Merriam Webster declared feminism their word of 2017. On a hot pink background but still. It got me thinking about how feminism has shown up for me again and again over the last 12 months.
Last January, I stood in a London street near the American embassy, breath visible in the cold air.
My mind span back a few months to Trump’s election. How hard it was to believe. The temptation to turn it into a joke by joking about it. And the other feeling, humming beneath my confusion and anger-loneliness. Being a woman that morning felt lonely. It felt like a referendum on whether women mattered at all and the most powerful nation in the world had voted no.
But at the Women’s March, my loneliness began to dissolve. For a few hours we barely moved at all and I felt a familiar surge of impatience before I remembered that just being there was the whole task. To be a body among the thousands of bodies filling the space, eventually shuffling past the embassy with our pussy hats and banners and heart shaped balloons.
In March I found some words. On the central line, on the way to an International Women’s Day slam, suddenly a poem came and I rushed to write it. The story of the first time a man wrote ‘mine’ on my skin with his hand. I realised how risky it usually feels to step onto a stage and talk about the simple reality of moving through the world in a non-male body. I realised because that night I felt safe and safe felt weird and new, electric.
In July a friend added me to a Whattsapp group called Bi Femme Army and invited me to Pride. She brought a few women together (and one man in a luminous halo-group name amended to Bi Femme Army and Allies) to eat ice cream and claim a little space in the world together that I’ve struggled to feel entitled to on my own. That day my feminsim looked like day-drinking with ribbons in my hair.
In August, I moved to the US to write. And I thanked feminism for my whole glorious, selfish life. My independence. For getting to be the artist, rather than the muse or the wife. The man beside me struck up a what-takes-you-to-the-states chat, and I immediately regretted telling him I was a writer. ˜The trouble with female writers’ he said, ‘is that they put too much trauma in their work’. I wondered what it would feel like to move through the world sure that, as an oldish man you definitely knew more than a youngish woman on any given subject. I asked what he did. Flooring. I did not offer my opinions on tile vs laminate.
Then October and #MeToo. I wasn’t surprised by the allegations or the outpouring. I was surprised by how much I needed it. Even though I had stood onstage at that International Women’s Day slam and said ‘I don’t know a woman who hasn’t been touched, told how show could be touched, or made to feel not touchable enough’ some little part of me had stored away a contradictory idea-that my experiences from low level sleaze to assault, have had something to do with me being a certain ‘type of girl’. #MeToo is problematic, but it’s a salve for that particular loneliness.
Recently, when a man I was set to work with in 2018 was accused of sexual misconduct, I thought back to the Women’s March, how four million of us all over the world took to the streets. One tiny piece of power we have in the face of vast inequality is where we put our bodies. Something clicked and I knew that, with an investigation ongoing, there was no way I would be walking into a room to with him. I thought of how lonely I would feel if I accused a man of sexual misconduct and I saw the world continuing around him as normal. It would be like a vote had been cast on whether I mattered and the result had come back: no.
I’m thinking, as we enter 2018, about how to make my feminism more active.
Feminism guides me everyday through the fundamental work of living in my skin and bones and the little layer of fat between those two things. It has urged me to speak without apology in spaces where men seem to do that so easily. And where other feminists have created spaces, I have hungrily rushed into them. This year I hope to turn my feminism outward. To carve out a few spaces as well as stepping in. To alleviate a little loneliness beyond my own.