Simone De Beauvoir, all-round smarty-pants and one half of existentialism’s Brangelina, said a man could never truly be a feminist, but I’ve always kind of felt like one, and have identified as such for about a quarter of a century.
When I say identified, I’m not part of a Facebook group, I don’t wear the t-shirt, but if anyone ever asks if there’s a feminist in the room (which they never seem to do), I’m going to reply “yes”, in a voice that’s loud and clear, if slightly apologetic.
It seemed obvious to me from a young age that women catch rough deals all over. For a while our marvellous mum brought my sister and me up alone - I was siding with her against society (and a school that assumed every transgression was down to a “broken home”) before I could tie my shoelaces.
In the playground, I was instinctively drawn to the cause of girls. That I found them more fun to play with, though I’d never have admitted it, may have helped.
This pattern of championing women, with noble intentions muddied by the desire to hang out with them and have them like me, continued at university.
A literature undergrad, I signed up in my second year for a course called “Images of Women”, which focused on neglected female writers, from the seventeenth century playwright Aphra Behn onwards. I didn’t know much about the curriculum (though Mary Shelley and Frankenstein sounded cool), but I was pretty sure the class demographic would skew heavily girlwards, and as a straight 20 year-old in the grip of hysterical biological impulses, I liked the sound of that.
A bit of a feminist sleazebag, essentially.
I was right about the gender-split: I was one of two blokes in a class of 15. Within the first couple of weeks it was clear that no-one but the other bloke was keen on going to bed with me, so I channelled my energies into the course.
...it’s hard to avoid the feeling that things are getting worse for women. I mean, vaginal rejuvenation? How the hell did that become a thing?
And what a course it was. Febrile dissections of Establishment inequities. Passionate, erudite debate. So much more commitment and insight than in my other seminars, where male voices droned loudest. And it smelt so much better, too.
Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman blew me away. I mean, come on: “ Taught from their infancy that beauty is woman’s sceptre, the mind shapes itself to the body, and roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison”. Word. And this 200 years before Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth.
And who knew Frankenstein was a treatise on the trauma of childbirth?
It was around this time, just as I was getting my feminist on, that I met C. We were both cast-members of an earnest student drama production about witch trials and the perennial scapegoating of women. I liked the play, I liked being an actor in it, and I liked the fact that nearly everyone involved, from performers to director and lighting crew, was female.
Once again, my finer feelings and egalitarian bent were undone by a hardwired urge to get laid.
C became my mentor, woke me up to the complex web of patriarchal injustice. Under her tutelage, I learned that fat was a feminist issue, that victims of rape were habitually re-violated by a crass justice system and that a woman’s right to choose had been hard won and was always to be defended.
All the while, utterly mesmerised by her bosom.
It pains to admit, but my treatment of C, a woman of generosity, intelligence, warmth and sensitivity, who above all was a brilliant laugh, was textbook shabby. I betrayed her trust in time-honoured fashion, and we split up just as she was hitting 30.
20 years on, we’re still friends, which is a mark of her grace and my good fortune.
Since C, I’ve stumbled on, trying and often failing to be a good person, my feminism a wonky work in progress. I continue to resist Simone De Beauvoir’s veto and feel less conflicted these days, now I’m not quite so horny all the time. This is a rare compensation for getting older.
At seven years of age, she’s a little too young to understand that the game is rigged against her.
As far as the world around me goes, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that things are getting worse for women. I mean, vaginal rejuvenation? How the hell did that become a thing?
My migration to Australia a decade ago gave an instant, relative lift to my feminist credentials. Before I came here, I’d never heard the term “chick” used without irony. It’s great that we’ve had a woman as PM, and have one in place as President of our Human Rights Commission, but, hell, look at the way they get treated.
Oh, and I have a daughter now. I try to bite my tongue before I rebuke her for being bossy, and offer regular reminders that prettiness is no big deal. And when she voices the opinion that girls are best, I whisper, out of her brother’s earshot, that I think she could be right.
At seven years of age, she’s a little too young to understand that the game is rigged against her. Though she’s already clear on one thing: her views on that Donald Trump, unmentionable here.
That’s my girl. Except she’s not, of course. She’s her own human-being, an entirely autonomous entity. Like I say, a work in progress.
International Women's Day is celebrated around the world on March 8.