This time last week, I emerged from a debate at WoW London named “I Call Myself a Feminist”. Five women, all under 30, reading excerpts of the essays they had each contributed to a new book by the same name. When you’re sitting across from 17-year-old June Eric-Udorie speaking wisdom far beyond her years, you start to wonder why more people aren’t paying attention.
One week later, one thought has grown from everything I heard at WoW. Equality is freedom.
Every one of these women spoke about their journeys to feminism, in ways which seemed to scream “I deserve to be free”. From Isabel Adomakoh Young’s “Women should get to be rubbish too” illustrating how both women and men are restricted by their gender stereotypes; to Amy Annette’s “I call myself a feminist with my elbows”, elbowing her way through public transport, determined to carve out her own space. From Caroline Kent’s revelation that feminism allowed her to “be difficult”; to Martha Mosse’s confusion over why the word ‘feminist’ should provoke such hostile reactions. All spoke clearly and eloquently about their identities as feminists, and I found myself thinking that this is the clearest example of why feminism is needed.
We are not free.
Many will argue about the politics of feminism; the complexities of economic equality; the definition of ‘feminism’ as being equality for both men and women; but this only serves to mask the core of the issue. It can seem like fighting for equality is all about entitlement, children stomping their feet and saying “but he got a pony, so I WANT ONE!”.
We are not free.
As Adomakoh-Young says, we should not have to deserve equality. We should be free to be rubbish, as men are free to be rubbish too. We should not have to excel, to be an example of a ‘strong woman’ just to be equal. As Annette says, we should not have to be penned in, to make ourselves smaller, to take up less space. We should be free to elbow our way to equality. As Kent says, we should be allowed to be difficult. This shouldn’t even be labelled as ‘being difficult’ when it is merely challenging the status quo in order to be free.
We are not free.
Equal Pay isn’t about greed or relative deprivation. Money (unfortunately) brings freedom; freedom to live lives of our own choosing, independent of the economic security of marriage to a man. #WeCount, the fight against catcalling and sexual harassment isn’t about not offending our delicate sensibilities. It is about freedom to walk the streets without fear. It is about freedom to exist, individually, in a life of our own choosing.
Inequality has grown from our desperation to label, to categorise. What started as a biological need for the brain to categorise in order to process the information it is constantly bombarded with; has twisted into a sociological system of oppression. But the biggest, most profound insanity is that in this system, no one is free. Women are not permitted to earn the same money, to walk the same streets, to be equal; but men are not free to parent, to show any kind of weakness, to be equal.
People of colour are not granted the same legal freedoms, are not given the same employment opportunities, the same recognition, the same equality as white people. The LGBTQ+ community is routinely discriminated against, denied equal marital and reproductive rights across the globe. Young people are written off as naïve and inexperienced; older people are seen as stuck in their ways, boring and unattractive. The poor are seen as stupid and work-shy. Disabled people are barely acknowledged as people at all.
When 17-year-old June Eric-Udorie answers a question with “I’m only 17. I have exams, sometimes I’m like ‘why is it up to me to sort this out?'”, I can’t help but wonder why it is up to her. Why is it up to me?
How can so many people lack so many basic freedoms, while so many people stand by and accept it without question? It is not up to me, it is not up to June Eric-Udorie. It is up to every, single one of us.