She looks like the enemy. Upon first encounter she resembles everything I fight against, with her oven glove in one hand and Bible in the other. Clara is a Christian housewife in her mid 20s who loves baking and decorating. I know this because I have just visited her blog for the first time. It is the early noughties and I have a narrow view of what a feminist should look and act like.
‘Run’ screams the prejudice monster at the back of my head. ‘Run before she lures you into a life of mindless cupcake serving and floor scrubbing!’ But Clara isn’t interested in domesticating me. She is interested in women’s rights. She’s interested in women getting recognition for their unpaid work in the home. And above all, Clara wants to convey the message that your idea of female empowerment and self-fulfilment is not necessarily the same as hers. She is a feminist, loud and proud, and those who dare reducing her to ‘just’ a housewife, will taste the lead of her country rifle.
Growing up, all of my feminist role models looked the same, acted the same, said the same things. In my eyes, a feminist was a white middleclass woman who talked about body hair, pay gaps and the right to be sexually liberated without being called a slut. While these subjects are important in their own right, they still left a lot to be desired. Clara was one of the women to challenge my view of what feminism had to be. After her there have been several others. When Malala Yousafzai accepted the Nobel peace prize for her activism with female education, the whole world got to witness a true warrior of women’s rights – and she was a far cry from my and, I’m sure, many others’ idea of the archetypal feminist.
My mother was a feminist in Finland in the 70s. Part of her activism was about outing shops that sold men’s magazines with naked, hyper-sexualised pictures of women. I am in London 40 years on and the same fight is still being fought by organisations such as No More Page 3, who oppose objectification of the female body. On the other side of the spectrum is a different group of feminists who demand rights and respect, not rescue, for sex workers, glamour models included. The two movements contradict each other, but both fight for sexual equality. Who is to say whose feminism is right and whose feminism is wrong? While internal criticism is vital, we must again remember that these are two different movements, just like Femen is an entirely different movement from the Muslim women standing up for their right to wear veils without being patronised and ‘saved’ by well-meaning Westerners.
We have recently finished our second series of feminist non-fiction. The aim of the series has been to publish a range of different points of views. Mainly because there is a widespread misunderstanding that feminism is one ideology or one movement. Rest assured, it is not. And it does not have a de facto manifesto, as the Swedish student, Nigerian wife and the Indian schoolgirl may experience patriarchal oppression differently. Feminism is an umbrella term for all ideologies and movements that cater to women’s rights. Where there are women, there is a fight for change. And where there is feminism, there are trolls. Anyone who has ever stated a feminist opinion online has surely had to deal with abuse. The same goes for anyone who has ever read the Mail Online or tried discussing the subject with a drunken older male family member. It just goes to show that we are shaking the shackles of patriarchy. And as feminism continues to become more diverse, it will surely continue to grow.
The struggle continues.