Throughout my adult life, since I have been old enough to understand that the difference between men and women goes beyond whether you have a foo foo or a dinky, when asked (surprisingly regularly) if I am a feminist, I have always said ‘no’ and truly believed that I am not. Feminists burn bras. Feminists hate men. Feminists are angry about stuff that happened ages ago, way before their time, when Ann Summers didn’t even exist. Or so I thought, somewhat ignorantly.
Recommended to me by a friend for its sense of humour, what I have found in this valuable piece of literature is so much more than humour. Moran recaptures the journey she took as an awkward, chubby teen girl through to becoming a brilliantly extrovert, strong-minded and outwardly self-assured woman. Moran didn’t grow up simply experiencing and moving on like many of us do, she analysed, questioned and challenged. And thank God someone does.
A few points made in the book have have called for me to question my own stance on many of the points Moran makes regarding the subtle feminism a obvious sexist absurdities that still exist in today’s society.
The first simply being that as a woman there is a fine but very crucial line between using your sexuality as a tool in what are ultimately negative endeavours and simply celebrating it. While this may be an obvious point, it is a balance many women struggle to strike, particularly in their younger years and sometimes well into middle-age. I have walked this line in the recent years during which I have shed my desire to wear short skirts and alluring (supposedly) clothing and instead found a style that suits the whole of who I am.
While many women make this transition when they enter into a relationship and no longer need to do the human peacock, I personally found this change came a little way before that for me, when I gained a level of confidence and sense of self worth that meant I didn’t need a man to find me attractive in order to feel good about myself, and finally understood I was attractive just for being who I am. Beyond that, I reached a stage of realising that not only did my outward appearance not define how attractive I was or wasn’t, but that in being comfortable in my own skin and NOT parading around in mini-skirts I was actually inadvertently more appealing a person* More still, and perhaps most importantly, I had learnt that it just didn’t bloody matter, my sole purpose in life was and is not to be attractive to the opposite sex, or the same sex for that matter.
I felt this change happen at the age of about 24 – since which time my wardrobe has changed drastically. While I recognised a shift in how I chose to dress myself and was somewhat relieved to discover that with real bonafide confidence comes style, what I did not realise was that this change was actually feminism in action.
How so? What reading Moran helped me to see was that basically I have stopped dressing to feel sexually attractive and started dressing to feel good, i.e. I stopped dressing for men and started dressing for me. As a girl finding her way at university, I hadn’t once stopped to think about why I felt more confident going out with bare legs on show, I just knew that I did and so I did it. Now, I dress to feel comfortable on the inside too – my personality needs to feel happy with how I look. Before, it was cowering in a corner screaming ‘Noooo Hannah No! Not the hot-pink satin-look micro-mini AGAIN! How will I EVER be free if you keep wrapping me up in this god awful costume?!’ Now though, my personality doesn’t need to shout because it is already showing on the outside.
This isn’t to say I don’t feel sexy in clothes now or make an effort to look good for myself – of course I do! The difference now is, feeling sexy is a by-product of the clothes I choose, rather than the main agenda. While the choosing of clothes and outward confidence may be pretty small trade compared to some of the bigger issues around this subject, they are representative of so much more.
Beyond this epiphany, the over-riding point I took from Moran’s tales is that if you are proud of being a woman and believe in woman’s rights and respect your status as a woman, then like it or not you are in fact a feminist. It seems absurd to me now that it took something so specific as a book by a funny lady to make me realise this, when my whole life the signs have been there.
For starters I watched my mother single-handedly manage a household of three demanding little girls whilst she simultaneously struggled with a debilitating illness and came under criticism from friends and enemies alike. I watched her struggle for her independence in so many capacities yet never once fail to stay true to herself. I watched her continue on in the most difficult and challenging circumstances I have ever known anyone face all at once. She, a woman, did all that and continues to do that and got three lovely (if I do say so myself) daughters out of it to boot.
I grew up listening to the likes of Beyoncé, who defends every aspect of being a woman and beyond that celebrates it in the correct way. Icons like some of the more credible women on today’s pop scene actually celebrate holding yourself in high regard, embracing and loving your curves, requiring that a man work to prove himself to you in the same way you do them. Growing up, I loved the strength about these fiercly independent female icons, yet failed to act like them. The women I respect the most are the women who take pride in every aspect of simply being a woman, and moreover do not ever let a man assume his superiority over her.
More recently, as a student and beyond, I inadvertently befriended chauvinistic git after chauvinistic git and had no idea of their level of arrogance – or of what I mistook as arrogance but in hindsight realise was in fact a subconsicous assumption that they just are better than womankind. These men (note I say ‘these’ as in this does not apply to all mankind) cannot help it. It is not their fault. They are born into a world that from their first breath tells them that woman are inferior – as little boys they watched their grandad give their mother away (like a hand-me-down possession) to their father at a wedding, they see that same mother work sweat blood and tears to keep them alive all day long while their daddy come homes to dinner on the table, they see men dominate in nearly every capacity – sport, politics, work.
These little boys grow up to be men who do not think they are better than woman in the way that arrogant men do, they just assume it subconsciously, which is far, far more dangerous. These men assume if we look their way we will want to marry them and have their babies and that before that happens we will jump up and down begging for their attention. A male friend once said to me ‘If a girl tells me I am arrogant, I assume she fancies me’ – and I didn’t say a damn word.
Sometimes you read a book that will change your life, probably a handful of times in your lifetime. This book hasn’t literally changed my life, in that I am not about to move to Brazil and start going by the name of Chico, but it has matured some of my beliefs and certainly my understanding around the feminist battle in a way that will be infinitely valuable to me. I do not burn bras – bras are expensive and pretty, to burn them would be foolish. I don’t hate ‘men’, I even love one of them. However, I do ‘believe in women’s rights and defend who we are, down to the core’ (Gaga, 2010) and I am angry with things that have come before, as they have shaped an unhealthy gender balance that still exists today – and I am disappointed at myself for having previously reinforced it.
I don’t actually think it is just this book that enlightened me, however, I think it has been a process of so many factors in an underlying journey to a destination I was always going to reach. A combination of making new friends with girls who are an incredibly good influence, meeting men who have shown me what a respectful man really looks like and just the natural processes of being a girl growing up – many of which I could identify with in Moran’s tales.
While I am not ready to stand on a chair and shout I AM A FEMINIST (because really there is never any point of enforcing your beliefs upon others unless they ask) I am ready to realise that I can use my voice and confidence in my value to make a change for my future little girl – simply by never revisiting the satin pink mini skirts.
*NB: It doesn’t matter how many times your mother tries to teach you this, you have to learn it for yourself.