How do you self-define?
As a woman, and as a feminist.
What does feminism mean to you?
Feminism means equality for all genders, across race, sexuality, class, and any other defining factor. It’s kinda clichéd but it’s massively misunderstood by a lot of people I feel. It’s not about making women “better than” men or any of that crap. Radicals seem capable of ruining things for everyone.
What does the words “woman” and “man” mean to you?
To me they represent gender identity of the majority of the world. I do feel that they aren’t as distinct or separate as many people may think, at least in the western world. I’ve also recently started educating myself about non-binary genders, which just make “man” and “woman” feel outdated and actually exclusive to non-binary people.
When did you become aware of your gender?
Thinking back, I was quite girly and definitely followed stereotypical gender roles. I did ballet classes until quite recently, had a toy kitchen, always had a lot of pink things, and lilac was my favourite colour until not too many years ago. I do remember being made to wear a skirt, but because my sister and I were brought up the same, I didn’t really think anything of it. I don’t ever recall being aware of it until I started studying sociology and gender theory. Now at least 80% of my wardrobe is blue and black, and my favourite colour is bright green, and I am very aware of my gender, although I think it was a gradual shift.
Do you ever feel unsafe due to your gender?
I do feel vulnerable when walking on my own in the dark, and I would only ever walk short distances without street lights. I never walked home from campus to Newcastle at night last year for example, although I know plenty of people who have. Otherwise I’m generally OK – being 6-foot-tall and looking sulky means that I have a definite advantage over smaller girls.
Do you feel treated different by men and women?
I used to believe the whole “oh there’s less drama with boys, girls are more bitchy” thing, which I think impacted on my earlier friendships, but I’ve realised that’s just so untrue. There’s just as much drama with boys, and it really depends on the person, not the gender. I notice being treated differently by different genders more in the general public than with friends or people my own age to be honest.
What do you think are positive ways that the world views women?
Recently women are being viewed in a more positive light. Strong women, from athletes like Jessica Ennis-Hill who managed to have a child between two Olympics; various actresses who speak up about social issues, to female superheroes who are being looked up to by girls, and I love that. I recently read an article which pointed out that Barbie is a feminist icon when you consider that she was a soldier, doctor and business woman, all whilst maintaining her femininity. I think women are becoming more aware of that too – femininity doesn’t necessarily mean weakness by any means, it can be empowering. We’ve had to work damn hard for it, and I think positive representation of women is important for all young girls to have someone strong to aspire to. Different cultures obviously have different ways of viewing women; some cultures view childbirth and mother-hood as extremely empowering and as a huge achievement, which I just don’t. There’s still definitely a long way to go.
Did you encounter any obstacles on your path to womanhood?
I remember being at a stage where I was very insecure in myself. Since then I’ve learnt a lot about liberation and about my own needs and desires and I’m much more comfortable. I don’t feel the need to fit a specific type of personality or follow a specific type of fashion like I used to, and while I still am slightly conscious of fitting in to a certain degree, I do my own thing and speak my mind regularly, which people seem to find amusing a lot of the time.
What do you think about casual sex?
I’m all for casual sex as long as all those involved are consenting adults and everyone is enjoying themselves. As far as i’m concerned, as long as it isn’t impacting on anyone else, it’s really only the business of those involved.
Are you pro-life or pro-choice, and why?
Definitely pro-choice. As far as i’m concerned, the foetus isn’t a child until it’s born, and the body will always be that of the mother’s, whether there’s another potential life inside of her or not. Her right to autonomy shouldn’t be compromised by what is essentially a bundle of cells. I think there should be a cut off point for when a woman can no longer abort, but even after that, the mother’s life and health still comes first.
What are your feelings about contraception?
I think there’s still a massive stigma around talking about contraception, we all seem really prude when it comes to discussing things like sexual health and we need to get better at that. We’re also really badly educated on what types are out there. I remember having a very stubborn female teacher who made sure we had sex education properly, but some of my other friends had tutors who just couldn’t be bothered to force a load of giggling teenagers to pay attention and they pretty much skipped that lesson, so they are now clueless now or they had to educate themselves. More contraception for guys would be good too – just because they’re not getting pregnant doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be doing something to help their partner.
What are your thoughts on marriage and monogamy?
I don’t think that marriage is essential to prove your love to someone, and smaller things can have much more meaning. I guess the legally binding bit is pretty big, but otherwise, meh. Especially when so many people in the world can’t legally get married, I don’t understand why it should be held up as the ultimate goal for couple. I think I’m secretly deep down a bit of a romantic though, and my parents had the traditional wedding in a church with the flowers and the white dress and lots of family surrounding them, so the idea of it to me is still lovely. But I can’t really see myself walking down a church aisle in a big white dress. That might change over time, we’ll see.
What are your thoughts on motherhood?
Personally, I don’t want to be a biological mother, purely because the thought of being pregnant and giving birth to a child seriously grosses me out. The idea of adoption is much better to me – there are millions of orphaned children in the world who need a home, why contribute more lives and mouths to feed to a world that’s already a bit of a mess?
Were you always aware of what your body could do sexually and mechanically, and do you think your sex education was sufficient?
The way we were taught sex education was in biology classes, and it was definitely not enough. It irritates me that it isn’t standardised as a real part of the curriculum. I’m not by any means saying we should be tested on it, but because we aren’t, neither teachers or students take it seriously. I probably didn’t take it very seriously at that age either, but I wish we’d cared more then, because I certainly have a lot of things that I had to find out for myself. It’s very hetero-normative, LGBT+ sex isn’t discussed at all as far as I can remember, and it’s very scientific in how it’s taught, “this goes here and then you’re pregnant and this is how the child forms” etc. There’s very little, if any room for discussion about relationships or healthy sex, not in terms of safe sex but also in terms of enjoyable and emotionally healthy sex. There’s also surprisingly little taught about anatomy for a biology lesson, or at least I don’t remember being taught about genitals in any other context than “this is how to reproduce”.
Do you feel comfortable communicating your sexual needs to a partner?
Pretty much, yeah. Close friends will back me up when I say I’m very open about a lot of things, probably too much info most of the time, and so I don’t really get that shy or flustered about these things.
Has your sexuality ever been used against you?
YES! I’ve been accused of being a tease when I wouldn’t go home with a guy who’d bought me a drink earlier – your offer shouldn’t have any expectations to give you my time and attention, or even my body. That’s wrong. Among my friends, friend-zoning and slut-shaming is more of a joke. I almost feel that we’ve reached a stage where we’re reclaimed “slut” and “whore” and other slurs – the meaning behind it shouldn’t be viewed as bad, so we won’t let it negatively affect us anymore. We just mock the terms themselves – although this definitely can’t be said for the rest of society. I’ve been fairly open with my sexual orientation and only recently came out to everyone very publicly online. I’m very lucky in that I don’t remember ever having it used against me, yet anyway, although it has been met with a lot of questions and general ignorance. The questions show that people are open about it and interested to learn though, so I guess i’m kind of happy about that.
Is there anyone you would undermine your principles for?
One of my principles is sticking up for myself and my ideas, and making my opinions heard. I’m very open with friends and people my own age in general, especially at uni, I feel like it’s an appropriate place to voice my opinion and engage in discussion. I’m much better at voicing my opinion and having discussions with family members than I used to be. I still struggle with my grandparents, but I recently heard my mum stick up for my principles to my grandad, and that gave me the confidence to say something in the future. I’m pretty bad with talking to strangers about potentially controversial topics as I’m worried about how they’ll react, which I need to change too, but I think I’m getting better.
Do you feel satisfied with how women are depicted in film, TV, advertising etc.?
It’s getting better, but still generally, no. There are still far more important male roles available, although some genres are much better than others. It is nice to see companies such as Disney making more of an effort to be more inclusive and representative of women everywhere, but we definitely aren’t “there” yet.
How do you feel about products marketed to women?
They’re normally more expensive than the “male” equivalent. They mostly seem to rely on insecurities and self-improvement in a physical, rather than emotional or health related way. Although to a certain extent, the same goes for men too a lot of the time. They still rely on the pink glittery aesthetic, like the BIC pens for women? I can hold a normal pen perfectly well, thank you. I don’t need a pen to be pink or a notebook to be glittery so I can study and write.
How do you feel about feminine hygiene products portrayal in the media?
They’re definitely glamourised far more than they should be. They seem to totally ignore the sheer amount of pain and suffering involved – I think the most recent Always advert is the first to finally show blood, although that was from a nose bleed of a female rugby player! There’s still so much stigma and misunderstanding around periods and women’s reproductive health. Having conversations with men about them is always fascinating because they seem to have so many assumptions which end up being totally wrong. I guess that comes back to the lack of and importance of sex education again though.
What are your biggest fears?
Not feeling like I’ve made a difference. Feeling like I’ve abandoned my morals in the process of getting somewhere. Drifting apart from loved ones and never regaining contact; that would suck. I recently got in contact with an old friend who I hadn’t spoken to for a few years and despite the guilt and regret that we hadn’t been in touch for so long, it feels great finding out what she’s done and being proud of all her progress.
What are your greatest accomplishments?
There are the obvious ones, like education-wise, making it to third year of university, getting A levels etc. I think being elected Gender Equality Officer for the SU is pretty huge, especially considering how uninterested I was in student politics when I was younger. Joining a sports team and sticking with it is something I never thought I’d have the motivation to do, so my improved fitness is definitely an accomplishment! I guess I’ve become emotionally stronger in the last few years, and although it isn’t really something that other people might notice, especially at uni, I’m very proud of that too.
What image do you think you project on a day to day basis?
Probably quite grumpy to be honest. I have headphones in most of the time when I’m walking on my own so I’m just in my own little world. I’ve had multiple friends stop me and ask if I’m ok while I’m just going about my daily life like, “Are you alright? You look like you’re on the way to punch someone square in the jaw.” That’s probably my favourite one so far. I just have a resting bitch face. I’m working on that though, trying to project happiness, you know?
What image would you like to project in an ideal world, absolving social expectations?
Probably a happier, more approachable, generally more positive one! I’d probably be dressed in a much more relaxed way… like I hardly dress up now, just jeans and t-shirts or plaid shirts, usually some sort of trainer or comfy boots, but sometimes I just want to spend the day in joggers without being judged. As for projecting an image, other than seeming a bit grumpy sometimes I’m usually pretty happy with my image. Also, #freethenipple.
What are your most positive relationships with other women?
I love my mum. I think we’ve gotten a lot closer in recent years. The same goes for my sister – we used to argue or bicker over tiny things a lot, but now we do things together just for the sake of doing things together. When I’m away at uni, she’d never admit that she misses me, and I’d never tell her either, but we do – she messages me to tell me to listen to a new song that a band has released or tell me to watch a film or to just update me on what’s going on at home. I have a few friends from home who I’m really close with, I’ll get a phone call from one of them occasionally, either just wanting a chat or needing a rant or someone to panic to about some drama. I’ve got my team-mates who I row with at uni who are amazing, and I have the girls who I’ve stayed close with after living with them in first year, so that’s really lovely too.
What do you deeply love about yourself?
I love how I’ve changed and developed as a person over the last few years. I’ve become much more confident and will stick up for myself a lot more than I used to. I think that comes down to new found confidence and passion. If I feel strongly about something, I’m going to stick at it and I’ll tell anyone who’ll listen.
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