Why I think I’m a feminist – a personal perspective on feminism
I am, without doubt, a feminist. I have subscribed to the belief in the social, economic and political equality of the sexes for almost as long as I can remember. My attitudes have been shaped by my upbringing, influenced by societal expectations and honed by life experience.
I was brought up to believe in equality and in women’s rights.
I grew up in the UK and as a child of the 70s and a young woman of the 80s, my generation’s older sisters had laid the foundations of feminism. Underpinned by new legislation in the 1970s, the Equal Pay Act and the Sex Discrimination Act, women were set on a more equal footing than ever before, but perhaps the biggest trigger for change was the widespread – and free – availability of the contraceptive pill in 1974, which gave women control over their fertility.
Product of an all-girls grammar school, where academic study was actively encouraged and higher education was the goal, I gained a place at university. Although not part of our studies, many of us read Germaine Greer, Simon de Beauvoir and Margaret Mead. We weren’t a generation of militant feminists, but we breathed the air of feminism and equal opportunities.
I’d discovered in my early teens that, due to a heredity condition, having children would not be part of my future. Can’t have / won’t have: a fine distinction. I didn’t have to be one of those women who ‘wanted to have it all’. I could ignore those remarks about being selfish for not wanting to have kids -where does that come from anyway? Not that I wouldn’t defend the right of any woman – or man – to stay at home and bring up their children. But that path was not for me. When the time came, I would have a career and I would be (financially) independent.
I grabbed the first graduate opportunity that came my way.
I started as trainee underwriter in a large multi-national insurance company, working in an office among some very strong and very capable women. The senior management were all men, but things were changing; women were rising. I worked hard and worked my way up, soon entering a very male-dominated department, whose role was to visit the company’s commercial clients to better assess the underwriting risk and to effect improvements to safety and security. It was a fascinating job.
Only on one occasion, so far as I can remember, did any person comment on my gender. It was a hotelier in Blackpool. She said she was surprised that a woman was doing my job. She was surprised and delighted; more women should be doing jobs like mine!
I undoubtedly worked harder than my male colleagues.
Unlike most of them, I took all the professional exams and attended all the available courses. I felt that I had to prove I had the ability and the right to be there.
Never during that time did I come across any apparent discrimination until I sought promotion to a higher grade. I was very good at my job and I had passed all the important milestones, but it all went very quiet. Then I ‘happened to’ let slip that I was unable to have children. Lo and behold, within a few months, my promotion was granted. Coincidence? I doubt it.
Spool on another five years and I was responsible for a nationwide team within the same department. Young women were aspiring to join the team and I was both delighted and privileged to mentor some of them. A few years later I received the most gratifying comment in my whole career from one of those women. ‘You gave me the confidence to do this job. You have been an inspiration to many of us.’ That was something I had honestly never considered. I had just been doing my job.
Think I’m a feminist? I know I’m a feminist! Why wouldn’t I be?
Okay, I’ve oversimplified and summarised a lot about my journey; these were just some of the experiences that shaped me as a feminist. But all the conditions were right for me. I was living and working at the right time and the right place. Throughout my working life, opportunities had been opening up for women in business and I was able to grab some of them.
Now I live in South Africa where there is huge inequality in gender and race. Violence against women is rife and the patriarchal society is alive and well. Had I grown up here, would my attitudes have been different? The situation is complex, but that’s a story for another day.
Author: Chris Hall
Chris Hall is a former insurance professional, who identifies herself as a Storyteller and Accidental Blogger on her website, Luna’s Online. She is the author of 4 books – The Silver Locket, You’ll Never Walk Alone, Following the Green Rabbit and Song of the Sea Goddess, written under the pseudonym Holly Atkins.