I didn't think I was a feminist until my daughter Thea was born. Before becoming a mum I thought everything was now pretty much equal; but the day Thea joined us, it was as if my eyes opened up properly for the first time, and I suddenly saw the world very differently.
I grew up in the 80s. Women were wearing shoulder pads bigger than my head, and swapped weekday power suits for stretch stirrup pants and leg warmers on the weekends. The feminists that had gone before us in the 60s and 70s (not to mention the work of the Saffragists and Suffragettes) had paved the way for the next generation of women to have it all. I was aware of the word feminist, but I didn't know anyone who referred to themselves that way; and my limited knowledge was of women who disliked men and burnt their bras. Quite where I garnered this knowledge is anyone's guess; I don't think they talked about it on Blue Peter. And I've since learnt that the bra burning thing is pretty much a myth.
Moving into the 90s, and I was a student doing an Engineering degree, the only girl on my course. And this contributed to making me think that it was all pretty much an equal now for women. Here I was studying a male dominated STEM subject and I could still paint my nails. Who needed feminism? In fact when a male student asked me one day if I was a feminist, I was aghast at the very notion and replied, not at all. I told him I believed in equality but nope, nu-uh, definitely not a feminist. The irony of this response is not lost on me now of course. Feminism is the desire for equality between men and women, but 90s me didn't have a Scooby.
And so life went on into the noughties. I worked, I controlled my own money and bank account, I could fall in love with whomever I chose to love. No-one had denied me the right to an education or to vote. And when I eventually married (after 10 years of declaring 'marriage isn't fo us'), no one expected me to say 'obey' in the vows.
We were all pretty much equal now. Right?
Then in 2013 I had my daughter Thea, and I started to look at the world she had been born into. It began around the time of her first Christmas when we got some old fashioned fairy tales for her, and I read them with adult eyes. Princesses only caring about being kind and pretty, waiting for a prince to come along and declare undying love. Ariel, literally, giving up her voice for a man who doesn't know she exists. Sleeping Beauty being kissed, while she's asleep, and thus unable to consent. I looked at adverts on TV, and toys in shops; both heavily segregated pink and blue and obviously different language aimed at each gender (ADs aimed at girls use words like sparkle, magic, and hair, while those aimed at boys use power, adventure, control). The more I read about gender stereotypes the more I learned: the gender pay gap; the 54,000 women a year forced out of work due to maternity discrimination; the 2 women a week who will be killed by violent male partners; the 84 men a week who take their own lives, unable to talk about how they feel as they've spent a lifetime being told to 'man up'. The stereotypes affect us all. We think we're immune but they are all around us, telling us and our children what we should like, do, wear, play with, and study etc...
So I could carry on reading about inequality and being quietly horrified, or I could decide to try and be part of making a change, for my daughter, and her generation, both male and female. I opted for change, and began writing.
In 2017 I published my first children's book, She's Not Good for a Girl, She's Just Good! that teaches kids that their gender doesn't determine their choices or hobbies in life; that girls can be just as good at sport as boys. This was followed in 2018 by The Queen Engineer, another rhyming picture book that shows that girls can be princesses, and like maths and engineering. And this year I've collaborated with two wonderful mum-run brands, and ABM sellers: Flat 102 and Cotton Twist on fun creative products that continue to spread the message that girls are equal to boys, and to teach kids about Emmeline Pankhurst, and the work of the Suffragettes.
I'm writing a 3rd book, I do workshops and book readings in schools, and now that I'm Thea's mum, I'm also happy to call myself a feminist.
Suzanne Hemming, Thea Chops Books - visit her shop here.
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