When I was in my early twenties, a man I didn’t know very well told me I was only a feminist because I had nothing else to complain about. At the time, I was enraged by his reductive assessment of my complex, multi-faceted, deeply privileged self. How could he tell I wasn’t poor? Physically brutalised? Sexually violated? In an abusive relationship? Mentally ill? Disabled? Sad? Angry? Lonely? He took one look at my shiny Anglo hair and listened for one minute to my nicely-elocuted speech and decided I was some uppity private school girl who’d had female emancipation indoctrinated into her by an expensive education and an intelligent mother. Well, yep, he got that much right. I even read A Room of One’s Own when I was eleven, and precociously decided it had changed my life. But, but, but. I knew truckloads of uppity private school girls who had not a feminist bone in their nicely coiffed, nicely clothed, well-washed bodies. And that was the essence of my offence. That in making his generalised, dismissive comment about me, he didn’t take into account that I’d made a choice, that I noticed things, that I had a compassionate imagination, damn it.
My mother left school when she was fourteen years old. She was, by all accounts (including her own, it must be said), the smartest kid in the class. She skipped a grade as a little girl and liked doing geeky things like playing libraries and asking too many questions. Her father was an alcoholic WWII veteran and her mother had bouts of mental illness, and she needed to support the family. Her younger sister was younger, so she escaped that particular pressure at that particular time. Continue reading