Today, 8th March, is International Women’s Day. This means I can claim that deviating from my usual blogging schedule of posting new content every Thursday was intentional, because I wanted to share something on the topic of #IWD2019. And while it wasn’t intentional, I do have something to say.
Currently, I’m in love with The Guilty Feminist podcast, because while it isn’t always the perfect inclusive, intersectional feminist podcast they admit that they aren’t. It’s has made me laugh and made me cry, and taught me that unexplained laughter does disrupt the patriarchy. Deborah Frances-White, the podcast’s host, does her best to learn from her diverse audience and apologise when she fucks up.
She also has a theory that I find completely intriguing.
I’m going to paraphrase here, because there are 139 episodes of the podcast and I cannot find the right one so I can quote Deborah herself. Her theory is that to create effective change in the world, twenty percent of the feminists, activists, advocates for change need to never be satisfied, while eighty percent of these change makers need to be able to celebrate the small victories.
Let me try to illustrate this idea with an example. Eddie Redmayne was cast as a trans woman in The Danish Girl. For some people this was cause for celebration, because a film was being made about a trans woman’s story – an important step in moving towards a world in which our media reflects the diversity of the people who consume it (who aren’t, just in case you didn’t know this, all straight, white cis men). Many, though, were disappointed that the part had been given to a cis actor. Couldn’t the role have been played by a trans woman?
The celebration that the story was being told was justifiable – but so was the outrage that a trans woman wasn’t chosen to play the transgender artist whose story was being told.
We do need to celebrate the small victories. The war against sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, etc., etc. is a long one, and there are many battles to be fought. When we win Twitter skirmishes, when we emerge from the feminist fight victorious, we need to celebrate. Every woman who gets into male-dominated spaces or gets promoted in male-dominated industries is a success. It’s a step closer to an equal, inclusive, feminist utopia. But it’s not enough. I am not, to quote Angelica Schuyler from Hamilton, satisfied.
In Scotland, the leaders of all three major political parties are women. Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, is a surprisingly left-wing member of the Scottish National Party, and Scottish Tory party leader, Ruth Davis, is a queer woman. This doesn’t mean that Women 50:50 – a campaign for at least 50% representation of women in our Parliament, in our councils and on public boards that’s spearheaded by Talat Yaqoob – is obsolete. It’s still incredibly important.
Right now we’re celebrating women in positions of power as exceptions, rather than the rule. We totally should be – women who break glass ceilings should be celebrated – but that doesn’t mean we can rest on our laurels. As I said to a friend yesterday, right now we are celebrating female CEOs because they are an exception. We need to be pushing towards a world where they are the norm. And, as she replied, she would prefer that the norm was “no CEOs” because she’s an anti-capitalist, feminist bad-ass and I still have a lot to learn from her.
Deborah’s theory about how both folks who celebrate small victories and those who are never satisfied are needed to create social change gives me permission to do something that I felt guilty about before. It gives permission to be angry. While it’s ok to celebrate the crumbs of inclusivity and diversity that are thrown my way, and while each step in the right direction is important, I’m still allowed to be angry. I do not have to be rational, or calm, or give bigots a chance. I am allowed to be angry.
Today, I’m being aware that I don’t want to be grateful. I want to tell the women in my life that I love them, that they inspire me, and to voice my support for women who will not see themselves in the consumerist-marketed white-feminism that cooperations are trying to sell us today. But I’m not going to be grateful.
I’m not going to be grateful that male coworkers call me sweetie instead of groping me. I’m not going to be grateful that I get catcalled but not raped. I’m not going to be grateful that someone can shout homophobic slurs just because I could now marry a woman. I’m not going to be grateful that my ideas get dismissed in lectures but at least I’m now allowed to attend university. I’m not going to be grateful that sexism isn’t worse, nor grateful that things are getting better.
It’s not that it’s not good that things are improving, but we do not have to be grateful to be given basic human rights.
I’m going to spend International Women’s Day watching Captain Marvel, carrying around a cuddly lion in a cape, and listening to Grace Petrie’s Black Tie while I plot how I’m going to make my feminism as inclusive as possible in the coming year. I’m going to be unapologetic about my period, visit a queer bookshop, and know that Marvel is problematic in many ways but it’s ok to feel empowered by seeing a female superhero on screen.
I’m not going to smile. Especially for the man who told me too when I asked him excuse me please so I could move past him and get on the train. When International Women’s Day celebrates BAME women, disabled women, trans women, and women who are sex workers? When all women have basic human rights? Then I’ll smile.
Until then, we have a lot of work to do.
I am in no way affiliated with The Guilty Feminist podcast, but if Deborah or anyone else in her team sees this and would like to work with me in some way, please get in touch at onquinnrhodes (at) gmail (dot) com.