On being a feminist (and a vegetarian)

I’m a Feminist and a Vegetarian.

Ouch. Don’t I just sound like I’m great fun at dinner parties? Just a big ol’ laugh to be around? I mean, really, even I would hesitate to invite myself to brunch, and, trust me, I’m great fun at brunch. I’m the one that holds up the cocktail menu and shouts It’s acceptable somewhere!’. People love that. So why am I so weirdly ashamed of my own values? It’s frankly ridiculous that I, as a person who clearly believes in both of these principles, am still buying into the old stereotypes that feminists hate fun (and men), and vegetarians are boring holier-than-thou activists who want to put red paint and dead cow’s heads in your bed as soon as you drop your guard. It’s just not true. So why do I live in fear of the inevitable groans and eyebrow raises every time I bring up either of these things? (Which, let’s face it, is quite a lot).

I’m a feminist because I believe in equality for all people, full stop. That’s a good thing. There’s really no way anybody could argue that that’s a bad thing. I’m well read and educated on the subject, I experience the need for feminism first-hand every day of my life, and I can and will defend my values against anybody who challenges me. So why (why?!) would I hesitate to put my hand up to being a feminist in a social situation? It’s embarrassing, and I’m ashamed of myself, but the other day I found myself doing a weird, timid, half-up-half-down sneaky hand raise when a lecturer asked our class who among us would identify as a feminist. When I should have been standing on my chair and holding my hand proudly in the air, (waving a banner that said “I believe in equality for all people and I don’t care who knows it”), I was sitting quietly in my chair hoping that my peers wouldn’t judge me. Absurd.

It’s the same with vegetarianism (a recent life decision that I’m actually really proud of) – it’s even reached the point where I’m afraid to remind friends that I’m a vegetarian (even in situations when it’s a pretty key piece of info, like right before they pick out a meat feast pizza for the two of us to share), because I dread that familiar look of surprise followed by confusion, disappointment and eventual despair. “Oh” says the look, “you’re one of them now”.

Honestly, I know exactly how they feel. That look is the exact look that I give to my friends when they announce that they are trying Dry January. I don’t understand their motives, I am upset about all the fun they will now miss out on (who will laugh at my cocktail menu antics now?), and, honestly, I feel a bit put out that they’ve gone and made a healthy and responsible choice when there was an unwritten agreement between the two of us that we weren’t going to get our shit together until at least a week after graduation, and maybe not even then. I feel betrayed. I feel like they’re sitting in their nice sober tower laughing at me as I order a Tequila Sunrise at 11am (It has orange juice in it which means it’s designed for breakfast), try to recreate the dance from Pulp Fiction (both parts, simultaneously), or attempt to fix my winged eyeliner after a few glasses of wine (a task which is almost impossible, even for the sober and steady-handed).

So I guess there’s a few things going on here. The first is that I’ve gone right ahead and labeled my friend as boring, confusing and, frankly, a bit of a drag – just because they’ve decided to try something that I’ve never personally felt like trying. The second is that I’ve been forced to come to terms with a few of my own insecurities, and I don’t like it one bit.

So, sure, there are a few unkind labels that get attached to feminists, and a few for vegetarians too, and a lot of labels that get attached to both feminists and vegetarians, and I think that’s because both of these things force people to take a long hard look at their own values, and most people don’t like what they see.

Since choosing to become vegetarian (and I know I do sound very very holier-than-thou right now, and I’m really sorry), and educating myself about what happens to the animals that end up on our plates, I’ve found myself becoming more and more frustrated with people who refuse to even enter into conversation about the issue, let alone educate themselves. I have to remind myself that I was stuffing chorizo into my face with the best of them just a few months ago. I knew that animals had to die in order for me to eat bacon, I’d seen the documentaries about battery chickens and I’d read lots of articles about the detrimental impact that the meat industry has on the economy and the environment. I’d just chosen to tell myself that it wasn’t my fault, there was nothing I could do, and the pig I was eating had probably had a fantastic life rolling in muck and having its ears scratched before dying of old age surrounded by family, and finally being ushered ever so gently into his final resting place – in my hand, covered in ketchup, between two slices of bread. Right?

When I get teased for being a feminist, it’s coming from the same place of ignorance and denial. ‘But there’s no need for feminism anymore’ is something which I hear way too often, and I honestly believe my male friends suspect me of gross exaggeration when I complain about the cat calls and abuse that gets shouted my way all the damn time as I’m walking around my neighbourhood. Some people turn a blind eye to the real issues because they are in a privileged enough position to do so. It’s no wonder that white middle class men can have no grasp of the prejudice faced by, oh, pretty much everybody else in society, and of course I’d never really thought about the way that animals are slaughtered because, well, it wasn’t my job.

Most people will turn a blind eye just because they can, and when you announce that you’ve taken a stand against one of the things that they were trying to ignore, they react with confusion and annoyance.

So what am I supposed to do? (Besides write an incredibly long blog post about it all, obviously). Well, and this is the real kicker that you can bet is keeping me up at night, what I can do is absolutely nothing. Nope, not one thing, not really. Fact is, you can’t force people to understand your point of view, and you certainly can’t force them to change their ways.

As for me? Well, I’m a bit late for dry January but I’m seriously considering giving dry February a try. Don’t worry, I’ll still be great fun at brunch.