthily produce a child, say if there’s complications or whatever, and they choose to save the foetus over the mother, I don’t understand how people can think that’s okay. However, I think in the UK, we’ve got quite a good balance between not making abortion a casual method of birth control, because obviously I think it’s a lot more serious than that. You do have to take into account that this person does have what will be a human life inside them, and I think having a restriction on how many weeks into a pregnancy is probably quite fair, but I wouldn’t have a restriction in cases of rape and incest and abuse. Definitely not at all. I think even if the woman carries nearly to full term, then decides to have an abortion, she should be given that abortion, most definitely. I am very firmly pro-choice, I don’t understand pro-life and their beliefs at all. I’m not a Christian, but the way I interpret the Bible, is that the way life begins isn’t at conception. It begins at birth, and I think that’s fair enough.

What are your feelings about contraception?

I think contraception is a great thing. It’s helped to sexually liberate women, so women are allowed to have casual sex. They’re allowed to have a sex life with their partner without worrying about getting pregnant every time, which is, I think a very important thing. It should always be remembered when people start criticising contraception. I think if a woman wants to go on contraception, be it hormonal or otherwise, then that should be her choice, and nobody else should be allowed to dictate to her whether she can or can’t decide to do that. It should be her freedom of choice. I think with types of contraception, obviously with hormonal contraception, it doesn’t suit everybody, and sometimes it can take a while to find the right pill, or implant, or patch, or whatever. I don’t really know much about IUDs or coils or anything like that, I don’t know anybody that’s ever had one. As for condoms, I think if a man is having sex with a woman, he shouldn’t just expect her to be on the pill. He should also safeguard from getting her pregnant by using a condom. I think the benefits far outweigh any negative connotations, especially with regards to the pill too. I think that it was and is very liberating for women to have something which is under their control and not dictated by men or anyone essentially. I can’t take hormonal contraception, so I’ve kind of got grainy memories of what it was like, it was a few years ago now, so I do understand that there are side effects and it’s not right for everybody Women should not be pushed to go on it, however they should be made aware that they have that choice, and that it’s within their power to make that choice.

Photo Credit: Aysha Panter

What are your thoughts on marriage and monogamy?

I don’t really have a massive problem with the idea of marriage, as long as the idea can apply to any kind of couple. If you’re going to have marriage, have equal opportunity. I mean, yes, there’s this whole thing about it being quite a patriarchal institution. It involves a man giving his daughter away, and that sort of connotes that this woman is her father’s property, and that she’ll then become her husband’s property. That’s all quite uncomfortable, however, in this day and age, it’s not meant that way anymore. I have no problem with friends or family getting married. It can be quite a wonderful and happy thing. As for monogamy, it’s a difficult one. I can’t really get my head around relationships that involve more than two people. It’s very alien to me and I don’t really understand it, but I don’t think it’s wrong. People can do what they want to do, it’s just difficult to understand because I don’t have that outlook. However, the only issue with monogamy is that it doesn’t really take account the fact that human beings are quite sexual creatures and the rates of infidelity and affairs are extremely high. That does sort of suggest that people need to have sexual encounters with other people when they’re in relationships, and that doesn’t mean to say that they don’t want to be in that relationship anymore. These are desires that we all have, and restricting that is something that should possibly be challenged. However, monogamy for me is the kind of natural way for doing things I think.

What are your thoughts on parenthood?

I think it’s very important for parents to support their children and give them an environment of openness, love and respect. I do think that our parents are our greatest teachers, especially when it comes to emotional issues and interpersonal relationships. As for motherhood, I see it as something that is perhaps too defined by the fact that after a woman gives birth, she is no longer a woman as much as a mother. She’ll be seen as a mother for the rest of her life, so it’s kind of reducing her to this role, whereas she could be many things other than a mother. She could have a career and so on, so in reality it’s not so black and white. But yeah, I just see mothers as people who support their children, and perhaps mothers generally are a bit more emotionally intelligent with their children. That isn’t to say that men aren’t, but I think the idea of the family unit has socialised us that way. Parents don’t have to be a mother and a father, so if same sex couples want to have children then that’s absolutely fine. I don’t see why people have such an issue with it. I think it’s a generational thing, and people will come to accept it as time goes by, and there will stop being such defined gender roles when it comes to parenthood.

Do you think your sex education was sufficient?

No, that’s the simple answer. I don’t think it was for anyone of my age when we were at school. I’m 24, so I’m slightly older than my peer group at university, but our generation hasn’t really been given the right knowledge or the right psycho-sexual education. We didn’t get a social education around sex. It’s not sufficient to just give us a biological diagram that tells us “this does this and that does that”. I also think that sex education should be introduced at a younger age. Obviously not anything intense or graphic, but I think we should be getting children used to the idea about where they’ve come from and how children are made. I do honestly think that if you’re given a better sex education before the ages of 13 and 14, there would be a lot less sexual harassment. If we’re taught about it from a young age, then people would know about consent and they would know about the psychological effects of harassment. I think there would be a lot less teenage girls and boys forcing themselves to do it, or emotionally manipulating someone do it with them. I think young girls do get emotionally manipulated a lot, and it’s not that the male in that scenario is a bad person at all, it’s just that he might be ignorant to sexual education and so chooses to act upon his basic impulses and urges. This is a natural thing, but there needs to consent to do that.

Photo Credit: Aysha Panter

Do you feel comfortable communicating your sexual needs to a partner?

I think if I’ve been with someone a while then I find that conversation quite easy, but I’m not the sort of person who is very open about their sexuality, needs and desires. I think I just find it a bit awkward. I can be comfortable but it takes time for me to get used to someone.

Has your sexuality ever been used against you? 

My sexual orientation has never been used against me, which is obviously pretty standard for straight people. But I do go though periods where I’m just not interested in sex at all, and if I have a partner, I do feel obligated to them, to give them what they want, which is kind of sad to say. I do think that sex as an action can often be used against women, and I think we can end up doing things we don’t want to do because we feel sort of socially pressured into doing these things.

Is there anyone you would undermine your principles for?

No, but I think if someone doesn’t want to hear about it then I wouldn’t talk about it. If i was having a debate with somebody, then I wouldn’t compromise my opinions at all.

In which situations do you feel safe to speak your mind or stand up for yourself?

I would say in all situations where I’m having a debate with someone.

Do you feel satisfied with the way women are depicted in film, TV and advertising? 

No, definitely not. I still feel there’s a way to go with the portrayal of women in the media, and in Hollywood etc. I mean it’s quite complex, because I find that many depictions of women are stereotyped in what women do, but then the other hand, we have films like the new Ghostbusters which had an all female cast.  I have nothing against it, but it almost felt like a bit overkill to me. Like they feel like they need to take a film that was about a group of men, and make it about a group of women, instead of doing something original with the cast and the representations.So yeah, there’s a problem with the way women are presented but I think the way it’s being countered by the media is the most productive way forward.

How do you feel about products marketed to women? 

Sometimes I have a laugh at them, especially things like toiletries. With razors they’re always pink or purple, and if you see them advertised on the telly, the woman doesn’t even have hair on her legs in the first place.  I mean, why are they shaving smooth legs? Then even adverts like Always which are promoting the sale of tampons, but are using blue water instead of blood. I mean I don’t really understand that. When I was little I genuinely used to think periods were blue, because that’s what the telly told me. It’s just not realistic. I mean you don’t want to be really graphic, because children do get scared at the sight of blood no matter where it’s come from, but even using a red liquid instead of a blue liquid would be a step in the right direction. I think it’s quite patronising as it is, and it almost smooths over the struggles of what it means to be a woman.

What are your biggest fears? 

I have a fear of the status-quo being perpetuated again and again. I have a fear that nothing will really change. Politically, I don’t really agree with people like Jeremy Corbyn at all, however I am still a progressive. I just feel like there’s only one small progressive group at the moment and they determine what progression will be. I think politics is the driver for social change, so I fear that there aren’t any tools to move forward at the moment.

What are your greatest accomplishments? 

I would say that I’m probably too young to have any significant accomplishments that are life-defining, but I think with respects to my personal self, it would be overcoming serious illness several times after having lots of operations and treatments for tumors. I have perseverance to stay at Keele, the place that I love, and complete my final year. To me that is a very big personal accomplishment, but I think typical accomplishments might come in time once I’ve graduated. My degree will be an accomplishment, and if I do a masters so would that, and having a career.

What image do you think you project on a day to day basis? 

Probably moody, and maybe a bit intimating because of my tattoos, my shaven head and piercings. I think those things are stereotypically related to criminality, which is totally not what I am. I think people have to get to know me to realise that I’m not any of that, rather than just taking me on that first impression.

What image would you like to project in an ideal world, absolving social expectations? 

Perhaps being a bit more confident and being myself in social situations. Because of the pressures there are in society, I often do feel very withdrawn and very reserved and shy. I know that I’m not really like that, and it would be nice to get rid of these pressures and feel confident in being myself.

What are your most positive relationships? 

With my mum, we have a very close relationship. She’s very important in my life. I see her as a role model and an inspiration. Within my peer group, I have a couple of people who have had similar experiences to myself in regards their self, so I find it easy to have a solidarity with them. With student support, I find them very amenable. I have someone that I see very regularly, and she’s fantastic. She’s very understanding, and she listens. I find it easier to talk to her, also probably because she’s a woman. I find it easier to talk to a woman in professional positions than a man, especially with regards to health and mental health.

What do you deeply love about yourself? 

I think there’s one thing, and that would be my persistence and survival instinct. Without them, and obviously the support of people, I probably wouldn’t be here.

Photo Credit: Aysha Panter

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