Part 3 of #festivefeminism with Kelly

Kelly is a very special person. She’s my sisters best friend and we’ve all been through a lot together. She is like one of our family members and she will always be in our hearts. She is a feisty feminist like myself so I had to involve her in this festive feminism blog series.

Tell me, the moment that made you a feminist? 

When I was a child, I thought incorrectly, that Feminism was about putting females before males. As I grew older, I realized that myths like that one were very untrue. It’s hard to know when I became one, but I know that I realized that I was one (there was a period where I was one and did not know) was at University, while taking a Women and Gender Studies class. I shyly identified as a Feminist for a time before University, but the post-secondary study of Feminism as a school of thought really fortified and expanded it for me. It is at University that I learnt that Feminism is a vast web of studies, observations and movements, with many sub genres and loaded with highly sophisticated analyses. It was at this time that I was proud to be a Feminist, surrounded by people who took it seriously. In that environment, I came to understand it as my ‘normal’, as my ‘rational’ sense of the world. Studying about sexism also taught me more about how racism incredibly intertwined with it, making intersectional Feminism essential. Another factor of my realization as a Feminist, was being so damn pissed off by sexist bullshit so many damn times!

I personally find Guernsey very ‘backwards’ in terms of feminism etc, do you agree?

Yes, unfortunately. I have been surprised at how anti-feminist it is, actually. I feel like it’s a bad word here. There doesn’t seem to be a culture of fully understanding societal oppressions, whether sexist, racist, ableist, ageist and other. I’m gonna go ahead and say it: Guernsey is a wealthy, small island where most of us grow up with great privilege, making it easy to become sheltered from the world beyond and lack a sense of perspective on certain things. I’m of course not claiming this of all people on Guernsey. 

What do you think modern feminism is all about? 

The Feminism I think I’m living in now is about women and girls standing in their personal power, and not being afraid to fight for their position in the public sphere. It’s about not putting up with sexist, disrespectful shit whether at work, in relationships or walking down the street. It’s about a sense of community between females, which is greatly helped by social media and the internet. It’s about the right to CHOOSE who you are and what you do. Want to be a CEO? A stay-at-home mum? Porn star? Fucking go for it. Want to show off your body? Awesome. Don’t want to show off your body? Also awesome. Just do you! YOU define who you are. 

Modern Feminism is rejecting the idea that society gets to tell us what a woman should be.

Do you believe that sex work is valid work? 

Absolutely. One of the classes which left the biggest impression on me was about sex work. If we think a woman doesn’t have the right to enjoy her sexuality and use her physical resources for money, we are telling her that her sexuality is wrong and she doesn’t get to do what she wants with her body. This summed it up best for me: we sell the use of our bodies all the time, as a result, chefs get bad knees, plumbers get bad backs. It’s the same. Many sex workers consider that they are selling their time, not their body, and I think that is accurate, as they are choosing to use their bodies and time (just as chefs and plumbers do) to earn. Also, good sex work takes skill, so let’s not just view is as valid, but as skilled.

I am, however, very cognizant of the dangers present in the sex work industry. A huge amount of sex workers do not work consensually (yes, rape) and are controlled by abusers and pimps. I did some research into street-based sex work in a few cities across Canada. One of the biggest threats to the women working on the streets were the police sexually or verbally abusing them. Even the mere presence of police on the streets drives sex workers to work in less visible areas, making them more vulnerable to attack by the customers. Then there’s the porn industry. Porn is not inherently bad, it can be great. But so much of mainstream porn is built on a culture of abusing and degrading women as normal. That is not to kink-shame BDSM, which is very different and of course, valid. It is that there is a mentality of women being inherently seen as objects to be degraded, which is the problem. Fortunately, some create Feminist porn. Overall, sex work is valid, but the industry could be made a lot safer. 

Have you lost friends over feminism? 

Yes, when it was clear that those people wanted to prioritise their preference to be comfortably toxic over the well-being of others, and were committed to demonizing Feminism without trying to understand it.

Name one of your feminist icons? And why? 

bell hooks is awesome, Kim Anderson, and a few others. These are authors of works I studied. Honestly, anyone who is living their truth as a Feminist is an icon to me.  Anyone who is proud and won’t deny their values, even if they’re shy of who might not agree with them, gets a lot of respect from me. But, we also need to remember that our wellness comes first, you don’t have to fight every single battle. That’s been a hard one for me to learn.

How do you go about your day with feminist values? 

I just try to live in a sense of self-worth. Learning self-love is everything to me. I think it’s at the centre of our whole lives and goes hand-in-hand with Feminism. I just live as myself, knowing I am infinitely worthy, and being kind to myself at times when I forget. Sometimes having Feminist values is really difficult in a world which so misunderstands and demonizes Feminism. It can feel like a burden. But ultimately, it’s all been a great playground for me to practice being on my own team. 

Do you get along with people who have different political views to yours? 

This is a tricky one. Yes, I can get along with people who have different views than me, if their views are not too toxic and too present in our relationship. But if I’m honest, any toxic belief of theirs will bug me in the back of my mind. I’ve often tried to ‘teach’ and inform people Feminism values, but often it falls flat and I have to accept that the responsibility to learn is on the shoulders of the individual. Also, I allow myself to have friends or enjoy social situations regardless of views (unless they are just too bad) for my own well-being, as someone with a need for socializing. Although, I won’t make myself endure any toxic bullshit happening in my presence, and I will call people out to their face if they bring any sexist shit up. Ultimately, if I don’t know someone and they reveal themselves as sexist, racist or toxic in any other way, I pretty much write off the prospect of having a substantial relationship. There are too many people in the world to be around people who don’t get it, and I deserve more thansuperficial relationships. 

You used to live in Canada, do you think feminism is more popular over there or here in U.K.? 

I don’t feel even close to being informed enough to make any claims, but I’ll offer my personal experience. The 4 years I spent in Canada, I was at University, which is where I was surrounded by educated people who understood sexism and Feminism, so it’s hard for me to separate the country from the University. I did see a presence of anti-feminism outside of the university, and also within it at times, but I would anywhere. However, I have noticed that there is a culture of expressing oneself in North America, which lends itself to standing up against sexism. I also follow many Feminist social media platforms, most of which are North American. I’m sure there are many British ones as well, but I am not as well acquainted with them. Coming back to the U.K., I noticed the ‘banter’ was a bit more problematic than I had noticed when I was younger. As a Brit, I’ve got to say, we can be great but we can also be crass little bastards, and not always in a good way. I’ve noticed quite a bit of rape culture in British banter. 

Do the likes of Trump, put you off the idea that things are getting better? 

I believe that the journey of progress is a non-linear dance between conflicting ideas in the minds of individuals in communities, which creates each generation different from the one before it. Many have been exposed to Feminist arguments against sexism and are in a state of cognitive dissonance, not quite knowing or wanting to admit the reality of the shit which happens. Many friends have told me to my face that they want to bury their heads in the sand because it all feels too overwhelming, and I get that. However, I do think we have full responsibility over how we think and act, and to assess for ourselves the validity of our beliefs and the consequences of our behaviour on the world. I think Trump and all he stands for are the dying breaths of an old way of thinking. Just how an individual heals from trauma or maladaptive habits, the part of their identities which they are letting go of or re-defining in order to move on, will make desperate, last-effort attempts to maintain control of the mind. It’s a cycle. With the presence of Trump, we’ve had to rally together and become even more dedicated to our cause against oppression of all types. His presidency is helpful in that way. His boldness to say the unbelievably toxic things he says and do the horribly destructive things he does in government, makes problematic things so obvious that they cannot be reasonably denied. Yet, I recognize the privilege inherent in being able to suggest that positive things have come out of his presidency, such as our rebuttal, as many people have died, have been separated from their children and parents, and are actively suffering at his hands and as a result of oppression. The only reason I’m able to talk to you now about Feminism on this platform, is because I have the money for technologyand shelter (not to even mention the privilege of a University degree). There are so many who have so much less and have to deal with way, way more oppression than I ever will. I’m not going to pretend like I know if things are getting better for them. I have no fucking clue how hard it is to face racism, racist sexism, transphobia, homophobia, ableism, poverty and many other things. 

As simply as you can, describe what the gender pay gap means to you?

The gender pay gap is often misunderstood, as some think that because a man and a woman might be on the same wage while working at Starbucks, the gender pay gap doesn’t exist. It’s more complex than same pay for same work. There are still examples of women being paid less for the same work as a man. However, there are other factors which are not considered as much. The gender pay gap is often calculated on the average of wages between genders. It’s the overall average of women’s pay which is lower. This is due to women not being given as many high-powered, high-paying positions as men, due to many factors such as plain ol discrimination against women (labelling assertive qualities as bossy, or overall underestimating the capabilities of women) and also many girls being dis-incentivized to go into certain industries which are known as male-dominated. This is why it is so important to have female figures in all industries, to teach young girls that it is normal to be a girl and be an engineer. Another factor is that having children if often seen as a liability to some bosses, who choose to not award senior positions to women, as they anticipate them becoming pregnant, or having ‘motherly duties’. There are so many other reasons, like women expected to do the majority of the housework and caretaking for children which limits their time and energy available for their careers. The feminization of poverty, is another one. The term refers to how certain industries, such as garment-making, factory work and care-taking are dominated by females, especially in developing countries. These industries tend to be low –skilled and low-paid, and keep women trapped in a cycle of not having the work experience or skills to exit low-paid job sectors. This is prevalent in the Global South.

What are your thoughts on the term gender neutral? 

Gender is the role we play in society, based on what we think our biological sex means about us. So, gender is a totally made-up social construct. To me, gender neutral means things/people which do not subscribe to the idea of gender and to which/whom gender is irrelevant. And I love it. 

Do you shave or keep your body hair? 

I shave and wax, but I have had periods of time over the past year where I have purposefully not removed body hair in the mentality that I shouldn’t feel the need to. I told my boyfriend at the time that I might not remove my armpit hair for a while because I shouldn’t have to. He said that he agreed that I shouldn’t have to, but it would be weird for him (he made his displeasure very obvious) because he is so used to seeing women without armpit hair. I think that reveals a lot.

It’s almost impossible to not feel society’s pressures at some points in life. Don’t be hard on yourself if you find it challenging to resist the pressure to remove body hair. I remove it way less than I used to and I am far more comfortable with having it than I used to, as a by-product of making efforts to radically, unconditionally love myself. Now, I mainly shave/wax when I have something I don’t want hair for, or whenever I can be arsed (which is not often). If you want to shave on Monday and on Thursday you want to be natural, you do you. It’s always about our power to choose and to be kind to ourselves. 

If you could, what would you say to your younger self? 

Ahhhhhh, young Kelly. Stop dancing on that table in the club, you don’t look like J-Lo. Nah, just kidding WERK BITCH! ……Also, other people don’t have to agree with you or like you for you to be valid, right or worthy. Only your own opinion of yourself truly matters. Aaaand you’re gonna learn that the hard way. BUCKLE UP!

I wouldn’t change anything I’ve been through, because they all made me the woman I am today. And shit, I’m awesome. 

For any young women wanting to come out as feminists, what would you say to them?

Number 1, love yourself. Teach yourself that your time, mental space, energy and whatever else is infinitely precious. Don’t say yes to stuff you don’t want to say yes to, don’t waste your energy on toxic people and don’t guilt trip yourself. Be kind to yourself. Learn about healthy boundaries with others. Learn what true presence with yourself feels like. When you feel something, whatever it is, don’t reject it or punish yourself. Just be present, observe, and be there like a parent for a crying child. From this space, we learn our value, and we establish a space of inner peace, which we can tap into whenever we want to, even if some time it’s far harder than others to do so. This mentality is a fertile ground for learning, growth and supporting yourself and your rights. And, have FUN, be YOU. 

And girl, if you want to come out as a Feminist, there’s an army of women behind you who have gone through this moment that you are now. We are the woman who just walked past you, the girl you went to school with who you haven’t talked to for 3 years, the owner of your favourite café, the woman who stood up to that sexist boss and got sacked, the woman who reported, the woman who didn’t, the girl sat next to you on the bus who also feels that gut-wrenching feeling of being slut-shamed by her friends that day and knows that same anger you feel sometimes, that 90 year old woman who has watched it all for decades. We are here and I promise you’re not doing this alone.

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