While on a recent night out with some old friends I was presented with a problem; how to explain why I am a feminist (and by default why they should be to) but without seeming to cast judgements on their lives and therefore sound like an arsehole.

Of the friends I was with, who I have known for years and love dearly, one is studying engineering, one is at oxford (and was the only man present) and the other wants to be a housewife even though she has a 1st from Durham in sciences. All of them take issue with feminism because they perceive it as casting judgement on their lives and saying that they/ women can’t make their own choices about their lives and need to be shouted at until they understand.

Firstly it makes me sad that they feel this way and and don’t see any place for feminism in their lives, especially as feminism has given me so much that I feel is important outside the political sphere (friendship, confidence, support etc. etc. etc). However what was even harder is that 2 out of the 3 have never studied or engaged with politics, beyond the occasional flick through a newspaper, so mainly the ideas and principles that are common place to me, are alien to them. For example, when I used the phrase, “the personal is the political” which to me clearly and simply explained my point about how one woman posing for a topless lad’s mag shoot filters out to affect all women, their eyes glazed and they asked for explanation.
When I talked about society putting pressures on women (and men) to conform to certain ideals, standards and life patterns, they told me that that was bollocks and people choose what they want to do because they are naturally predisposed to, for example, mother hood or childcare (At this point I think I lost them completely as I mentioned gender stereotyping in children and the phrase “social construct”).

It became increasingly clear to me that I was fighting a losing battle in trying to fight feminism’s corner, because much of what I was saying sounded judgemental on their lives, particularly in the case of the one who wants to be a housewife. I struggled to make clear to her that I do respect her choice and don’t judge her for it, but rather the system that leads her and thousands of other women to jack in their careers as soon as they get married because that’s what they think they must do. What I want is for all women to be free to make their own choices about their lives rather then following the well beaten track that society lays out. When I questioned them about the idea of equal parenting and men becoming more involved in childcare they responded with a disdainful “but I want to look after the children; that’s what I want.” This from the women that 20 minutes earlier had been bemoaning her life because her mother keeps reminding her that at her age (nearly 22) she was married and pregnant, and therefore her life is not complete, despite a good job, a new car, good social life and money to burn. She feels that the only thing that can make her happy is to have the validation that her mother demands.

Ok, so maybe I do judge her a bit. But only because I know that she could have a very successful career in science if she wanted, and that the idea of having a career and children doesn’t seem to figure. So as a feminist, how do you talk to non-feminists about issues like careers without sounding like a judgemental arsehole?

-Alex

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