Why I, personally, need feminism.
Over the last few days, a few things have been getting to me, and having seen the OUSU’s ‘I need feminism because…’ I have decided to do my own.
Despite having signed to live in a house with four others girls and one guy, I’ve ended up living with five guys. The only other constant female presence is that of one of the housemate’s girlfriend. To be absolutely clear, I chose for this to be the case. My house is shit: too far away, the walls shake, there are leaks, etc. Add to that the various dramas that took place last term, and I’m much better off here. (For the record, none of the drama was mine, it just created a bad atmosphere)
This post is not intended to disparage the guys I’m now living with in any way, shape, or form. They are brilliant guys, and have accepted me, not as a girl in the house, but just as a person who likes to chill with them. They’ve never objectified me; they don’t assume because I hang out here it means I want to sleep with them, or that they have the right to try anything on with me; they even deal fairly well with periods, which I know as mature, modern men they should, but it makes a refreshing change from my ex (‘ugh, it’s all, ugh, and ew, just don’t talk to me about it’).
Nevertheless. There are times when I feel marginalised here. I know this is, more or less without exception, unintentional. Equally, my response is, in many ways shaped by my own insecurities.
Yesterday, housemate 1 wanted to go to the river. Sounded good to me. Unfortunately, when talking about the plans, he said ‘we’ll all go, all the guys’, which elicits responses such as ‘yesss the mangas!’ from various other housemates. Now, 99% of the time, I’m fairly certain that ‘guys’ includes me. I don’t mind being referred to in this way: I call my female friends ‘you guys’, or other variations. The fact remains, however, that it is a gendered term, and as such the plan did not necessarily include me. ’Mangas’ as well - while I’m not sure if I’m spelling it right, or where it’s arisen from, it is a term used for men.If I was a little more extrovert, this probably wouldn’t be an issue. I could have just asked if it included me. And I wouldn’t have been offended if they’d said no: I understand that irrespective of gender we all have different relationships with different people, and if some of them wanted to have a DMC or something, my presence wouldn’t necessarily have been wanted.
Still. The moment when I would have felt comfortable asking didn’t arise, so when everyone started getting ready to leave, I didn’t know what to do, and just sat awkwardly in house mate 2’s room, until he came and asked me if I was going with them. My response - ‘well am I invited?’ His: ‘of course, of course you are!’ That’s all well and good, and the intention I don’t doubt was incredibly sweet. But I could have burst into tears (partly because I am an emotional wreck anyway, but that’s another story). I’m sorry, but how the fuck am I supposed to know if I’m included or not? And yes this is partially me: I panic when I don’t have a concrete plan, when things aren’t in my control. But would it really have been so difficult when making the plans in the first place to just say ‘oh and Lorraine too’? It’s not like I wasn’t in the room. There was a chance I wasn’t invited, and I’m not presumptuous enough to assume I was.
Should have just fucking asked shouldn’t I? Because after that, of course, things began to strike me as slights against my femininity. Like when we were sitting by the river, and they were all admiring the silence - something they began doing while I was rolling a cigarette. So of course, the only noise in the silence was me flicking my lighter on - which made everyone laugh, and housemate 1 to remark ‘Lorraine doesn’t give a fuck about the silence.’ It amused me, yes. But. I give many, many fucks about silence. I live in space that is defined by their noise, their music, their conversations. I live in silence. Not literally, of course: one on one, two on one, a conversation generally goes quite well. But increase the group size, and suddenly I become a spectator. It happens to ‘the other girl’ as well. We’ll be having a conversation, me, her, maybe one or two of the guys, then the others run in, and suddenly whatever we were saying is utterly forgotten. We end up only really talking to each other when all the guys are there, occasionally interceding in the main conversation. I have watched the exact same thing happen to her as is always happening to me: she’ll be having a nice chat with one of the guys, then they get distracted by the main-flow of the ‘men’s conversation’, forget all about her, and just stop responding. So I’ll pick up her point and we’ll carry on the chat.
Again, this is partly me/her. We have fairly similar personalities. Both of us like to get to know people before we open up, can be a little socially inept at times, are embarrassed by our failure to interact with other human beings…In big groups of people, especially if there are a few I don’t know so well, I do tend to take a back seat. I’ll be quiet, take a while to talk to people. But the guys in this house I’ve known for around a year and a half now. I consider them good friends. I am comfortable discussing the majority of my thoughts and opinions with them. So why do I suddenly turn into wallpaper when there are other guys for them to talk to? I don’t understand it.
So I’m sorry, housemates, if you’re reading this (there is one with tumblr), but why, why the fuck, should I respect a silence that you’ve manufactured? Men have forced women into silence, that’s how oppression works: you deprive your victim of a voice, of a self. The silence you guys are looking for already exists: it is called being female, a PoC, homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, intersex, transgender, having a mental disorder, and many many more things. I apologise if any of the terms I’ve used there are incorrect, I’m new at this whole expressing my social opinion thing , but holy-fuck, are you as men really trying to tell me as a woman that I need to be silent when you say so? That we need fewer voices? That the silence that has surrounded these issues for so long, a silence that is only just being broken, should be reinstated?
Of course that’s not what any of them were trying to tell me. They were appreciating the beautiful place we live in. But that’s not how I felt about it. And it’s not how I felt when housemate 1 said ‘next term, I’m going to come here so much, just on my own’.
You know what I would like? I would like to go to that river alone at night. I would like to sit on that bench alone with nothing but my own thoughts, and a silence of my own choosing. And as a woman, unfortunately, I don’t feel entirely safe doing that. I feel if anything happened I would be told that I, being female, shouldn’t have gone to somewhere dark and secluded on my own. That I was tempting fate.
And that’s why I need feminism.