A little while ago I was at the hairdresser. It’s my little treat. I have a cup of tea and flick through gossip magazines while somebody cuts, washes and dries my hair. A scalp massage once the conditioner goes on is part of the service. I love the scalp massage.
One doesn’t usually come over all feministy at the hairdresser. Nor does one usually spontaneously compose song parodies. But this morning was different. I did both.
I read the gossip magazine for laughs (and yes, frocks; I’m a sucker for pretty frocks). I chat about nothing with my stylist to prove that I’m capable of being completely normal. I eavesdrop on everybody’s else conversations because people fascinate (and amuse and exasperate) me.
That morning, I was surrounded by magazines and women discussing how to hide figure flaws; how to look ten years younger; how to banish cellulite forever; how to own your femininity by taking off all your clothes; how to look good while having a career; how truly brave it is to appear in public without make-up; how trans women can never be women no matter how they dress because to be a woman you have to be born a woman; how it’s ridiculous that suddenly all men have to change their behaviour around women when really they’re harmless and just being men; how it’s common sense for women to take precautions against rape because you wouldn’t leave your house unlocked; how feminists need to shut up now because they’re not doing themselves any favors by being shouty and pushy when everybody knows (except the feminists, apparently) that we’re all equal now; and besides, all this political correctness is just shutting down honest debate and nobody knows what we’re allowed to say any more and we can’t laugh at anything in case we offend someone.
Hot diggity privilege on a stick. I retreated to the washbasin with its soft lighting and scented candles and tried to relax under my scalp massage, only to have these two lines spring into my head: I am the very model of a modern woman feminist/That doesn’t mean I’m hairy-legged, lesbian and misandrist. The next thing I knew, I was blow-dried and this had happened:
[with apologies to Messrs Gilbert & Sullivan]
The Modern Feminist’s Song
I am the very model of a modern woman feminist
That doesn’t mean I’m hairy-legged, lesbian and misandrist
It means ‘twixt men and women I think there is inequality
And it’s not all to do with how we differ anatomically
Any person is a woman given that’s how she identifies
Gender is a spectrum and not easy to categorize
It’s not dependent just on sex or even on biology
And if you’ve paid attention then you’ll know that it’s not binary
We women can be complex; why should that be problematical?
To live without harrassment; why should that be seen as radical?
We’re subjugated far and wide by cultures patriarchical
For seeking our own agency we’re labelled as anarchical
We’re expected to be modest; to be meek and deferential
And when we’re not we’re bitchy, shrill, emotional or menstrual
In matters of equality an unwilling polemicist
I find myself a model of the modern woman feminist
We’re conditioned to accept gender inequity as status quo
Accused when we speak up of plotting societal overthrow
Supposed to welcome cat calls with demure and humble gratitude
And if we don’t we’re nasty stuck-up lesbians with attitude
You say that there are worse abuses elsewhere we should contemplate
But worse things over there do not these bad things here invalidate
You can try derailing and gaslighting and slut shaming us
We’ll battle all your tone-policing and your victim blaming us
So don’t tell us we should stay at home; our place is where we choose to be
We’re clever, funny, rational and capable as men can be
We game and build and fly and lead in roles non-incubatory
We’re more than passive posing pouting objects masturbatory
We’re tall and short and old and young and dark and light and fat and thin
Cis and trans and gay and straight and bi and butch and feminine
We’re liberal, pagan, theist, skeptic, radical and humanist
And every one a model of a modern woman feminist!
Yet still you judge us on characteristics purely physical
Define us using standards that are crass and superficial
Compare our silhouettes to fruit or objects geometrical
Mould us into forms that you find pleasing and symmetrical
But we’re not pears or apples, or bananas, cones or triangles
Who need to dress to ape a shape that you deem aspirational
To have an hourglass figure’s not the apex of accomplishment
And pretty’s not a goal, a role or the ultimate compliment.
We have no figure flaws except the ones that you impose on us
We do not need to dress to hide the bits that you find odious
There is no perfect figure, the idea itself is fatuous
(And the fact that it has currency is frankly fucking scandalous)
So stop telling us we’ve cankles, saddlebags, love handles, thunder thighs
Batwings, knee fat, armpit flab, and muffin tops and cellulite
By inventing flaws to browbeat, taunt, embarrass and control us with
You’re demonstrating why we need more model modern feminists!
So am I a feminist? Yes. I don’t like labels – I find them restrictive – but yes, I am a feminist. I believe that men and women and all the gender identities in between should be treated equally; that this equality does not yet exist; that the inequality brings harm to men, women and non-binary people; and that nothing changes unless you change it. I’m not especially vocal about it, and the small voice that I bring to the issue is often drowned out by other, stronger voices; but I think small changes count, so I will continue, in my small life, with my small voice, to be a feminist.