When I was a teenage girl, I read almost every copy of my mother’s collection of Georgette Heyer novels. Set mostly in pre-1800 England, the romantic tales included balls, confused women with love in their hearts, and sometimes ruthless men who softened in the end. It depicted a fantastic world full of chivalry, silk and honour. It was light years away from my very ordinary 1980s life in Australia.
In a most contradictory fashion, my late teens saw me increasingly outspoken about feminist issues. I was and am still a woman who believes passionately in feminism. I believe in equality. Women would not have the rights we do, without feminism.
It has been 30+ years since I started reading Heyer and learning about feminism. In some ways, things have changed a lot during that time. In other ways, not so much.
As an adult, I realise that Heyer’s romantic stories veiled a time when women were usually nothing more than chattels with few, if any, rights of their own – if you’d like a horrifying look into that world, I recommend you watch The Duchess, a film about the life of Georgiana Spencer (let me know if you notice any similarities between Georgiana and the life of her later relative, Diana).
My teenage self thought women would have equality by 2020. I imagine her beside me now – she has disappointment written all over her face.
There is still a long way to go before the scales are equally balanced. Women are still treated as property in many countries throughout the world. Too many women are still treated like that in Australia too – take a look at the domestic violence statistics for the evidence of this.
Women still don’t have equal representation at the top levels of industry or government – we are still greeted by a sea of mainly male faces leading major companies across the globe and dominating our parliaments. Why are women still such a minority? And don’t tell me it’s because women have to leave work to have babies because Jacinda Ardern has busted that myth wide open. In her case, instead of trying to conform to a way of doing things that was established to suit the needs of men, she’s adjusted things to equally suit the needs of a woman.
Despite the evidence that we have a long way to go, I often hear women say they do not identify as being a feminist. But if you want equality for women, by definition, you are a feminist – please visit a dictionary if you don’t believe me.
But the word ‘feminist’ feels too radical for some, it seems. It’s too disruptive. It conjures up…oh, I don’t know, images of screaming women, burning their bras. It also comes with images and stories of women being targeted and harangued by enraged men seeking to maintain the status quo through covert and even overt threats.
If you are a woman and you want equality, smiling nicely and playing within the existing structures and according to the rules and structures that we didn’t create, is unlikely to get you there. It hasn’t got us there yet – why do we think doing things the same way will change anything?
I’m not anti-men and I’m not anti-romance either. I still love a good rom com film and highly value chivalry in a man.
But if you believe feminism isn’t needed, you’re not looking at the truth of the way things are. If you want equality for women, then you are a feminist. This means you also need the tools and support to allow you to speak up, stand out and be disruptive. Because, yes, you will need to disrupt the way things have always been to create a world where power is more evenly distributed. We need to create new ways of doing things that don’t just support the way things have always been done.
We need to be feminists.