I was lent The Guilty Feminist by a girlfriend, who I notice from the sweet inscription on the first page, had it bought for her by another girlfriend. When I first started reading, I wasn’t sure about the tone – it felt a little bit you-go-girl-but-of-course-we-still love-cake – and I didn’t like the sound of guilty feminism, but it won me over quite quickly with a very interesting potted history of feminism through the ages and continued to cover a wide range of topics relevant to modern feminism. It reminded me a bit of when you start an interview squeaky and nervous but eventually settle down when you start talking about what you know.
In fact, that’s what won me over a little to the concept of guilty feminism, the idea that you don’t have to be sure you’ve definitely got this before you start, that you don’t have to have all the answers before speaking up – after all, men don’t hold themselves to that same standard, statistically speaking.
Frances-White talks at length about the different confidence struggles between men and women – how women behave in traditionally male spaces and why, and how we can change the way we relate to patriarchal environments to improve the lot of ourselves and other women. She covers internalised misogyny and talks at length about intersectionality, with interesting interviews with women of colour, transwomen, disabled women etc., throughout the book. Indeed, to list all she covers would be unwieldy, but the book is a really good starter-feminist jumping-off point and if you’re interested in feminism or women at all it’s a very worthwhile read.
One thing I noticed that the book makes a very conscious effort with is inclusive language – a desire to avoid alienating transwomen, disabled women or any other marginalised group is evident everywhere, and sometimes this does interrupt the flow and start tying the author up in knots as she tries to acknowledge every possible offence. To some older readers, I can imagine this being alienating in itself. To some, it seems the world is changing too rapidly to keep up, to others it feels like change is coming at a glacial pace and being fought tooth and nail at every turn. I’m a similar age to the author and often find myself doing the same thing – editing, re-editing, relearning. At one point, I started to wonder if maybe we were going a bit overboard with it all.
Then, when I was off on maternity leave I rewatched Friends from start to finish. This is a show I grew up on, that seemed modern and normal and, I guess, feminist, although it was an unfashionable term at the time. Ross is a gaslighting weirdo, and Joey and Chandler are creepy sex pests. Imagine you’ve been friends with a guy for years and he’s still trying to sneak a look at your boobs or saying sleazy things to you. There are things in that show and many others of the time that we no longer think are remotely OK – and that is because people made a nuisance of themselves and complained about small things like which words we use until the subconscious acceptance of certain concepts started to weaken.
Now when I sing my baby son ‘The Wheels on the Bus’, I alternate the pronouns so it’s not just the mummies on the bus that go chatter, chatter, chatter, but the daddies as well. And nobody does any shushing. There’s an interesting interview in this book with Becca Bunce where she talks about the social model of disability which says that “people are disabled by the way society is organised, rather than the person’s impairment, health condition or difference”. In many ways, that’s very true. When I started trying to live as a vegan, my eating out options were limited less by the foods I could eat than the foods that were on offer in a society that bases the vast majority of its meals on meat and animal products. Suddenly, it was a shock to be on the outside looking in.
When I first started trying to navigate London Underground with a baby in a pram, I started thinking ‘How the fuck do people in wheelchairs get around this bloody city?’ My privilege had been invisible to me until that point – which is why intersectionality is so important in the feminist struggle. No one is free until we all are free, and while he’s not the worst of the worst, time is still up for Chandler Bing.