Bee Rowlatt's blog: It's feminism. But fun
My name’s Bee, and I’m a feminist. No, this isn’t the start of a 12-step recovery programme. Neither is it an admission of dark man-hating witchcraft tendencies. Nor is it meant to upset or aggravate, though it sometimes does. So that’s what it isn’t. What, then, is it?
Feminism is “the radical notion that women are people” according to the writer Marie Shear. Beyoncé fans will know Adichie’s definition of a feminist as “a person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.”
I like to think it’s pretty hard to find a quarrel with that.
But for my money, feminism has never been better encapsulated than by my very own hero, Mary Wollstonecraft. She was an eighteenth-century hurricane of a woman, whose badass writings have massively inspired my own. You’ll be hearing more from her in future blogs. But for now, the foremother of feminism told it like this:
“I do not wish [women] to have power over men, but over themselves.”
She wrote that gem back in 1792, and as your multi-purpose slam-dunk definition it has yet to be beaten.
‘Power over ourselves’ looks very different for different women, of course. Just a few of the issues this blog will explore over coming months are: why so many women in public art are royalty or sex workers, why “your mum” is a playground insult, the lunacy of no-platforming, and the secrets of India’s third-gender hijras.
As a writer I’ve always been drawn to women’s lives and stories. And as a rookie in BBC World Service, the first story I ever worked on was Hillary Clinton’s 1995 Women’s Conference in Beijing.
But I wasn’t always “out” as a feminist. Something about the ist part was a turn-off. Hey – I’m an individual! Brought up by a clever and resourceful single mum, as far as I was concerned there was nothing that girls and women couldn’t do. I cheerfully clocked up a few careers; showgirl in Spain, teacher in Colombia, journalist at the BBC.. And then, babies happened.
Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t change this for anything. But for me, that was the departure point. Goodbye, control over my own life. Hello, always thinking about others’ lives. Meanwhile the age-old inequalities began to emerge. And even though I’ve had it way easier than most mums in this world, this was my political light-bulb moment.
I resented the surging housework squeezed around freelance work, and the financial dependence on my husband – it all felt at odds with my idea of myself. Not to mention the parallel surge of fear about my daughters, and how the world might treat them. (Don’t worry - I promise not to go on about my own kids here. I respect that fact that you’ve just fled a torrent of baby-pictures and adorable child-geniuses on Facebook in order to read this blog. It’s ok. You’re safe now).
And there you have it: one freshly minted feminist.
I like to claim common ground with Beyoncé here. And yes I know that makes two mentions of her already, but that’s me showing considerable restraint. Recently her work has focussed on race and the Black Lives Matter movement. But back when she’d just had her daughter, Queen B’s very next musical release was a towering blast of female empowerment. She laid into the beauty industry and she finally dropped the F-word. It was becoming a mother that brought this new sensitivity to her work.
This is most emphatically not to say that mothers have unique political insight. Many feminists don’t have babies, and many mothers aren’t feminists. There’s plenty of political consciousness being raised by other means than the squeezing-out of another human being. What matters is that it gets raised at all, rather than how.
But for me personally, motherhood is how I came to it. So now you know how I got here. I’d love to hear from others about their political journeys – please feel free to get in touch and share yours!
Ukrainian version of this blog.