(operative word there being ‘used’)
I don’t think I’m an idiot misogynist these days. I don’t want to engage in an infantile Top Trumps-style game of ‘Who’s the Bigger Feminist’ by comparing my attendance record at Gender and Fem Soc events to yours, because it’s pointless, but I try to perceive people based on their actions, not randomly-assigned wobbly bits; in all honesty, I think I’m pretty successful in this approach as I’ve not managed to alienate all of my female friends by making strings of vulgar sexist remarks, which is a relief.
But Younger James wasn’t so open-minded. From the ages of about twelve to fifteen, after I had realised that gender was a thing one could discuss but before I met people worth discussing it with, I was an idiot misogynist. I had taken the perspective that all women acted for the attention of men (which is already homophobic and probably transphobic but those are stories for another day), and from this came a number of cringeworthy opinions: of course it’s the victim’s fault in cases of sexual harassment, she (invariably ‘she’) provoked her harasser in that womanly way of hers; of course unmarried, adult women are in some way flawed, they don’t have a man in their lives.
This all stemmed from my early impression that femininity is in some way artificial, destructive, and forced. The two women in the life of little me – my mum and my sister – weren’t typically ‘feminine’, and even rallied against gender norms, complaining angrily to my early primary schools that my sister wasn’t allowed to wear a pair of trousers like the boys. But instead of seeing their valid criticisms for what they were, I rubbished them, simultaneously seeing them as not important, and dismissing all other women (about three and a half billion people, by the way) for choosing to engage with this shallow, needlessly impractical carnival of ‘being feminine’. I was a very practical kid, and saw no reason to have long hair, because it gets in your face, or wear a dress, because it’s harder to run in than shorts, and so people who liked these things became weird, with backward, superficial priorities.
This was all exacerbated when I went to a single-sex secondary school. Women fell into three categories: my family, who were unfeminine and so we weird; my teachers, who were teachers first and foremost and so served a functional role rather than a personal one; and the women I saw in games and on TV, and endless parade of wimpy caricatures and tits. For Younger James, women were simple beings, ones that could be understood and categorised by the clothes they wore or the men they were associated with, and I honestly didn’t see any reason to change this worldview for a very long time.
Then, however, I was saved by actually meeting women. I’ve referred to my two-month stint at a youth centre’s music group as a turning point in my life for years, but this was perhaps the most profound impact of that stay; here were women who were feminine but not ditzy, complex but not uninteresting, vibrant but without being archetypes. It took me until I was fifteen to realise that women are people, rather than some kind of makeup-wearing deviant from men, who had previously been the default for all humanity as far as I was concerned. Now, I’ve not only realised the idiocy of my stance, but have pulled a few 180s; skirts tend to look better than trousers, and I think that me and my males friends could all do with a bit more affectionate hugging and platonic pet name-calling in our lives.
There’s a reason for me telling you all this. Today is the second anniversary of this blog, the day 24 months ago when I decided to sign up to WordPress and start pissing off all my friends by insisting they read my garbage to validate me as a writer and a person. And just as I’ve changed from being an idiot misogynist to a near-raging feminist in my personal life, I’ve improved as a writer and a thinker in my creative life; I write for magazines, bash out funny emails for UCL societies, and may or mate not have a notebook of poetry that I’m not horrendously ashamed of. In two years writing has gone from a pipedream to a skill that could plausibly become a career; that might not be as broadly important as realising that women are people too, but on a purely internal level, that’s a pretty big change.
So cheers for reading this stuff; here’s to the next two years.