Alien She?

Jane Collins explains how feminism can be alienating, and still seems to be dominated by priviledged women who frequently forget the plight of the working class.

, 16 December 2002

I had the very good fortune, when about ten or eleven, of discovering

feminism or at least discovering the term “feminism”. I had always known

that inequality between the sexes existed and that this made me angry but

finally I had found a word to describe myself and my feelings. I discovered

this through talking to my mother. She was unusual from my friends’ mothers,

in being an educated working class woman, and so was able to teach me things

that were totally alien to my friends’ mothers.

she discovered Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch

She was a young woman with a thirst for knowledge in the seventies. She left

school without many qualifications and had to go to work and so, after a few

menial jobs, she started training to be a nurse. My mother should have had

an academic life but given her background and the times she was denied one.

She didn’t enjoy nursing but it was a profession and it allowed her to

escape her parents and the slate mining town she grew up in. When exposed to the

bright city lights of London (where she nursed) she discovered Germaine Greer’s

The Female Eunuch. The book changed her life in the sense that her


were vindicated and she became a long-life fan of Greer (she actually borders on

the obsessed, bless her). So through her reading she was able to teach me.

Unfortunately my mother ended up back in the slate mining town that she had

tried to escape. She had me, married an idiot, subsequently divorced him and

landed herself in a poverty trap. When my father left she couldn’t continue

working because she had to raise me and ended up on income support and

living in fear of bills and lack of money to buy food. This situation was

not uncommon in the town I grew up in. Most of my friends came from single

parent families, most of them lived in council houses and survived on

benefits. The situation was incredibly depressed because the slate mine had

closed down and many many people were out of work. Businesses do not want to

open in a semi-rural welsh town in the middle of nowhere.

Thus I grew up with inequalities surrounding me, situations that oppressed

men and women. However being a girl, surrounded by women the prejudice that

most effected me was that against women, to be precise poor women. I didn’t

feel an outcast because, as I said, everyone was in the same position.

However I felt alienated by my thoughts. But when my mother spoke to me

about feminism and socialism I felt a sense of belonging. Of knowing that I

wasn’t alone in how I felt. I was a pretty miserable child so these things

gave me a lot of comfort.

I hated the way that the likes of me and my mother were overlooked by society.

I turned into a very angry teenager. I was pissed off at what I had to face,

what my mother had to put up with despite her intelligence. I saw my friends

descend into drinking on street corners, smoking, drugs (glue, aerosols,

weed- anything cheap). I was severely angry about the situation of poor

people or working class people in this country. I hated the way that the

likes of me and my mother were overlooked by society. It is very easy to

blame unemployed people, why don’t they get work, It’s their own fault, etc,

etc. But until you have faced years of being in a poverty trap, you can

never understand how difficult things are.

I had always been quite good at school, despite long bouts of truancy, and

was thrilled by gaining knowledge, reading etc. My passion for learning

alienated me from my peers whose only interests were drinking and fucking.

However through my love of punk/alternative music I got involved with riot

grrl and zine writing. I can’t describe how amazing I felt when I read

feminist zines, and listened to feminist music. I felt I belonged. I started

writing to other girls who felt like I did and made some great friends.

However pretty soon I started to feel alienated here as well. A lot of riot

grrl just didn’t appeal to me. The affectations of riot grrl, hello kitty,

little dresses, cartoon girls replacing real heroes, started to grate. It

was something that really troubled me which I have managed to resolve. I?ve

come to the conclusion that riot grrl preaches the feminist message and if

people want to dress that up with pretty dresses and lipstick, who am I to

complain? After all, we all have our own way of expressing our feelings, and

all ways are valid.

Over the last couple of years there seems to have been a resurgence in riot

grrl and feminism with the rise of Ladyfest and the eagerness of young girls

to find something that speaks to them, given the media’s total lack of

information or role models. I felt that this was incredibly positive and

still do. But as a working class women I feel incredibly alienated by

feminism. I hate to admit this and It’s something that I’ve thought about

for a long time but I have to admit to myself that this is true.

A lot of feminism is incredibly academic and is not accessible to women who have not had a university education

The majority of feminist literature is written by privileged women who I

feel have no real idea of how I live my life or what situations I have to

deal with. I feel left out, not catered for by feminism today. A lot of

feminism seems to be about philosophising the whole movement, talks about

theory and not much action. Or discussions about how the media portrays

women, which is totally valid but I think there are other issues of

importance that get sidelined. I feel that working class women have been

overlooked by feminism. Inequalities exist for all women but from what I can

see the inequalities facing poor women are a lot more pressing than those

facing middle class white women today. A lot of feminism is incredibly

academic and is not accessible to women who have not had a university

education. I hope to go to University next year but this is very unusual

amongst the people I went to school with. I am a twenty year old and am in

the position of being at college but the majority of my old school friends

are either on benefit, having children or working low income jobs. Some are

at college but most are pursuing vocational courses. This situation doesn’t

seem fair and needs to be remedied but I don’t see much debate about these

issues amongst feminists.

I’m in the position that I don’t really fit in with any group. I feel

alienated by feminism because of my background, but I feel alienated by

people from my background because of my beliefs. I have tried to speak to

friends of mine who are working class but they don’t want to listen. They

associate feminism with man hate and posh girls. And I can’t blame them. The

reason that women feel like this isn’t because they are stupid or obtuse,

it’s because feminism isn’t doing it’s job, us feminists just aren’t trying

hard enough.

Over the past year I have found myself increasingly disillusioned by

feminism and more inclined towards my socialist beliefs. Feminism won’t help

my situation as it now stands. I also have to keep in mind that many working

class men face more discrimination than any middle class women regarding

their situation, monetary worries and unemployment etc. It really doesn’t

make me happy that this is how I feel. But I don’t like the feeling of being

oppressed by a working class patriarchy that is oppressed itself. I feel

confused and completely alienated. I’m incredibly proud to call myself a

feminist but I can’t say I?m too proud of a lot of feminism today.

Things have come a long way in a hundred years of feminist action, things

are a lot better for women, but things still need changing. I truly believe

that the women most in need of feminist action today are poor women. But

sadly this opinion doesn’t seem to be shared by a lot of other feminists. I

don’t want to criticise feminism, because it has enough detractors as it is,

but I can’t keep quiet about how I feel. Feminism has given me a lot over

the years and I don’t want to belittle that. In fact it is because I feel so

passionately about female liberation that I feel like this. All women need

feminism in their lives, and maybe it will be more of a struggle to inform

poor women, but has a struggle scared feminism in the past? I think not, and

I just know that things can change.

Jane Collins is 20 and currently a student. She writes a

feminist and music zine and is in two bands. She listens to music religiously

and lives by the sea. If you want to contact her about her zine or anything else

please do so:

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