Jay Andrew from Women for Independence Glasgow East, shares her experiences of campaigning with women, for women, and explains why she is, and will remain, a feminist.
I’ve been involved in politics on and off for about 30 years now. And I’m proud to say that some of the best and most fulfilling work I have ever done has been recently with Women for Independence.
We get a lot of backlash for allegedly being a “women-only” organisation; one that seeks to exclude men and work only for the advancement of women. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Only yesterday, when I raised the issue of women campaigning on welfare issues and treatment of “invisible” illnesses such as M.E., Fibromyalgia and thyroid conditions, I received a message from one guy saying “I am a brother and I have Fibromyalgia and yes I would support you whole heartedly.” And when Women for Independence marched in the recent Bairns Not Bombs demo there numbered several men and boys in our bloc. My local group’s Twitter feed has many male followers who engage with us positively and respectfully.
But I do know from talking to others that there is a significant pack of men – and women, I’m sorry to say – who somehow feel threatened by a women-focused grouping.
Now don’t get me wrong – I love men (I also love women but that’s for another blog post). I’ve lived with one for almost thirty years, even with his underpants on the floor. One of my closest friends is a man. But when it comes to getting things done and being active not only politically, but creatively and socially, I gravitate towards women.
I’m also a volunteer with Glasgow Women’s Library and we get a lot of the same shtick – “why isn’t there a men’s library?” is an oft-asked question. I’m always happy to suggest to them that, if they cared to, they are perfectly at liberty to go and set one up, as a group of marvellous women did over 20 years ago. Glasgow Women’s Library is a fantastic celebration of the achievements of women in the fields of literature, art, history and much more. What to me is a shame, is that it exists because these contributions are rarely highlighted elsewhere.
And the same goes for women in the political sphere. How novel and yet how sad it is that only now, in the second decade of the 21st century, are we seeing the rise of women in political life in any measure. And how galling it is that these women are still judged on their looks and their fashion sense over and above their policies. It’s no wonder that, although we are 52% of the population, we women still make up a minority of figures in the public sphere.
This is why women’s organisations are important. In my experiences of working with women, I find a sisterly camaraderie that I find nowhere else. I have been to too many meetings where older men have balked at the mere suggestion of having a crèche to allow women with children to attend. Among women, I feel supported and respected. Discussions are undertaken in a respectful manner, with women listening and taking their turn without interrupting. Quiet women are encouraged to speak and contribute. Decisions are taken quickly and efficiently. Women share and lift others up instead of seeing other women as rivals.
More importantly to me, women are more accepting and forgiving. As a disabled woman, I worry that my illnesses prevent me from being as involved in activity as I would like. In more male-dominated situations, I have always felt that it’s “all-or-nothing” – if you can’t commit wholeheartedly and 100% to whatever they ask of you, then forget it. Even if by some miracle you can overcome all the other obstacles that prevent women from taking part, such as childcare, running a home, being a carer to parents or other family members, you may still find yourself side-lined to making the tea! By contrast, I always find women to be more accommodating and flexible, seeing each woman’s contribution, however small, for its own worth towards a greater good.
For me, organisations such as Women For Independence and Glasgow Women’s Library offer a supportive and safe space where women can learn new skills, build confidence, try out new things (and maybe decide that’s not for them but that’s okay because nothing is set in stone), meet other women like them and women who are not at all like them but who share a common purpose and become thus empowered and strong. Because, have no fear, when women emerge from these chrysalises, we will be an unstoppable force.
Why does feminism still matter to you? Why do support women-only organisations like WFI? Or maybe you don't... Either way, if you would like to contribute to this series, then get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org. We're always on the look out for blog pieces, and will happily help out those who haven't written before.