Name: blue milk
|The blogger known as blue milk|
How do you define feminism?
The belief that men and women are equal combined with an understanding that there is a systematic form of oppression working against women. My friend has a definition that I like, too, and that is that feminism is any time a woman speaks the truth about herself and her life.
When did you first identify as a feminist?
My first memory of actively identifying as a feminist was when I was about 12 or 13 years old. I saw an advertisement on television for men's deodorant and I remember trying to reject the sexism in that ad with my mother. Unfortunately my precocious feminism alarmed her - she'd been raised mostly by a single father and her own feminism wasn't all that pronounced at that time. And she was also, by then, a single parent herself (my father left us when I was about 10 years old); my mother had this fear of rearing "man-haters" on account of how difficult we were all finding our lives in a female-headed household in poverty. But my feminism must have come from somewhere and my mother has this sense about her that the rules don't necessarily apply to her, and in that I think she really fostered in me a belief that obstacles, including the patriarchy, could be overcome.
Without the resources to understand it properly at age 12, I think a whole lot of intersections of oppression suddenly became apparent to me and formed the basis of my feminism - poverty, bigotry, classism, ageism, homophobia, misogyny, sexism and .. sexual harassment, oh man, at around this same age I started receiving lots of unwanted sexual attention from men and boys and it was scary. It was also disorientating, because the sexual attention also presents as a kind of new power, and it's the first power you've ever really experienced with adults as a child, though of course ultimately it is a power mostly used against you.
(My feminism has taken years and years to really get to a point of understanding other intersections of oppression well, like racism and ableism and sizeism and transphobia. I am hoping to fast-track my children's awareness of privilege and oppression so they don't have to wait until they're nearly 40 to get all that).
Has your (definition of) feminism changed over time? How?
I have become a lot less black and white about things, I see many many shades of grey in the world now. I think by the time you get to your late 30s you've surprised yourself (and perhaps, disappointed yourself, also) more than a few times with how you've responded to particular situations where you previously held very strong (hypothetical) views. And motherhood, my god, particularly if you're having babies in a heterosexual arrangement, you're almost certainly making compromises and choices and being judged in ways you never dreamed possible for yourself.
There are a couple of core feminist issues that I've flipped back and forth on so many times that I'm back to where I was 20 years ago - the sex industry is one of those. I probably started out with 'prostitution is exploitation' in my childhood and then I was 'sex worker supportive' by my late adolescence and then I was back to 'prostitution is exploitation' in my 30s and now in my late 30s I'm back to 'sex worker supportive'. In the end, as much as I believe that there are huge chunks of the sex industry that are terribly exploitative and that I would like magically ended tomorrow if it were possible, I still think any feminist approach to sex work has to have room for the different voices of sex workers, themselves - remember what I said about my definition of feminism being women speaking the truth about their lives? There is no denying that some workers don't find their jobs exploitative at all. I just cannot find justice in a feminism that discounts the voices of those women (and men).
This is one of the reasons why the Internet is a scary place to be a feminist - because your feminism probably naturally evolves but the Internet records everything. Take a position on something and you can never let that go, even when you change your mind years later.
Have you ever experienced resistance to identifying as a feminist? If so, why do you think that is and how do you handle it?
All the time, identifying as feminist isn't easy - feminism represents agitation for a shift in the sharing of power and with that comes new 'winners' and new 'losers', there's a lot at stake, and some people will either outright oppose that or else be kind of terrified of it because it's change - but I have been identifying as feminist since I was a teenager so I can say that it does get easier with time and practisee. Plus, I have built myself this little feminist utopia so pretty much everyone I socialise with on and off-line is feminist or feminist-leaning and I misguidedly feel like the revolution is completely winning and I'm on the stronger side. Having said all that, I work in a very male-dominated workplace where being 'left-wing' can be a source of ridicule. Teasing is how Australians flirt (it is also how Australians bully so it isn't always friendly), and I have had years to get comfortable with being teased about my feminism.
And there's the thing with Australian men, they are quite chauvinist, it's true, but women are strong here, too; maybe because of that hyper-masculine culture we have to be, and as a result I think we punch above our weight as a country in terms of feminism. Also, in Australia, men socialise exclusively with their male friends a lot (that's why there is such an obsession with sport in this country) and women socialise a lot separately with their female friends, too, and in some ways I think this has actually provided fertile ground for feminism. Female friendships are highly valued by women, and so then solidarity and an understanding of common experiences happen as well.
What do you see as the future of feminism?
A big part of the future of feminism is reconciling with and empowering motherhood, it is certainly the unfinished business of feminism. The motherhood movement will be at the forefront of the next wave of feminism, mark my words and check back with me in twenty-five years time. I'll bet I was right.
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This writer is an economist who writes about motherhood from a feminist perspective, she is the author of the blog, blue milk. She has presented at conferences on motherhood, work and family, feminism, and social media; has written for magazines and newspapers, and has had her work quoted on television. She is a contributing author to the book, The 21st Century Motherhood Movement: Activist Mothers Speak Out On Why We Need To Change the World And How To Do It. She is also the mother of two children. She might sound like she has it together, but she so very much doesn’t. You can follow her on twitter @bluemilk.
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