By Poppy Howard-Wall
This article was originally penned in January 2020 for the GirlUp Zine, that due to Covid-19 was unable to be widely circulated. An addition has been added at the top as the author feels the article should not now be circulated without recognition that it is written from the experience of a white privileged feminist and does not speak to the experience of black women and women of colour, she recognises this experience is much more challenging. The addition has been added and not incorporated as the author feels it would be disingenuous to pretend she had originally included the content. She recognises this original oversight and promises to do better going forward. She recommends this course of action to Dominic Cummings.
Addition added June 2020 -
In this moment of movement, I needed to add when I say our sisters that includes those who are black. Please do not think I only mean those poor and suffering that aren’t next to you and me. Because whilst women face challenges all over the world, to be a black woman in Edinburgh is not the same as a white woman. If you can accept there is still work to be done please accept it needs doing right under your thumb. I use that expression because as educated women we can aid the research and voices, let’s take on some of the pain. We cannot fully understand but all must stand, put your foot on the peddle, do not be afraid, black women marched for women’s rights, white women, ensure you repay.
What does it mean to be a woman?
To be a woman means to have your femininity sold back to you.
To be a woman means to have your feminism turned into merchandise.
To be a woman means to watch your independence be turned into a stereotype.
To be a woman means to watch your existence categorised.
To be a woman is to be politicised - whether you like it, or not.
The women of their late teens and 20s may not face the same barriers as our mothers or grandmothers - or perhaps even our older sisters. But, there’s a dialogue telling girls my age that because we live in a world of tote bags where there are female comics on Netflix and Harvey Weinstein faced a courtroom, that we should be grateful. And we should, but it’s still hard out here.
Just because the Victoria’s Secret fashion show didn’t happen last year, doesn’t mean the ‘angels’ didn’t instill a holy spirit of skinny in our heads at 15. Just because Me Too was huge when we were 18, doesn’t mean we weren’t sexually harassed on trains at 14. Just because England’s female sports teams are rising in popularity, doesn’t mean we don’t remember being 12 and being told girls football was a joke. It’s fantastic that we are seeing improvements but don’t expect us to forget everything we learnt growing up, we’re still growing.
To be a woman at Edinburgh means to be in the majority of the student population and the minority of the teaching population.
To be a woman at Edinburgh means to be proud to share a library with other brilliant women.
To be a woman at Edinburgh means having access to free sanitary products.
To be a woman at Edinburgh should mean to uphold other women and not put sex over friendship.
To be a woman at Edinburgh should mean believing each other’s experiences, it should mean support.
The women at Edinburgh university are numerous and although it makes for awkward ratios within the walls of Bongo’s or (insert your club of choice here), we should be grateful. More women studying now could mean more women in our labs, parliaments and boardrooms, in 10 years time.
To be a woman outside of Edinburgh can mean genital mutilation.
To be a woman outside of Edinburgh can mean child marriage.
To be a woman outside of Edinburgh can mean being left out of education.
To be a woman outside of Edinburgh can mean bleeding with no sanitary products.
To be a woman outside of Edinburgh is an experience we need to consider.
Child brides cry all over the world under covers, it’s the priority of these voices that we need to discover. While we work on our issues we must do more than pass tissues, when discussing and cussing over their hardship. While the points I have made above are valid, we are not the priority. I don’t wish to bore with statistics, but our sisters are still struggling. While we get our education, they still have to fight for it. By pushing ourselves to support one another we push the conversation closer to where it needs to be. By what we accept in our own lives, we can strike an even more aggressive contrast to their situation and create a domain where they are acknowledged and talked about, they deserve that from us. It’s not my place to say how we can best help, and the words on this page are just my thoughts and I know you’ll have your own, but I think you should share them. This publication might be a good place to start.
Girls, what do you want it to mean to be a woman? Because some of us are still acting like we’re on the playground and most of us aren’t afforded that luxury.