Third wave, fourth wave, digital wave, whatever you want to call, it feminism is back on the agenda. It seems that not a week goes by that we don’t see a story of feminist concern hitting the news, be that a pop singer aligning herself with the movement or a campaign for gender equality (bank notes, equal pay, or FGM to name but a few), and that’s just in the UK. This increased visibility of feminist voices is not only necessary, but long overdue. When it comes to gender, things in this country are far from fine, and yet despite this, feminism remains a dirty word. People of all genders seem to be disgusted by feminism, I can’t count how many times I’ve read something abusive to feminists on the internet, seen students eyes roll as soon as the ‘f-word’ is mentioned, or heard the phrase “I’m not a feminist, but…”. Much of this is perhaps due to the representation of feminism as a bunch of big, hairy, bra-burning, man-hating white-women. And don’t get me wrong, that image perfectly describes some feminists, but it far from describes us all. Feminism is a multi-faceted and rich world-view; feminists come from diverse backgrounds and have many different histories. Feminism unites so many people from so many backgrounds, and it is able to unite because the struggle is experienced so tangibly by so many.
It can be easy to think that gender problems are ‘other people’s problems’ and that somewhere like Norwich, with its cobbled streets, independent shops and eateries, and two universities could need feminism. Of course, such an opinion would not only be naïve, but also dangerous.
I have written this piece because I help to run the Norwich Feminist Network – I say ‘help to run’ because I set up the Facebook group, but other than that it is a wholly collaborative effort. That said, I am writing this as an individual local feminist, and not on behalf of the community. I hope that over the months you will hear the voices of local feminists, and through this come to appreciate the diversity of perspectives that make up the Norwich Feminist Movement.
There are a lot of feminist issues that I think we need to address in Norwich. Norwich has an increasing community of peoples of colour, many of whom are rarely seen (in local press or advertising) and whose voices are almost never heard. Given that women of colour experience the double disadvantage of being female and of colour it is crucial that their voices are heard. I can’t think of many other adult groups in our community that experience the burden of privilege and power while also being rendered so invisible within the community in which we live (of course that’s not to say that I don’t think ageism or ableism are of lesser importance).
There is also a massive issue of safety, harassment and objectification within the area. A common theme of discussion within the feminist meetings that I have attended is of women and trans people feeling utterly afraid when walking our streets, especially at night. There are obvious problem zones, like Prince of Wales Road, which can make getting of the train and walking home in the evening an emotional challenge for the most strong-willed of people. I’ve been catcalled first thing in the morning and I’ve had my skirt lifted up on me while dancing in the evening, I’ve been grinded up against by a stranger and then threatened when I called him out on it, I’ve been utterly terrified while trying to navigate my way home safely in streets that the council have deemed unnecessary to light at night.
I see in local advertising the silhouettes of faceless women on poles emblazoned across the side of black cabs, local shops continuing to sell objectifying magazines and sexist paraphernalia, and last by no means least I find myself astonished that the that night ‘Flange’ still exists as a thing (*shudder*). Away from the on the streets to behind closed doors the force of oppression is little different. Women remain significantly more likely than men to be the victims of domestic violence and this highlights the importance of local organisations such as Leeway. In my own research and community work I have spoken to girls who have expressed how lucky they see themselves in relation to girls in the developing world, but who nevertheless experience the impact of the beauty myth on their lives. Despite its rich community and largely socially-conscious population, Norwich has far to go before we question the need for feminism within our community.
Meeting local feminists and having conversations about the challenges faced by local people as a result of patriarchy is incredibly important. It reminds us that we’re not being petty or unnecessarily angry, but actually that we’re responding to, confronting and acknowledging the issues that we face within our community. We are able to see that feminism is not just for one section of the community, but for all of us. Norwich needs feminism