JJ Barnes

JJ Barnes writes about parenting, feminism, current affairs and writing

By - JJBarnes

I know I’m a bad feminist, but why doing what we can is enough.

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I consider myself to be a feminist. I recognise the sex based oppression that women and girls have suffered internationally for generations. FGM, child marriages, forced pregnancy, rape rates, sex trafficking. Being born female can be a death sentence, it can be a life sentence for pain and abuse, and I want to work to support the women around me who are suffering and campaign to end it.

Feminist
Feminist

In short, I believe in the Patriarchy. I believe it oppresses females, and I want to fight to liberate women and girls from that oppression.

“More girls were killed in the last 50 years, precisely because they were girls, than men killed in all the wars in the 20th century. More girls are killed in this routine gendercide in any one decade than people were slaughtered in all the genocides of the 20th century.

The equivalent of 5 jumbo jets worth of women die in labour each day… life time risk of maternal death is 1,000x higher in a poor country than in the west. That should be an international scandal.”

Nicholas D. Kristof, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

Women and girls should be fought for. If we see what is happening and we don’t fight it, what are we? We’re complicit. I do not want to be complicit, I don’t want to raise my children to be complicit, I want us to fight.

Just before we get into a “what about the men” situation, I know men have higher rates of suicide, I know men’s mental health is poorly supported, and I know that women are capable of abusing men. And I know that not all men are violent or criminal or abusive. I know this, you know this. But I also believe it is possible to discuss women without centering men. Men having problems does not magically cancel out women having problems, and sometimes it’s okay to focus on one issue at a time. If you want to write about what happens to men, raise money for support of men, and campaign for their safety, do it. I support you. But this isn’t about you.

So, back to being a bad feminist.

Pregnancy.

I am incredibly fortunate to be living and working here, with the family and background I have. It’s a privilege not many women in this world are born with. I haven’t been trafficked to a brothel and forced to allow man after man to rape and beat my body. I was not married as a child to a man three times my age, I wasn’t forced to carry babies to term I did not want, and I haven’t had my clitoris sliced off and my labia sewn shut. I am immeasurably fortunate. I am free to wear what I want, do a job I want, and love who I want. But I have experienced physical, sexual and emotional abuse from men, both in relationships and from strangers in the street. I have been sexually harassed in the workplace, I have hated my healthy body because it doesn’t look like air brushed teenage model bodies. I am not blind to, nor inexperienced in, what this world does to us because of our biology. We didn’t choose to be born female, but we pay the price anyway.

I believe in the duty we have to do everything we can do, no matter how small, to liberate women. Recognise what society, what Patriarchy, is doing to women and girls and fight what we can, where we can. And it can start small. It can start at home.

I see some of the pressures put on women and girls here in my privileged part of the world; the culture of shaming women for their bodies, their looks and their fashion for instance, and I can absolutely talk the talk. I will write, speak, fight against it. I’ll say everything a good feminist should say and argue fiercely that women’s bodies should be accepted as they are. But, honestly, I don’t walk the walk.

Women together.

Yesterday I was in the supermarket with my children. I needed new razors. My eldest asked me what I use them for and I said to shave my legs. This prompted a conversation about why I shave my legs, will she have to shave her legs, why doesn’t Daddy shave his legs? The answers are, of course, because I conform to a patriarchal standard of beauty where I remove perfectly natural body hair that causes me no harm or health issues because pre-adolescence is considered more attractive. No she won’t have to shave her legs because body hair is perfectly natural and healthy, but she may also feel pressure to conform. And Daddy doesn’t shave his legs because men aren’t required to look younger than they are to be attractive, and male bodies are more socially acceptable when left natural.

Before we went out for lunch on Saturday, my daughters watched me put on make up. Why do I wear make up, can she wear make up, why doesn’t Daddy wear make up? I wear make up because I’ve been socialised since childhood to believe my face is unattractive unless I paint it (which of course I am now socialising my own daughters to feel), and I want to look attractive. No, she can’t wear make up because she’s only six and she’s perfect as she is, but maybe when she’s a grown up she’ll want to because, after all, she’s already being socialised to feel she needs to. And Daddy doesn’t wear make up because men haven’t been taught since childhood that their natural skin is flawed in some way and he doesn’t want to, but if he did want to, he’d look amazing and would probably be considered stunning and brave for choosing to…me choosing to wear make up is not stunning and brave, but if I don’t people tend to assume I’ve got flu.

I am a bad feminist because I do not fight as much as I should. I don’t lead by example. I wear make up, shave my legs, wear high heels. I am teaching my daughters that society is right and their bodies are flawed. I am not researching and campaigning and speaking in public like some of the most incredible feminists I admire so much. I write about magic, witches, and talking rabbits. It’s not as much as the women and girls being treated so horribly by this world deserve. I want to do more. I SHOULD do more.

Woman thinking.

But I don’t. And, when I’m not spiralling down a path of self flagellation and self loathing, I am able to forgive myself. Life is complex and life is full. I have a family I want to raise well, a career I’m frantically plugging away at, a relationship to cherish, and friendships to maintain. I put time and energy into writing to raise awareness, I donate to causes that fight to help, I read and promote work by women fighting for change. But I could do more if I sacrificed something I love, something that matters to me, but the people I love deserve my time, and I’m ultimately too selfish to completely give up on my own desires.

We need to know what’s going on because the situation deserves our anger and our passion and our care. And we need to do what we can to correct it. What we’re doing as a society is not enough. It’s not enough because, if it was enough, the problem wouldn’t be there anymore. But as individuals we cannot shoulder the burden entirely, and we have to forgive ourselves at some point.

If you aren’t angry you either don’t know what’s going on or you don’t care what’s going on, but all the anger in the world cannot change it entirely. Making a small difference may only be small, but it’s a difference. Do one thing to help, and the person who benefits still counts, and their life is still improved. The best feminist in the world cannot fix it for every woman, but if we all helped one woman, slowly the world would start to become a better place.

I’m a bad feminist. But I am a feminist none the less. I don’t do it all, but I do what I can without losing myself entirely. And, for now at least, I have to accept that it’s enough.

JJ Barnes Books
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