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A Million Women Rose! (well, almost.)

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A very merry International Women’s Day to all. I’ve just come home from the Million Women Rise march in London, which was massively well-attended – we may not have got the million we were hoping for, but I’d put us at a good couple of thousand yelling, whistling, cheering women of all ages and backgrounds, chanting and singing and doing the sombre British-protest shuffle from Hyde Park to Trafalgar square. I may have forfeited a week’s worth of sensation in my right nipple to the freezing march winds, but I’m damn glad to have been there.

A disclaimer: I have not never, ever, gone on feminist protests mainly to check out fit girls. That said, we were all looking pretty damn fabulous with our shiny boots and shinier pamphlets winking in the mid-morning gloom. Of the many feminist groups who turned out, I was particularly struck by the semiotics of the bolshy and boiler-suited feministas – shall definitely be checking out their future activism and may even angle for my own customised jumpsuit. It’s a damn good look, although white has never really been my colour.
Although the overarching sentiment of the women-only march was one of protest against male sexual violence, the aims of the many women who marched are best summed up by the following statement drawn up by the indomitable ladies of Feminist Fightback. The statement has received widespread support from almost all of the groups involved in the event, apart from The Judean People’s Front FAF. Splitters.

On Thursday, I tore down to Brighton to speak at Sussex University’s rally for International Women’s day; I spoke about misandry in contemporary feminism and argued that the inarguable place for women-only spaces was, perhaps, not the plane of politics, not if we’re truly behind the notion of equality. I still hold to this sentiment, and the full text of the speech will be up on this blog in the next few days. Marching with my comrades this afternoon, though, a channel of unstoppable, unmistakeably female energy, I felt a stirring of something that, for a feminist activist, strikes me rarely: a profound pride in being female.

As a teenager, I was a cross-dresser, a breast-binder and trans-curious, and my main reason for not acting on those impulses anymore is that I suffered from severe anorexia in my late teens-early twenties, a psychosis that was in part keyed in to my rejection of the feminine; recovery from that eating disorder has involved deep questioning of personal gender semiotics, and the ingestion of a good few stodgy theory books in the process with generous whiskey chasers. As my health returned, so did my politics, and much of the emotional impulse behind my feminism today stems from a desperate desire to reconcile myself to the notion of womanhood, to feel pride rather than the shame I once felt at being a subaltern.

Let me just pause to wipe the hyperemotional vomit off the keyboard, and assure you that such over-share will not become a feature on this blog. The point stands, however: to be born a girl is to be born stigmatised; to grow into a woman, wholly and joyfully, involves unlearning that self-stigmatisation. Dr Alison Phipps, who also spoke at Sussex University, asked, ‘why is it shameful to be unfeminine, in a society where femininity is still so restricting?’.

Orthodox femininity as it is constructed by white consumer- capitalist patriarchy is hugely constricting, a nightmare of kitten-heels, contorted smiles of self-hatred, self-denial and conspicuous consumption, but true femininity, like genuine masculinity, is much more open to interpretation. It can be empowering. It can be challenging. It can be unorthodox. It can be adventurous; in fact, I’m chalking up today’s march as one in a series of adventures in dangerous femininity I intend to accumulate. My attack-womb quivers with anticipation.

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About Laurie Penny

Author, journalist, social justice bard.

7 responses »

  1. You have a way with words!!!

    Reply
  2. “My attack-womb quivers with anticipation.”

    Colliding Transmet and Rocky Horror in my head: bad! I’ll never be able to disentangle those images now.

    Reply
  3. “My attack-womb quivers with anticipation.”

    Colliding Transmet and Rocky Horror in my head: bad! I’ll never be able to disentangle those images now.

    Reply
  4. Please visit the following link with stories from some amazing women living in Iraq- and leave your message of solidarity to mark International Women’s Day (These will be translated and sent to women in Iraq)

    http://www.alertnet.org/db/blogs/49959/2008/02/7-114838-1.htm

    Reply
  5. Hmmm, adventures in dangerous femininity … sounds interesting. Without wanting to come over all contrarian, is this something open only to women? Can men explore it too? And similarly with ‘true masculinity’ – is that a boys only thing?

    Reply
  6. phil -men can ABSOLUTELY have these sort of experiences. For men, there’s even more scope because experimenting with any ways of existing that aren’t conceived as traditionally ‘masculine’is inherently seditious, s well as emotionally risky.

    Reply

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