By Eireann Pettman
I was sat minding my own business the day a woman I had respected, until that moment, told me that “feminism is stupid, and feminists are annoying”. I didn’t know what to say. I had never met a real life female anti-feminist before; I had naively thought that women like this exist only on the internet or in political circles pandering to giant orange babies. So I sat quietly and listened.
I’ve found myself reflecting on that conversation more and more frequently of late for a number of reasons, but mostly because I am ashamed. I am ashamed because I shouldn’t have sat quietly, but what should I have said?
Should I have told her about my mother, a woman who has sacrificed more for family than almost any woman I know? A woman who had the opportunity to pursue higher education a generation before the first female university graduate in my family, but who turned it down to support her 5 younger siblings? Should I have explained how her sacrifices have given me a life she can never have? How would this woman have reacted to hearing how my Mum fought for my education?
Should I have told her about my Nana? My mother’s mother never finished primary school but saw all 6 of her children through secondary education at a minimum. What about her sister-in-law, my beloved Aunty Joan? Would the anti-feminist in front of me have cared about my 92-year-old matriarch? Would knowledge of a woman who was a monument to both motherhood and independence have swayed her mind? Would she have cared that Joan worked well into her seventies to support her children, grand-children, nieces, nephews, and grand-nieces and grand-nephews? What about my great–grandmother, who had barely begun schooling before being sent to earn a wage?
Would this woman care about the struggles faced and sacrifices made for me by the women whose shoulders I stand upon?
These are questions that have haunted me for months, but more so than ever in the wake of my Aunty Joan’s death. Her loss shook my world more than I could have ever anticipated. Here was a woman who embodied the word steadfast. She loved unconditionally, laughed genuinely, and scolded blisteringly. Everything my Aunty did, she did with compassion and faith. She gave the women she raised the temerity to demand to be seen and to rise to the challenges the world throws at us.
During that fateful conversation I held my tongue for the sake of propriety but I wish I hadn’t. I wish I had shouted from the rooftops the history of the women who came before me. The women who raised me, the women who sacrificed so that I could have a future that they could have never imagined. When faced with someone who denies the value of feminism, all we need ever do is look into our own histories to find women who fought for us and our opportunities. It’s our turn now. We must keep fighting for the rights of women who don’t have it as good as us. We owe it to them, and we owe it to the women who shaped us.