So now I’m just over five months and I have a definite ‘pregnancy’ shape. Huge tum, big boobs – you get the picture. Now that I am more instantly recognisable as being up the duff, it was time to bring out the big guns, otherwise known as the TFL ‘baby on board’ badge.
This little sucker is supposed to formalise my condition and instil a sense of valour in my fellow commuters with the upshot being that they’ll let me have a seat and, maybe, just maybe, not completely cajole and push me until I am like a swatted fly upon the tube train door.
But the thing is that I feel guilty. Every commuter is living their own version of hell whereby the only solace is finding a seat. I hate the idea that I can just come strutting (waddling) up and demand a seat on a packed train. Why? Because I’m horribly British and, perhaps this is the more salient point, I hate it when other people do it. Anyone who jumps on a packed mainline train at the last minute and obviously needs a seat does my head absolutely in. Wait for the next bloody train! I want to scream. Have some self-awareness! Be your own advocate instead of relying on others!
Because this is the thing: if you know that you have special requirements then you have to be the first person to be responsible for that. All through my pregnancy to date, I have never gotten on a train or a tube where I wasn’t prepared to stand for the journey if a seat wasn’t available. I have let tubes sail by and have waited for the next mainline train to roll in, all to secure myself the seat that I need. Is it wrong to expect others to do the same? I don’t particularly think so.
Now that I have the badge, I’m not sure what my stance is. Do I test my new source of power? It seems like that’s going to leave me somewhat disappointed as there ain’t a lot of people out there who won’t do the old oh-are-you-pregnant-sorry-I-didn’t-see-your-badge-until-someone-else-stood-up dance (this comes from the same school of social bad manners as seeing someone you don’t want to talk to walking straight towards you in the street and whipping out your mobile to check messages so, whoopsie!, you didn’t see them). For me, I think my badge will be more of a warning, a little “heads up” to my fellow commuter: I’m pregnant so you will feel bad if you have a seat and I don’t.
Having said that, how much guilt anyone else may feel is completely negligible to my own. As I boarded the mainline train this morning, a particularly terrier-like commuter was doing their best to muscle onto the train first via the three inch gap between me and the commuter in front. I did my best to sound reasonable yet perturbed and asked them not to push as I was pregnant. I was allowed to board the train ahead of them but then felt like a git and let someone else go ahead of me into the seating area so that other commuters could see that I was a considerate traveller. Why, I don’t know. After all, I think anyone, prego or not, has the right not to be pushed and to ask politely that this not happen. But this is commuting, man – regular rules do not apply. Who the hell am I to come along with my long-held beliefs on social niceties and expect others not to crush my knees just because they want their legs open wider than the length of the equator?
I shall continue badge use and see what happens. I suspect that I shall hide it with a scarf or just discard it all together out of embarrassment but let’s call it a social experiment and record the findings, eh? Wish me luck; I’ll probably be stuffed into an overhead luggage rack by the end of the week.
Earlier this year, Elle UK was tackling feminism and the idea that it needs to be rebranded. To be totally fair to them, this has been a very open debate, over a number of issues, and I have been impressed with the quality of the discourse and the intelligence with which Elle has engaged with the subject. Elle UK is my favourite magazine aimed at women in this country as I happen to really enjoy the writing, and I find a lot of the fashion and style quite accessible. But it is still a fashion magazine, and while I give it props for even opening the debate up (or, in fact, acknowledging feminism at all), I did balk at the idea of rebranding feminism. But feminism has a number of image issues, and that’s undeniable.
I think that when we talk about the waves of feminism, that that can be the actual point when someone with a vague interest in equality and potentially in identifying as a feminist, feels crushed beneath the weight of ‘academic feminism’ and leaves the whole debate. Of course we need to discuss what feminism means, both personally and on a global scale, and there is huge value to academic debate. But as with any subject, and this more than most, feminism can feel inaccessible and opaque, and if you throw in the various class issues that feminism has, and its traditional exclusion of transgender women and women of colour (buzzword: intersectionality!), a woman can be faced with a concept that feels so deeply entrenched in the mire of humourlessness and worthiness and stereotypes of being robust and potentially hairy that they give up. And if they are a person of colour or working class, they probably gave up a long time ago. Making feminism relevant is essential. As much as I have some quite serious issues with the pseudo-feminism of Caitlin Moran, she and others like her have opened up a debate and a conversation about feminism, womanhood, and what it means to be a feminist. It turns out, just like any other principle or belief system, feminism is what you make it…
So why do I mention the many waves of feminism when I’m clearly going to be talking about clothes? It is so very easy to view feminism- or any radical movement like it- through the eyes of women who can have things like jobs, or the choice under the law of whether to have sex with the man they happen to be married to. Essentially, it’s easy to view feminism through the eyes of those who are already benefitting from it. And modern feminism does have a lot of problems, and some of these wonderful, spirited women who had the conversations and shouted loudly about concepts most people had not ever thought of before, had some opinions that don’t sit well with a lot of modern feminists. We should stand shoulder to shoulder with fellow women, not judge them for their clothing, their failure to be perfect feminists, their genitalia. It’s not too hard for me to see why feminists thirty and forty years ago dismissed the struggles of transgender women, and why some still do. You were born men, haven’t you had all the chances already? But feminism, if it is about one thing, is about equality: we do not win our battles by forcing others down. You are a woman if you know you are a woman! Up to a quarter of people subjected to domestic violence are men and talking about that doesn’t sit well with many feminists, I’m sure. Two women a week are killed in this country by their partner or ex-partner, and a WHAT ABOUT TEH MENZ mentality is tiresome and unhelpful. But if we truly value equality, there has to be room around the table for everyone; the conversations are just too important to be exclusive. Gender is about more than just genitalia and some problems affect us all.
So of course there have been waves of feminism; with any movement you sketch out your best guess and it evolves. Previous versions will not be perfect. However, my aim when I started tapping away was not to write about intersectionality or the evolution of feminism. Others can do that much better than I. It was to mention these things in relation to the choices that we are now entitled as women to make, and hallelujah for that. I made no resolutions this new year but I am trying to snark at other women-people in general, really- a bit less. And oh how I have loved to judge a woman who wears leggings as trousers! Lo, that dress is not for the likes of you madam, you resemble a trollop! It’s exquisite. And fantastically bad for the soul, and for other women. It’s wonderful, comforting, lazy thinking that requires no critical thought, no interrogation of your own views and assumptions, and it’s often just a little bit classist, for me at any rate. There’s no spiritual nourishment in verbalising your criticism of another woman’s appearance or behaviour, just a vague realisation that my own self-esteem must be in need of a top-up because secure people don’t need to judge others, not like that. I know that there isn’t anything positive in recognising that someone’s podge is showing in their t-shirt, even if tight does look cheap and I will never not think so. It’s your choice to wear that t-shirt.
But if there is a word in feminism in the last five years that needs examining, it is ‘choice’. Respecting other women’s choices: good. Invoking choice as the excuse, reason, justification for acting any way that you want to: not cool. Do what you want, if you must, but don’t cloak it in feminism. A great xojane.com article from 2011 had this to say:
This got me thinking about the phenomenon of “choice feminism,” where women argue that even anti-feminist behaviors are feminist because “feminism is about choice.” If you choose to be on a Hot Chicks Tumblr — or if you decide after the fact that, having been put on a Hot Chicks Tumblr without your knowledge, you will choose to be okay with it — that means the Tumblr isn’t misogynistic, because anything you as a woman choose to do is feminist. In fact, the real misogynist is the feminist who’s trying to tell you that being a Hot Chick isn’t okay.
Choice feminism gets one thing right: You should be able to make the choices that are right for you. And yes, of course that should include the choice to be ogled by strangers, or have your body used as a recruitment poster to bait guys into caring about important causes. Where choice feminism falls down, though, is in assuming that any of those things are actual choices right now.
We don’t live in a vacuum. And this is where I finally get to fashion! In a world where women are constantly- I repeat constantly- bombarded by all the ways they aren’t good enough, aren’t thin enough, oops-not-too-thin-boys-don’t-like-that enough, how can fashion be anything except the brilliant capitalist embodiment of all of that pressure and preoccupation with appearance? And it’s a concept I’ve struggled with, definitely. I recently attended a talk entitled ‘Can fashion and feminism ever be friends?’ where Sali Hughes and Polly Vernon made some excellent sense: fashion is not the same as the fashion industry. We will always create trends, and new ways of dressing ourselves, and we can do these things joyfully without ever buying Vogue. But we can do that too, if we like. If you swap the word ‘fashion’ for ‘style’ it immediately becomes something more personal, an expression of who we are, in our outer appearance. Our appearance is important, but not because we should fit in to some sort of pre-determined category. It’s important because it’s another form of self-expression, a way to represent who we are, be creative, feel good, as much or as little as we want to.
And just as don’t live in a patriarchy-free bubble, we also have rules within which to operate, never more clearly for me than in the world of work. It is fair to say that, with the odd exception, my eight years in the City were marked by black bootcut trousers and an array of very bright- what some cruel people might call garish- tops. If it had a big pattern it had Loz written all over it and if I mention, casually, that there was a big New Look across the road from my office, perhaps the true horror of all I have just described will wash over you like some sort of sewage overflow. At this point in my life I am cultivating a delusion of Scandinavian style; boxy silhouettes, pared-down design, structural shapes. This is not least because I have a) grown up a bit; b) lost a wee bit of weight (to be discussed, no doubt at length, another time); and c) got a job that allows me to exhale. I can be Laura so I don’t have to scream “I’M LOZ AND I HAVE A PERSONALITY UNDER HERE” with a floral monstrosity and a cardi. And in those barren, polyester-tinged times, I was both operating within a strict set of corporate principles and trying to subvert them at every opportunity. Except at client meetings when I’d wear a skirt suit, so you see I was capable of occasional bouts of ‘appropriateness’.
I now have a job in the third sector and there is zero dress-code in our office, if you exclude the fact that working in an un-insulated box regularly dictates your sartorial choices. The freedom is wonderful. And so when it comes to needing to get dressed up for conferences and events, it makes a nice change and I’m happy to go smart, albeit with a twist. And the people I meet at these conferences rarely tire of reminding me that my seven small tattoos can often be that twist: these are some very conservative people. So you see, as a feminist and a person, I enjoy clothes and the versatility of dressing, and I don’t now feel that these are at odds with my principles. Most of the time….