I’ve never been comfortable with sexism. It’s always enraged me. I guess that’s natural considering how amazing my mom was. My most vivid memory of her is when I was maybe eight years old. Tom was long gone, and she’d been struggling to provide for my sister and me. I came home one day from school with tears and snot running down my face because the other boys had laughed at my second-hand sneakers. I told mom that I couldn’t be a cool kid unless I had cool sneakers to match.
Mom was clearly stressed. She’d been working all that day and was most likely exhausted. Yet, somehow, she found the energy to pick me up and hug me so tight that I forgot all about my sneakers and the outside world.
She said, and I still remember these words even now, ‘I’m going to get us through this. I’m going to get us through this.’ She said that like five times. No one would have questioned her sincerity in that moment.
She did get us through the tough times right up until her death. Mom was constantly juggling four or five jobs at any one time. She didn’t let her pride get in the way of getting food on the table. She cleaned, she worked in a toothpaste factory, she gardened, she did the dishes in the local Indian, she was a delivery driver.
Only now can I fully appreciate how much she did for us. Her whole existence was dedicated to providing for us. She barely saw her friends and had no time for herself. Even after a stressful twenty-hour day at work, she’d still have time to deal with me and my sister’s bickering. She was a real life superwoman.
When she died I was inconsolable. In the very final moments of her life, mom was still acting as the provider. She died when a car crashed into her bike when she was on route to work.
Even at this stage, Tom let me and my sister down. We went to live with our grandmother.
I guess that explains why I am really hard-line when it comes to misogyny of any kind. As far as I’m concerned, the only worthwhile people in my life have all been women. The men have been useless. Part of me thinks it’s genetic.
I remember, a year back, an incident when I completely lost it at a sexist remark. It was during that time in a baseball game, prior to the match, when the two teams are psyching one another out. One of my opponents made one of those pathetic ‘your mom’ jokes, looking at me directly in the eye, and I very almost swung for him with the bat in my hand. I had to be restrained by my teammates and escorted off the pitch to calm down. I was very almost expelled afterwards.
A few weeks later, my history teacher, Mrs McGrath, suggested that I invest my passion for women’s rights into something positive. The school was yet to have an official feminist society, and she thought that I was perfect to start one. I took some convincing but eventually agreed to it.
The first meetings of the feminist society were very sparsely attended. Bar a few friends, and a few teacher pals Mrs McGrath had bribed into attending, no one showed up. Even though the audience was tiny I still mumbled through all my speeches, made incoherent points, and struggled to answer questions. I almost gave up.
Ultimately, feminism won out. Mrs McGrath and I persevered. We started arranging talks with more controversial and more current subjects. We had a guy rant about the lyrics of Eminem and Tyler, The Creator. We had people talk on feminism and fashion, feminism and sport, feminism and uniform. We even had one girl give a rousing speech on sexuality where she came out to the whole school. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room after that one.
We booked controversial speakers. We even had anti-feminists attempting to explain themselves to the obviously hostile audience. The attendance numbers started to shoot up. People were actually asking insightful, intelligent questions. We were inspiring a whole new generation of feminists.
You’re probably wondering why I’ve told you this whole backstory. Well, the truth is…. The truth is that I’m disturbed. Last night, I had a dream that really disturbed me. I don’t know what it means. All I know is that it’s really disturbed me.
I dreamt that a school friend, who I barely speak to, posted a selfie on Instagram. It was a perfectly nice picture. For some reason, I felt the need to tag one of my friends on the post, making an implicit comment on her appearance. I can’t remember what my exact words were, but I basically said that she looked fat. My friend replied to the comment, saying ‘BANTER!!!’, and then the matter was dropped.
The next day, another classmate confronted me about the comment. She, quite rightly, said that I had no right to criticise a woman’s appearance like that and that my behaviour had been disgusting. I said that she’d clearly read something into my comment that wasn’t there. Where exactly had I called this girl fat?
This classmate continued to accuse me. She would not stop until I’d apologise for my actions. She continued to shout at me and I just remember getting more and more irate at her voice. Her pointing finger of judgement. Her superior attitude. Her voice was so whiny, so annoying. I wished that she would just shut the fuck up.
I tried to walk away from her, but she just kept on following me. I started shouting back at her, swearing at her, telling her that if she didn’t shut the hell up then she’d be sorry.
I wanted to fight her. I wanted to beat her up with something.
I woke up, drenched in sweat. I stared at the poster, right in my line of vision, on my bedroom wall. It was of a still-frame from Beyoncé’s ‘Hold Up’ music video. I thought of how much of a bloody hypocrite I was and held my head in my hands.
Photograph: kelly via Flickr