Thinking || What International Women’s Day means to me

It started with a conversation with my mother. I’ve never told her that she started me on my way to being a proud feminist, so I’ll likely be getting a phone call this evening.

Trigger warning – mentions of rape and anxiety.

She once asked me if I’d ever felt discriminated against as a woman. I read her question as largely applying to the workplace, or the kinds of overt sexism that are so ridiculous one mainly laughs at them, such as “go back to the kitchen, silly girl!”

I can assure you, my culinary prowess is such that no one has ever suggested I belong in a kitchen.

I said that I hadn’t really, but the thought stuck with me. As did her later question: “Why are you not more militant?”. She’s a fellow University of Sussex graduate; as such, I imagine my lack of inclination towards social activism was troubling. Over time, these thoughts bubbled under the surface, gradually waking me up to the world around me.

Fast forward to 2014.

I’m under a lot of stress at work, GAD (still undiagnosed) is at his height, and Wanda is bouncing round my head like some kind of frenzied cartoon character. The topic du jour is rape. Why was I raped four years ago? Why does rape happen? I’ve definitely been over all of this, why can I not get away from this now? Will it happen again? Is every man I meet a potential rapist?

It cannot be anything other than fundamental sexism. Deeply rooted, insidious, inescapable sexism. In one single moment, one man decided my body was not that of an equal human being, to the point that he had the final say over what to do with it. It’s one moment that has, seemingly overnight, returned to haunt me. It occurs to me that rapists are not 2D monsters, you can’t spot them because of their obvious evil. We pass them every day. Many don’t even consider themselves to be so, because society has impressed upon them that a woman’s body is a commodity. That they have a right to it. I feel more fear than I can begin to articulate.

I start to feel uncontrollably angry; possessed with a desperate, manic need to change the world; to single-handedly smash the patriarchy; to be the saviour of the millions of oppressed women around the country. I told you Wanda was out of control at this point.

I go to brunch, with someone very close to me, drinking to excess and the conversation gets on to my thoughts on sexism. She tells me the story of being sexually harassed by a drunken friend of her husband’s. Not only the incident itself, but the later apology said man gave – to her husband. It’s an incident she had relegated to the back of her mind, until this conversation, when she began to realise how incredibly wrong it was.

Shortly after, I attend the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence. At the time it feels like a necessity, rather than a dangerous trigger.

I have to change things, I have to make things better. How can this problem be so out of control and no one is doing anything about it?

A week later, I have a nervous breakdown.

Now, this may not seem like a happy story (okay you can say it, it’s INTENSE, why do I have to tell you all of this?!), but I can assure you it really is a happy story. Let’s fast forward again.

Nearly two years post-breakdown, GAD diagnosis is in hand and relatively stable, it’s International Women’s Day. Today I’m signed up to the Women’s Equality Party. I work for a charity that helps millions of women and girls overseas. I’m blogging. I’m being honest. I’m being me.

Wait – I missed a step right? How did we get from spectacularly shit to a sunny day in March?

Feminism.

I realise now that everything came to a head because I was alone trying to navigate an experience and a chaotic mess of anxiety and residual PTSD, until work pressure finally flicked the switch and everything went KABOOM! As much as I had a very available, very loving support system of wonderful people, they couldn’t possibly prevent what was an inevitable outcome if I wasn’t able to be honest with them.

Honesty only came when I finally found out that I was allowed to talk about it. To own it. To not only use the word ‘survivor’, but to open my eyes to the millions of other survivors out there.

Today, I realise that the beauty of feminism is being part of a global support system. I’m not the only one that sees the sexism everywhere. I’m not the only one who sees rape culture everywhere and understands that it’s an outcome of inequality. I’m not the only one who’s angry as hell about it. Most importantly, I’m not the only one who can change it.

International Women’s Day reminds me that I am not alone. Feminism has given me my power back. It’s sisterhood in its purest form.

If you have been affected by any of the content in this video or blog and are in need of help, Rape Crisis are here to help you. If you would like to join the fight in reclaiming London’s streets for women and girls, read my previous post and join #WEcount.

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