Confessions of a brand new feminist

Once Anna Corbett would have laughed at the idea she'd call herself a feminist. Here she explains what changed her mind

Anna Corbett, 13 July 2009

My name is Anna, I'm 22 and I'm a feminist. Six months ago, if someone told me that I would write these words, and mean them, I would have laughed out loud. I believed that feminism was outdated; that it created more problems than it solved. Why? Because I, like many of the young, the ignorant and the arrogant, had decided so. With little or no knowledge, research or discussion I had quietly formed my opinions. As far as I was concerned, there was one type of feminism and one type of feminist. I believed that feminists considered women superior to men and that they looked down on all women who decided not to work and stay at home with their children. I assumed that feminists were missing the point of being a woman, using our femininity to get one over on men: flirting for a drink or a job. I even went as far as to presume that they were weak in themselves and needed the support of conviction to maintain their self belief.

Writing these words now makes me cringe, but I must be honest in order to appreciate how far I have come. I was by no means alone in holding these views. Many men and women who I spoke to agreed with me that the battle had been won, and that those still shouting were doing so in vain and out of vanity.

I had been sucked in to this simplistic and negative view of feminism by a world that told me that it was not relevant to my life

All of this changed because of a chance event and, though I like to optimistically believe I would have come to these conclusions eventually, my life has altered course as a result. I was sat in one of the computer rooms of my university trying to find the motivation to start an essay. Next to the computers as usual were leaflets advertising various events, sports clubs and rooms for rent. Procrastinating, I started to read through them and came across a small slip of paper from the woman's committee. I wish I'd kept it. It was only a few short sentences on how careers traditionally considered men's preserve, such as the police, were better paid than those traditionally followed by women, such as nursing. This, among numerous other issues, contributed to the pay gap between men and women. An idea swam through my mind that would characterise my next few months: I'd never thought about it like that before.

The message of that leaflet stayed in my head for far longer than the essay which I was writing. It began to nag at me. I turned to the prophet of my generation: Wikipedia. The entry for feminism isn't bad at all and began the process of prying open my mind. I realised that feminism was not a constant, and had many different shapes and forms. I saw that there was no such thing as a universal feminist principle, something I had always assumed to be true. There were some ideas which I believed added to the pressure on women rather than reduced it. A woman was weak if she chose to stay at home, and yet if she worked, and her family life suffered as a result, she was a bad mother. It now became clear that this was not a feminist "principle" but a multitude of opinions compressed into a negative stereotype. My view that women should be able to chose for themselves whether to work or stay at home was far from anti-feminist!

For almost a decade my father had been trying to convince me to listen to Woman's Hour on BBC Radio 4. I had always ignored it as a misguided attempt to connect with me: another attitude for which I have had to apologise. Since I was a child I have had to listen to music or stories to go to sleep in comfort and one night I chose to hang up my preconceptions alongside my dressing gown and listen to Woman's Hour. It was so good I listened to two. The variety of topics discussed delighted me and, although all were from a women's perspective, many of them were relevant to all regardless of gender. I was upset by the close scrutiny of women MP's expenses in comparison to men and shocked at the revelations made by an investigation into the criminal justice system. My image of the glass ceiling began to expand and thicken: I began to get angry. I began to realise that my attitude was a result of ignorance and a response to stereotypes perpetrated by a male-dominated media. I had been sucked in to this simplistic and negative view of feminism by a world that told me that it was not relevant to my life.

There is a growing belief in the younger generation that we have out-grown feminism: that it is no longer a valid cause to fight. These last months have firmly convinced me that this is wrong

In becoming an increasingly outspoken feminist I have incurred the wrath of some of my companions. I was sat around a table recently where I mentioned that I was writing a feature which I hoped would be suitable and good enough for The F-Word. The girl next to me snorted: "I hate feminism, I think I'm an anti feminist." Others around the table nodded their heads. I asked them: do you believe that women deserve equal rights to men? The answer: yes. Do you believe they should be paid the same and have the opportunity to chose to have a family without being discriminated against in the workplace? The answer: yes. Do you believe that where we find inequality we should fight it? The answer, of course, was yes. Then, I replied, you are a feminist. They attempted to tell me that "that's not what feminism is about" and I replied that I was a feminist and that was what I believed, so maybe their conceptions were wrong. There was no snorting. It was a short conversation and who knows if it did any good: all I hope is that it may have sowed that little seed of doubt that began to grow in my head six months ago.

The first step is, perhaps, not to convince women that they are wrong, but that most are already feminists. When it is revealed as a choice then perhaps they can start having their own epiphanies. The details, the opinions and differences can come later. If every woman could loudly declare herself a feminist then women world-wide would overcome half of the opposition they face: themselves. One woman at a time.

There is a growing belief in the younger generation that we have out-grown feminism: that it is no longer a valid cause to fight. These last months have firmly convinced me that this is wrong. I am at the beginning of a journey. The bottom of a hill. I still have a century of books to read and every day I see something new which angers, excites or encourages me. Yesterday I was blown away by Simone de Beauvoir, today I was enraged by a comment made about the treatment of Jacqui Smith. Who knows what will get to me tomorrow. I am so excited to be a brand new feminist and I hope that, even when I have formed my opinions more fully, I will remain receptive and open. The most important thing for me is to look on those who think as I once did with hope not hate, however much I feel betrayed by them. My ideas may be underdeveloped but at least I now have a platform from which to develop them. My name is Anna, I am 22 and I'm a feminist. It is, at least, a start.

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