Recently I was looking at subscribing to a feminist website and the question came up: What kind of feminist are you? Um...I thought. Just using the word "feminist" in most circles outside gender studies departments is still a bit controversial, a bit combative, a bit OTT. When flicking through Grazia and Cosmo, you might come up with such insightful quizzes as "Are you a bitch?" and "Is he The One?" or maybe this inspired article, “Can you be a feminist and still love fashion?" What kind of feminist I am hasn't really been a question I asked myself.
At first I felt embarrassed - here I am calling myself a feminist mum and I don't even know what KIND of feminist I am! A quick root around Wikipedia did nothing at all to help. The range of feminist categories is huge - libertarian feminist, eco-feminist, separatist? I have to say I found the prospect of being an anarcha-feminist pretty exciting - does that mean you just reject everything and go crazy but in a pro-women kind of way? As someone on a career break with two under 3s, is my identity now purely about parenting - is there such a thing as a parent-feminist?
I was surprised, okay, AMAZED, to find in the American version of Seventeen just that helpful quiz "What kind of feminist are you?". I was impressed; the range of possible answers included Liberal Feminist, Cultural Feminist and Radical Feminist. Why this publication would go for a feminist angle I’m not sure, especially as it runs alongside “20 beauty products you NEED for College” and “What will your love life be like this year?”
A few years ago, I would have called myself an eco-feminist or a socialist-feminist. I was interested in social justice, I worked in environmental charities and youth movements. I spent my weekends at marches and demonstrations, protests and peace camps. Then something happened and I just stopped. I became one of those people I had always abhorred - someone too busy to try to change the world.
There are two moments which dealt the blow to my campaigning, defiant self. The first was in February 2003, when a million marched to stop the Iraq war. For all the placards and chants and high-profile speakers, it made not the slightest difference to the then Prime Minister's decision. I think a part of me despaired then. If the pinnacle of public agitation could not achieve a change in direction then what was the point of all these campaigns on the rights of women, climate change, nuclear weapons?
The second moment was when I had children. It was a paradox: while caring more than ever about the future of society and the planet as a whole and desperately wanting it to be a decent place for my kids to grow up in, I felt far too exhausted and overwhelmed to do anything at all about it. Even signing a petition when you're trying to get the dinner on and the kids are wailing at your ankles just seems a major effort.
It is depressing that the more people get tired and overworked, as they are bound to do in the current economic climate, the less energy there is to engage with the world and notice exactly how much we are being screwed over. Or when you do notice, a kind of fatalistic paralysis takes hold. What's the point of dragging yourself and the kids and all your gear to march the streets of London if it doesn't make a blind jot of difference to the white upper-class men running the country?
I guess blogging is one way that the proletariat are rebelling. If our views aren't represented by the government or in the media, the web offers some shred of democratic participation. Caitlin Moran draws heavily on the personal in her writing as many women's blogs do. Harriet Martineau, a campaigner for women's rights in the nineteenth century, believed that women’s references to their personal experiences "violates all decency" and the arguments should be made on purely rational grounds. How times have changed. In a world where the minutiae of life are endlessly commented on, photographed and shared, it is the personal that stimulates our imagination and our sympathies.
So, I don't think it really matters what label you choose to describe yourself with. What matters is whether you're actually doing anything to help anyone else. Be it organising an action day to save your local children's centre or giving a few quid to an organisation that will campaign on your behalf, maybe a policy influencer like the Fawcett Society or a mobiliser of the people like 38 Degrees. Certainly when it comes to parenting, I believe feminism is not only about how you raise your children but how you support other women in their life choices. As you grow older, you start to see the world as less black and white and appreciate that small changes can lead to big ones.