We were told the fight was over, and we were told that we had won. I was born into my ridiculously comfortable life and told this was a new world, that all were equal, that I could do anything. At school I learned that the Suffragettes won it for us, that some women in the 60’s burned their bra’s to finish the job and that Madonna put the cherry on top. We were told it was a new world, barely even told there was an old world.
I grew up, or began growing up, and began to feel things I would never have defined as gender issues, never even defined as issues worthy of anyone else’s worry except my own. I watched boys in their bodies and watched myself in mine. The way I began to hate every inch of the skin that I was in, the way that I began to compare, to contrast, to judge and to hurt myself in a way that just didn’t occur to them.
My parents told all four of us we could be anything, grow up to be anyone, do it all, have it all. I was the only one asking myself if I wanted it all or if I wanted a family. I was the only one who questioned whether my ambition was attractive. I was the only one embarrassed for being bossy. My three younger brothers watched my dad go to work every morning and come home every night. I watched my mother feel guilty for every meeting, every day spent away from home, every meal she didn’t cook.
We all went shopping on the weekend and bought posters to pin to our walls. They loved their heroes for their strength, for their wit, for their comedy. I loved my heroes for their hair, for their breasts, for their legs. We set
out trying to emulate what we saw. I tried to fit myself into a box. I tried to define myself by what I saw around me. I called myself ‘the stupid one’ because I didn’t ace every test. I called myself ‘the funny one’ because I wasn’t quite as pretty as the rest.
These seeds that had been planted were watered with full force sprinkler systems. They were fertilised by everything around me, every TV show, every rap song, every magazine. It wasn’t political, because at fourteen nothing is political, it was purely emotional. I began to hate myself, detest my body, fear my ambition, my will power. I began to be oppressed by systems I wasn’t even aware were formed to put me down. Told by doctors that was I was lying. Told by teachers that I was weak. Told by the world that I didn’t quite fit it’s model of what a human girl should be.
And then, very slowly, like a rumour of a surprise math test spreading round a school cafeteria that no one quite wants to believe, I started to hear stories. Stories far worse than mine. Stories about women of colour. Stories about women living in poverty. Stories about women being hurt, about women being killed. Stories about women who’s lives were determined before they were even born, who’s fates were decided by what lay between their legs, by the colour of their skin.
And I began to put the pieces into place. That maybe this feeling, the one I had turned inward, used to hurt myself, to punish myself, to slowly start to kill myself, maybe this feeling wasn’t one that I created, maybe it wasn’t my fault. Maybe this was the last battle of this war I’d heard of in a classroom a long time ago, a battle now silent, now hidden, a war that had convinced it’s soldiers it was long gone and tricked them into turning against each other and against themselves.
And then, like the child at the beginning of every superhero movie, looking up at the sky in desperation only to see superman’s red cape glint against a skyscraper, I heard of a group of people who called themselves feminists.
A group of people who had realised, as I was starting to, that no one is victorious until equality wins. That as long as there are women who are hurting, who are in pain, who are suffering because of the box they check when they fill out a form, that we must keep on fighting.
We were told the battle was over. But we grew up feeling the war with every breathe we took. We are fighting now because we know there is something to fight for. For many of us what we’re fighting for may seem small – a slightly higher pay check, being allowed to play football instead of play dress up, not feeling ashamed of the size of our thighs – but it’s part of something bigger, it’s part of something far more serious than any of us had ever imagined.
If I make the choice that I once felt so conflicted about having to make and decide to have a daughter one day, I want to tell her, like I was told, that the fight is over, that the war is won. But I want her to believe me. And I want it to be true.
All beautiful images via the incredible AMBIVALENTLY YOURS.