The other day I was having a conversation about Beyonce’s feminist credentials when the topic of labels came up.
‘If you need to label yourself,’ a very smart woman in the conversation said, ‘then maybe you’re not really that thing.’
At the time I nodded, yes, this makes sense. But the more I mulled it over, the more convinced I became that sometimes we need labels.
I have a label, etched into the inside of my right forearm: the words ‘feminist killjoy’ worked in a purple cross-stitch.
There are problems with being a visible feminist, like there are problems with being any kind of visible ‘other’. People make assumptions when you label yourself ‘feminist’. People make connections when they label you ‘feminist’. Unfortunately a lot of these assumptions are spread and supported by women. The following images all come from the site http://womenagainstfeminism.com/. Do some yoga before you browse.
So why, if the label carries so much baggage, would I get an almost always visible label? And why pair ‘feminist ‘ with ‘killjoy’?
I suppose I’ve always been a feminist, but I haven’t always felt like a feminist. Growing up in the white bread Australian cultural wasteland that was Woy Woy in the 80s and 90s, I didn’t know anyone who ‘was a feminist’. Around my early to mid teens I started to notice the word on the periphery but it meant as little as ‘apartheid’, ‘bohemian’ or ‘politics’.
At my Christian school, girls were ranked according to appearance, wealth and social status. By half way through high school they were pairing off with boys, making cow eyes and planning bouquets. Some girls were smart, super smart, but they didn’t talk about University or careers – they talked about which boy they were going to build a life around.
I was different. I didn’t want to settle for one boy (wasn’t even sure I liked ‘liked’ them). I wanted to get out of that town, write stories, drink wine, take drugs: experience life. If we’d listened to anything but Amy Grant and her compadres, I would have idolized Patty Smith, Janis Joplin, Courtney Love. At the time I thought I was responding to my abusive upbringing, and I probably was. After all, having a mother as a perpetrator probably does get you thinking about how women work in the world.
My mother was a ‘good Christian’ wife, she didn’t work, ran the house, did crafts with floral fabric and read the Bible. The only real hole in the picture was her tendency to rage, her habit of beating us kids and our step father. She was a powerful woman, but powerful in all the wrong ways. She’d trained to be a teacher and then a cop but ‘gave up her career’ when she got pregnant with me. ( I was never allowed to forget that.) The way I conceptualize it is that she had no real power she in the real world and so she emphasised the power she did have by abusing us.
This is the message we got about women:
So I was told I had no power but at the same time was living with an example of out of control female power? No wonder I started thinking about women, power and what we do when we’re denied it.
One of the first visible feminists I encountered was Roseanne Barr.
I didn’t know she was a feminist, but I knew she was different. Roseanne looked a bit like my mother, laughed a bit like my mother, but the words she said were so different to my mother. We weren’t allowed to watch a lot of TV (cos the devil would get us), but we were allowed to watch Roseanne.
This was a TV show where a woman was the central character (you could tell because it was named after her), she ran the family and the businesses, she kept things stable(ish) and didn’t spend all of her time blaming
It was years before I found out how much of a feminist Roseanna actually was, and suddenly it all made sense.
I’ve been dealing with some nasty stuff over the last six months or so (can’t write about it right now, but by golly, when I can I so will). The nasty stuff has involved a very big imposition on my body and my power. It’s involved several people who have called themselves feminists, but who have supported and justified actions taken against me that are, at their root, designed to remind me of ‘my place’. They’ve tried to re-situate me as a sexual commodity, despite many protests on my part.
And right in the middle of this, I got the new tattoo by Amber Kelly at Dee Why Tattoo.
It works for me. I’m enjoying being a visible feminist. It’s a shorter, easier way of identifying myself. In my first year classes, when things drift close to the misogynistic, all I have to do is tap the tattoo.
It’s also a handy way of challenging those ideas about feminists that we saw from Women against feminism. I’m a friendly, approachable, courteous and accountable human being. I make jokes, laugh a lot, hold doors for people and pick up things when the people who drop them have full hands. I talk to men, women, children and animals. I cook, crochet, use power tools and build stuff. I don’t whine, blame all my problems of men, the patriarchy or my upbringing.
More people than I can count have reacted to the tattoo by saying ‘but you don’t seem like a feminist’.
‘Why “killjoy”?’ they ask, ‘You’re the most joyful person I know’.
‘Oh,’ I reply, ‘it’s just what they call us feminists, so I might as well prove it wrong.’
And that, dear readers, is the number one reason to be a visible feminist.