ETA: This post is not about why I identify as a feminist. It’s about what led me to become involved in feminism as a movement, my claiming of the term feminist. I embraced most of the basic principles long before the events below and indeed the ones I haven’t mentioned.
Back in February, I did the interview meme. Mim asked me how I realised I was a feminist:
On the “About” page of your blog you write “The story of my realisation is an odd one involving children’s television, short fiction, my theatrical background, LGBTQI rights and a dance competition.” I’d love to hear the story, care to tell it? At very least you must tell us which children’s television!
I started an answer to that one and I was at 841 words when I stopped. The story of how I realised I was a feminist will have to wait. However, mysterious being as I am, I’ll give you five things from the story, but won’t tell you how they intersect:
- The children’s TV show was The Fairies. I still can’t believe it started there.
- The short fiction was that of James Tiptree, Jr., who is mentioned on my About page too, as it happens.
- The theatrical bit was research into twentieth century British drama for a drama performance course (not even a fancy name for acting, it’s complicated) I did in 2007.
- I was researching lesbian and gay rights, which went off on a couple of tangents.
- The dance competition was So You Think You Can Dance Australia…um.
I now present you with my answer.
Oh, you’re going to seriously regret asking me that one. Okay, here goes. In 2007, I was flicking channels when I happened on a children’s TV show called The Fairies. It was your stereotypical “girlie” show involving lots of pink and singing and that manner of thing. Anyway, there was a young man playing an elf on the show and I thought, ‘I bet all his friends think he’s gay.’ This prompted me to hop on the computer and knuckle down on some research in order to be a better ally. Anyway, I was doing a bit of surfing with regard to LGBTQI rights. I was following the links and happened upon some feminist stuff. That’s where I’ll leave that thread of the story for now, because there were other factors prompting my feminist realisation.
At the time, I was studying for my theatre qualification, which is technically more of a drama performance thing. Anyway, the syllabus was pretty comprehensive and it turned out that I’d benefit quite a bit from having a solid knowledge of the history of theatre. Which meant studying up on every single major Western playwright for about 150 years previously. And this was only a performance qualification and this knowledge was supplementary. (If you were wondering, this extra studying gave me a huge boost in marks and general knowledge, so definitely worth it.) There’s a play called Look Back in Anger (1956) by John Osborne which is considered the turning point in twentieth century British drama. It reshaped what was considered theatrical subject matter, from parlours to working class life. The play’s set in an attic and is responsible for the term “kitchen sink drama”. Returning to my answer, it revolved around the life of Jimmy Porter, highly educated but working class, resenting his upper class wife, Alison. Jimmy’s an angry young man – actually, the term was coined in a review of the play – frustrated that, post war, there are no good causes left to fight for. Needless to say, he’s a selfish, abusive scumbag who sets his wife to ironing for a fair portion of the play. In spite of his astounding scumbaggery, he became something of a hero to restless white young men. The thing is, I allowed myself to get completely sucked in. Yes, I thought, Jimmy’s anger is what theatre is all about. A while after this, I realised that I’d been taken for a ride, letting the opinions and analysis of angry white men act as a substitute for my own feelings. I got very, very angry, and for myself this time. I looked up the playwright and it turned out he was a lot like Jimmy, notoriously abusive. I felt sick. The anger stuck.
I’d recently developed an appreciation for science fiction, largely due to the reappearance of Doctor Who. (Fun fact: David Tennant has appeared in Look Back in Anger as Jimmy Porter. Talk about ‘do. not. want.’) Surfing around for LGBTQI stuff led to feminist stuff, as I’ve mentioned, and sci fi stuff led to more feminist stuff. I was starting to feel an affiliation with feminism. Until I’d just been sort of ‘oh, that’s good’ and vaguely supportive of feminists, but I was starting to own the identity. The name ‘James Tiptree, Jr.’ kept popping up on science fiction pages and I was a bit indignant that this bloke was apparently doing so well in a women’s territory! I won’t spoil the wonderful subversiveness of Tip just now. I never got the chance to discover the fiction before the life and I almost regret it. Suffice it to say I quickly warmed to this marvellous writer, as is probably evident in my About page. I started reading “The Women Men Don’t See”. It took me weeks to finish the story, which is only about 10 700 words. I had to keep stopping because I was constantly overwhelmed. Tip was deftly throwing all these experiential truths, things about women I had inantely known but had never heard anyone express, never been able to fully articulate even to myself in my own darker thoughts. I was in a library when I finished it. I looked up and saw a laughing group of young women on a set of lounges a few metres away. I thought that they, nobody knew what I knew now. When I looked up, with a dull sense of horror, I realised that I had changed. Not my mind, not my way of thinking. The substance of me was different. If I’d ever thought I could let the feminism thing drop away, not do anything much about it, I wouldn’t be able to now.
Anyway, at the end of last year, I was watching Rove (which is a sort of talk/variety show here in Australia, readers). Rove was interviewing the winner and runner up of So You Think You Can Dance Australia and as a part of it, he showed footage of things they’d done before they were on the show. The runner-up, Rhys Bobridge, was shown in his role as the elf on The Fairies. So that was a nice surprise.
That’s just the immediate sequence of events. I’ve left out the most important parts, the ideologies and life events that have shaped me. I’m sure you’ll understand why I’ve done that and perhaps might have some parallel experiences.
So there you go.