Age: 22 Occupation: Student (Sociology) Place of Residence: Cambridge Place of Birth: Croydon, London
Why did you choose this place for your picture?
I have a difficult time thinking of a place that relates to feminism because it’s everywhere. I completely understand about relating a position to a place, but I think that when you hold a position or a view about something then you should be doing it all the time, everywhere. However I chose a bench near the river where I read a book about feminism. I had a break-up and the girl had lent me the book called “How to be a Woman“ by Caitlin Moran. It’s pop-feminism, and I read it on that bench. I think that you can get very bogged down with theory. I’m a student so I’ve been reading a lot of radical feminist theory, which can be quite exclusive. But that book was very inclusive. So that’s why I chose the place. And also a river for me symbolises change and constant action and constant flow, something that isn’t static. And I think that feminism isn’t static and never will be.
What is your personal understanding of feminism?
Firstly feminism means fundamental equality between all genders. And that means people who are male and female cisgender, people who are male and female transgender, people who are non-binary, people who are gender fluid, it means that what gender you are shouldn’t have an impact on the opportunities you are given by individuals and by groups and by structures.
How do your express your feminism?
The main way that I express my feminism is on a personal level, in personal relationships with everyone. By hopefully treating people of all genders in the same way or not changing the way I treat them because of their gender. I try to call people out when they do something or say something that isn’t right to me.
When did you first consciously feel like or defined as a feminist? Was there a reason for it?
I’m doing a sociology degree and I did first year twice, I did it somewhere else first. During that first year I don’t think I really had an exposure to feminism. But then when I came here I just had conversations with people. And I remember being aware that in first year we weren’t really doing any feminism. And I remember saying to somebody: “I don’t think it’s right that somebody could do a sociology degree here where all of the modules that are based around feminism are optional modules. I think that there should be a feminism and gender module that is mandatory”. So I suppose I first defined myself as a feminist sometime in first year while I was in Cambridge. And why that was, I don’t know. I think it was more of a process than a moment.
How does your family feel towards feminism?
My older brother is definitely a feminist. My mum died in January 2016. I don’t think I ever had any conversations with her about it, which is a regret. So I don’t know what her position on it was. But it’s something that I plan on finding out and I have my sources to be able to find out. The item that I brought is my mum’s watch. I wear it most days. She brought up my brother and me as a single parent whilst teaching and whilst having depression. And I think she did quite a good job and it shows something about the power of a human being, who’s a woman, to do a good job in life, when she’s got a lot to do. I don’t think that my dad has ever really engaged with the ideas of feminism. I don’t think my grandparents have ever really engaged with the ideas either. My mum’s sister, my aunt, to whom I’m very close to now, is not a feminist. She said something about women who talk about oppression when she doesn’t think that is the case. My brother was going to buy her a book by Nina Power, who’s a contemporary radical feminist. I had a look at it and I advised him not to. She doesn’t feel like she’s oppressed, or that women are systematically oppressed. I’m becoming closer to her, so I think that sometime I should share those kinds of ideas with her. But she’s a conservative voter and an evangelical Christian. So she has a lot of views that are not mine.
I have two people who I call my Cambridge-parents. My Dad lives in Zambia, that’s why I’ve got a Cambridge- Dad. He had a relationship with my Mum a few years ago. When I moved to Cambridge he took me for dinner and he’s become a big figure in my life. My Cambridge-Mum housed me last summer, I’d only met her once before but I needed somewhere to stay and she said that she would have me. They’re both Quakers. Quakers split away from Christianity in 1652 and we believe in peace, truth, equality and simplicity. It’s a very big part of my life. I’m not happy-clappy, I don’t believe in a guy in the sky, I don’t know if I believe in any kind of God, but it’s a very big part of my life. So my Cambridge-Mum is a feminist, I’ve seen her books. She’s in publishing, she’s an editor. And she’s certainly a strong woman. I don’t really know what her brand of feminism is though. But my Cambridge-Dad is a bit more naive, he’s a very intelligent man but I think that his ideas about gender are a little bit more traditional.
Is there gender equality in your everyday life?
No, I don’t think that anyone’s experience of the everyday constitutes gender equality. I do believe that women are systematically oppressed. And I do believe that people who don’t identify as cisgender are systematically oppressed. So that’s a pretty bad starting point. My only female lecturer is the one who lectures on feminism. If we’re in a seminar in the feminism modules and there’s a question posed, I always wait at least 10 seconds before saying a thing. Because I have opinions and I’m very happy to share them and get a discussion going, but I’m very aware that male voices come up more and are privileged more. So I try to give space to other people because I know that I’m privileged as a cisgender man. But the women in my seminars often don’t speak up so I find myself in a feminism seminar being the person who speaks most. And it makes me feel sad!
The founding of Quakerism was upon the fundamental equality of all people and the fundamental ability of each person to have a personal relationship with God, or the Spirit or the Light or whatever you want to call it, without the mediation of a priest, who would’ve been a man. And from the start female voices were just as valid as male voices. So my experience of Quakerism is much more gender equal, gender inclusive. Quakers were the first church in the UK to say that they would perform equal marriage when it was still illegal.
I don’t go out much. But I’m certainly aware of men thinking that they’re entitled to treat women like they are not equal. And like they are just there to be looked at or touched or as objects. When I do go out, I can see it. And I know from experiences from women saying to me: “Matt, can you cockblock for me, please“. And it’s a shame, it’s terrible that women can’t just say „no“, obviously they do, but it doesn’t get through and that they have to have a human shield is awful!
How do you perceive the reputation of feminism in the UK?
Among people with whom I’m friends with and people who I would be friends with, they would probably identify as feminists. But I think that there are still a lot of people who use it as an insult, it is packaged up with ideas of craziness or man-hating. It’s packaged up with the idea that somebody who’s a feminist is drawing attention to something that isn’t there. There are people who deny that there is gender inequality, deny that there is systematic subordination and deny that there is objectification. So when they hear that somebody is a feminist and proud of it, they try to use it as an insult. And I don’t read the tabloids, but I’m sure that the tabloids still use it as clickbait for headlines.
I’m certainly upset by ideas that feminism shouldn’t be inclusive of people who are transgender or not cisgender. In fact my feminist lecturer is a trans-exclusionary radical feminist. In my eyes, people who are in a position of subordination shouldn’t exclude each other.