By the time I discovered feminism, the call to sisterhood and the demand that traditional, female roles and work be taken seriously, had weakened. Growing up in the 1980s, I saw a world in which ‘feminism’ seemed to be about being more like men than the men were. Equal rights meant out to work, with padded shoulders, ruthlessly pushing forward. To my child self, feminism looked too much like Margaret Thatcher, and I wanted none of it. I also encountered plenty of the man-bashing variety, and I didn’t fancy that much either. Years later, at college, I encountered theories of social feminism, of accepting and respecting female roles and history, and all that. I also saw it was a theory, not a practice.
But I was at college in that distant time before Facebook.
Women on Facebook talk about their work, their men, their kids, parents, dogs, dreams and efforts. They post photos of cakes that went well, and cakes that didn’t. Images of things created, rooms decorated, frocks worn. All the traditional things that women have always done, now recorded by digital camera and timeline, and shared, with love. I have one amazing friend called Sharon who is actively reclaiming femininity through the medium of Facebook, and it’s lovely to watch. She’s not the only one, but she’s the most self conscious. It’s femininity on her terms, not anyone else’s. Then, whoever shares, other women and the odd bloke, pile in with observations, congratulations, and friendly noises.
In western culture we equate femininity with emotion, and emotion with irrationality. To show your feelings, to weep, rant, or whoop for joy, is to be emotionally immature. There are some other women who will haul you over the coals for that, even more readily then the men. These would be the women who have donned the suits and attitudes of a still very masculine workplace, and who want to get as far from traditional femininity as they can.
On Facebook, something else is happening. Yesterday, a woman posted ‘I just want to cry all the time. This can’t be normal adult behaviour’ (Or something like that.) Within minutes, other women were there, saying no, I have days like this too. I weep over this as well. Don’t beat yourself up. The anxieties of parenthood, the tears of menstruation, the grief and frustration of the world all sneak out in those few lines of status update. And in the unreal space that is Facebook, we do what many of us would not dare to do in a public, physical space. We say ‘me too.’ We share, and acknowledge and take seriously experiences and emotions that are fundamental to being female.
It’s terrible when you think it’s just you. All the shiny looking women on TV are never spotty, screaming with pre-menstrual tension, covered in baby vomit and holding a cake that failed. All the magazine celebrities shed elegant, solitary tears over betrayals. They don’t howl until their faces are red and snot drips from their noses. At least, not where we can see them.
I have met a lot of men along the way who believe that women are incomprehensible, irrational, unpredictable, unreliable. We’ve all heard the argument that our hormonal cycles make us crazy. I know from doing psychology, that as a culture we view calm rationality (allegedly male traits) as healthy adult behaviour and emotionality as being both female, and neurotic. That’s a hard world to live in, and a bloody unfair one. Rather than fight for the value of emotion, for the power and blessing of being able to express, so many of us have gone along with the pressure to be like men. And you know, I’m not even sure all the biological men are really ‘like men’. I think they’re even more squeezed and restricted by this insane understanding of what being human should mean.
I’m a fine example though. Up until I went through an emotional breakdown last year, I found it almost impossible to cry in front of anyone.
It isn’t easy, to go online and say ‘bad day.’ Just to manage ‘black dog’ or ‘bit gloomy’ is a hard confession to make. But when you do it, and others pile in and remind you that you aren’t alone, aren’t a freak, or incompetent, that’s worth so much. I am very grateful for Facebook. Now all we have to do is figure out how to get that little bit of revolution offline and into the real world.