Despite all these more - for the time - unconventional aspects of her life, my upbringing was not unlike hers. It was me in the kitchen helping get dinner and clear away afterwards, not my brother. It was me that was 'shushed' and told, 'Don't be so angry' - read 'loud' - or, "Don't be so upset,' - still read 'loud' - when I had grievances. It was me who got shoved into school subjects that were more 'suitable', and me who ended up starting a course at university that wasn't my first choice - because apparently I couldn't know what was best for me.
I honestly don't think she thought she was being unfair. Her own mother left them when she was 12, leaving my mother to parent her younger siblings while their father worked. So much of the way she parented was about making up for what she'd not had. So much of it was also about making sure, I think, that I'd be 'acceptable' - because perhaps, like many children in her situation, she felt some sense of misplaced responsibility for her mother leaving.
After I dropped out of that university course at the end of my second year, I got a job. Then I decided I'd like to move out of home and share a place with someone, as you do. Mum was hugely opposed to that and made it very difficult. I did it anyway. She didn't like it. But when I got engaged, far too early and far too fast, to a young man who was still at uni, and planning on an academic career, there wasn't a single protest. It took me years to realise - long after I'd left him - that that was different to me leaving home, because marrying him meant I'd have someone to look after me. Only he didn't.
My early engagement with feminism dates from that marriage, and discovering that I had to fight for even the most basic things, because he assumed that as a married woman I was there solely to look after HIM and our child. When I scored high distinctions in a language class I was doing - which required nothing of him because I organised the childcare, doing the drop offs and pick ups - I looked into arts degrees at the university there, thinking to go back and do a different degree, one focusing on languages for which I had a clear aptitude, his response was, 'But who's going to look after the house, and the washing, and the child?' He was doing a PhD at the time, and had a flexible timetable. It SHOULD have been possible to easily manage the household, the childcare, and our respective studies. But it clearly wasn't even going to be considered - by him.
I have conversations now with Dragon Dad, two marriages, hefty stints of sole parenting two boys, studying, working, and just living later, about feminism. Like many, on the surface, he sees it as women fighting for the sake of fighting. At the same time, he is ignorant of much of the history. It's taken me teaching him about basic things like women not being allowed - historically - to own property, that THEY were, in fact, the property of fathers and husbands. Just recently, after seeing the film Hidden Figures, about the African American women who worked as mathematicians at NASA in the early days of the American space program, we talked about where women sat generally, in the workplace, at that particular point in time. That there were positions from which, when they were married, women were fired. And others, like teaching, where they could still work as married women, but once they got pregnant, that was the end of their careers as teachers. He was horrified. We've not had the conversation that will enlighten him to the fact that in the Australian states of New South Wales and Queensland, abortion is still a criminal act. That it isn't prosecuted doesn't change the fact that antiquated laws around abortion still stand in those states, and a recent vote to change the Queensland laws failed.
In many ways, he's very much on the side of equality, but in equally many ways, he has absolutely no understanding of the daily experience of women that fuels the fight that so many of us continue to wage. The cat calling. The put downs in work environments. The expectations that we look a certain way, wear certain clothes, and negative consequences when we don't comply. The passing over for promotion, even though we may be better qualified. That we are paid less than men for the same jobs. The impossibility of taking our safety or granted when we're out. The fear of angering men - whether they're our partners, fathers, brothers, or strangers - and the potential consequences. Our frustration when we try to explain that these experiences are NORMAL for us, even though they're just plain wrong. And their inability to understand that we're NOT fighting just for the sake of fighting. And we're not angry about the status quo just to be angry. And we're not anti-men.
I am a feminist because feminism is about inclusivity. Feminism demands equal opportunities and equal rights for EVERYONE - men, women, children, regardless of gender identity, sexuality, nationality, religion, etc. I don't want anything 'special' for myself and other women. I just want the same opportunities to be who I am and do what I do as men have had historically. I want to be paid the same. I want to be as safe on the streets. And I want that acceptance.