Converting the Nonbelievers: The importance of solidarity for feminism

Words by Heather Walswalchdevries

Art by Harriet Speed

I have a brother, a father, a mother and a boyfriend who I love (maybe not my boyfriend yet: we’re taking things slow, you know), admire, and who I overall find interesting and intelligent human beings. Despite the fact that I am so very fond of them and love listening to them, some of the shit they say makes me want to put daggers in my ears and smack my head on any nearby table. This occurs when a certain topic arises and one topic only. It’ starts with an F and rhymes with eminism.

I consider myself a feminist and I’m kind of expecting everyone else to be too. This, however, is not the case.

My brother and I joke about how I am the one who needs to save the family’s reputation. I’m the one with the two university degrees and he’s the one who works in a kebab shop (not to say that is a bad thing of course- he enjoys it very much). He always makes me guess how much his designer t-shirts have cost and wears a Gucci mini bag round his neck with utmost pride. To say we have different interests is an understatement but I love him dearly and he makes me laugh like no other. His views on women, however, make me cry. In the backseat of my parent’s car, after a Christmas dinner, my brother asked me to take a photo of him. “For a girl,” he specified, “but not an important one. Just one of those sluts, you know.”
I prepared myself for the following discussion.
“Please don’t call girl ‘sluts’, Ewen. There’s no such thing as a ‘slut’.”
“Yeah there is, you’ve got good girls and just hoes and bitches.”
Good grief, how have we come from the same vagina? This conversation escalated and ended with my parents telling me to shut up because I was ruining their lovely evening. That’s right, me, who was trying to teach my brother some basics about respecting women, was ruining Christmas. How dare I stick up for my own gender!

That my parents chose my brothers’ side was hurtful. When it comes to my dad I brush away his sexism because he is old. Like granddad old. He is born in the 1940’s in rural Scotland so when he says stuff like “that’s a woman’s job” I merely roll my eyes and then ignore the task that he classifies a “woman’s job”. I also know him and his temperament well enough to not open this can of worms unless I’m wearing waterproof mascara.

That’s why when it comes to my family I’m the most disappointed in my mum. My lovely Dutch mum who grew up amidst second wave seventies feminism, who is the breadwinner in the family, who had such a strong female example when growing up (my grandmother), who loves everything and everyone and wants the whole world to be happy. To be fair, my mum has been through life without having many opinions but her surprise at my feminism frustrates me enormously.

“It’s so funny that you find this so important, Heather,” she’ll say, “this was also really big when I was young.”

THAT’S BECAUSE THINGS ARE STILL SHIT FOR WOMEN!

Her bewilderment is always followed by something along the lines of “But women can to go university now.” As if when certain boxes are ticked, feminism becomes unnecessary.

It’s not completely her fault, I think a lot of women her age feels as though that what they fought for in the seventies has been achieved and therefore feminism is not needed anymore. Of course, the complete opposite is the case, but good luck trying to explain this to my mum. My mum has been dealing with sexism all her life so it has become normality to her. A part of life that women just have to deal with. At fourteen, when I told her that some old guy just pinched my bum she just helplessly said “oh well, bum-pinchers sadly existed.” Not realising that is doesn’t have to be this way.

My latest attempt at conversion has been my boyfriend. He’s smart, educated, young, has loads of female friends, but he is a scientist. In order for him to believe something he needs stats and figures and plain facts. I’ve spent a whole morning shouting at him, trying to convey that when it when it comes to women’s experiences, there’s no need for stats and figures. All he needs is right in front of him: me, his sisters, his female friends, work colleagues, hell, even random girls at parties. “JUST ASK US WHAT IT’S LIKE!” I shout.
“Heather, you’re getting very emotional right now. Can you just lower your voice and come sit down next to me?”
“OF COURSE I’M FUCKING EMOTIONAL, YOU TWAT! THIS IS IMPORTANT TO ME!”

I spent thirty minutes trying to explain to him that I shave my legs once in a blue moon because I don’t think I should remove something that is natural to my body. “But men have to groom themselves too!” he’ll reply. “Yes, we’re not talking about grooming. Your bodily hair isn’t considered disgusting or un-masculine.”
But even on more serious subjects such as sexual assault in the street he replies with “Yes, but men have to be careful not get mugged too.”

Again,
A) Mugging and sexual assault are not the same thing.
B) When I’m trying to make you understand that some things are more difficult/dangerous for women it would really help if you stopped trying to tell me that men have it hard too.

I can’t get my head round the fact that what I consider the basics of gender equality aren’t understood by the people who mean so much to me. I have run out of ways of trying to explain it to them. I think the biggest issue is their refusal to listen. My brother, father and boyfriend don’t experience any of the pish that women across the globe experience every day. They are not judged for the number of people they’ve slept with, they’re not felt up on public transport or hissed at in the park in broad daylight, they’ve never texted their friends telling them they’re home safe after a night and the problem is, they don’t see this and no matter how hard I try, they refuse take my experience seriously.

We need feminism and we need all our friends and family to believe that too. So please, brothers, fathers and mothers and boyfriends: listen to us when we tell your experiences, don’t call girls ‘sluts’, stop qualifying certain tasks as ‘women’s jobs’, don’t decide that catcalling and other forms of harassment are just part of life. Sexism and gender inequality is still there and we need you to believe that in order to fight it.

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