Thursday, 21 May 2015

Foxes and Feminism

I was brought up by parents who were (and still are) feminists. They taught us that no-one should be limited by their gender (or class, or race, or disability status, or sexuality, or all those other tick boxes you see on forms) but that, world over, they are. We were dressed in gender-neutral colours, we cooked, we gardened, we climbed trees, played football, played with Sylvanians... We wore clothes that were handed down from my sister, our baby-sitters, the boy down the road, the girl across the field - they were just clothes (I mostly favoured a heady combination of orange leggings and a lime green t-shirt). 

When I cut my hair short with the kitchen scissors behind the sofa, my dad neatened it up and I chose never to grow it long again. When I was seven, I decided I didn't want to wear a skirt or dress to school, so they bought me some trousers and shorts. I was the first girl at my primary school ever to wear trousers; people teased me but I didn't care. A couple of years later, a few more girls were wearing trousers. I bet if I went back now any girl who wanted to would be wearing them without question. What can I say? I'm a trend-setter. 

I went into a primary school in London quite recently and asked the pupils to divide the list of jobs I gave them into 'Jobs for Boys' and 'Jobs for Girls'. I felt like I had been transported back to the 1950s when they wrote:

BOYS
Farmer
Doctor
Lawyer

GIRLS
Nurse
Beautician
Receptionist

In a secondary school the other day, we discussed what words girls who are perceived to be sexually active get called. They said:

Slut
Sket
Whore
Hoe
Slapper
Slag
Thot
[700 more....]

I probably get new ones every month. Then I asked them what boys get called:

Player
Legend
Man-whore, man-sket, man-slut...

One of the girls looked at me and suddenly her pupils went big and she just said: "But that's not FAIR!" I looked back at her: "Of course it's not". And then I taught them the term 'double-standard' and we talked about why it might be there and how we could try and get rid of it.

What can I say? I think (I hope), I'm making my parents proud. Certainly my Dad's eyes went equally big when we had a conversation recently about to what extent gender was essential or socially constructed; he had a light-bulb flash the next morning and turned to me over breakfast and said: "I could wear a nice dress if I hadn't been socialised not to". Yes, Daddy, yes, you could.

A couple of weeks ago I got married. I heard afterwards that my mum had gone around telling the guests it was a 'feminist wedding'. Was it? I don't know - I'm not sure what the criteria would be. It was an excellent wedding. It was excellent because I got to marry the person I'm in love with. The WOMAN I'm in love with. And because it didn't cost too much, the food was great, we made it ourselves, people danced The Snake like children and sang 'She'll be coming round the mountain', getting sweaty and kicking off their shoes. We used, ignored, altered and borrowed traditions, based on if we liked them (no-one 'gave us away' *shudder* and our mums walked us down the aisle, but my father still gave a speech because he's ace at speeches). It was excellent because everyone there got to bear witness to our love and commitment to each other and to celebrate it with us. And because my beautiful wife made a speech about same sex marriage which made half the room cry (men and women), and we toasted Equal Love and sent our hopes and our love across the world to those who aren't as lucky as us and are punished for 'doing nothing more radical than loving each other' (as Gem said over the noise of tissues being madly scrabbled for). 

Posers.

Laura Bates, of Everyday Sexism Project fame, wrote in her article 'How to have a feminist wedding' in the Guardian last year: 'Until I told my friends I was getting married, I didn't know marriage and feminism could be considered mutually exclusive'. Marriage has been branded an out-of-date, patriarchal institution (cue comments about property, chattel etc), and although when I was little I used to design wedding dresses with a particularly artistic babysitter, I'm not sure if I ever thought I'd wear one. A friend of mine recently said, "I don't know why anyone bothers getting married any more. Unless it's a right that's previously been denied to them." Could I use this as a handy Get Out of Feminist Jail Free card? Should I need to?

For me, equality is about opportunity and choice, having the right to choose. Cool if I don't want to get married, but if I want to then why should my genetically identical twin be allowed to marry her boyfriend if I'm not allowed to marry my girlfriend? And people might say we're 'aping' heterosexuals (I found Straight Expectations a really grating read), but a) there's nothing like a really animalistic term to degrade someone, and b) why should commitment be considered 'heterosexual' anyway? Equality is partly the right to legal recognition, and although that might not sound sexy, I like that my wife and I are now legally family.

Growing up, my mother always said, on the topic of changing your name: "It's one man's name or another". She'd changed her name when she married, no biggie, no desperate attachment. Yet over the years her views have changed and she has now begun expressing her disappointment at any of her daughters changing their names upon marrying. I think my view has secretly always been more based in vanity than politics and I'd always thought I'd just go with the better name. Massey-Chase isn't super hard to beat (although some people have, in recent years, bizarrely expressed their love of it, when I was younger it was a bit of a yoke/joke). My mum also hadn't anticipated our rather unique situation. It's not one man's name or another. My wife, Gem, doesn't have her dad's surname. Or her maternal grandfather's. Her dad is a massive shit, so she changed it a few years ago to a name of her own choosing. And who doesn't like Fox(es)? I don't know whether I would have changed it or not if this wasn't the case. I quite like Massey-Chase now. As a freelancer, generating and collecting my own work, it is also my currency, my reputation. So - solution: I'm using both. 

I am Kate Massey-Chase for work.

I am Kate Fox at home. For me, Gem and the extended skulk. And, hopefully, one day we will have fox cubs and we will all share our own, chosen, name as a family.

So, yes: I am a feminist fox. 

It's amazing what you can find in google images...

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