Chesley | Women's History Month

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My name is Chesley, I’m 19, I’m from Middlesbrough but I live in Newcastle now. I identify as female, and my pronouns are she/her.

Every woman has a different experience but for me, the best thing about being a woman is the solidarity between us. The sense of pride when seeing other women doing amazing things. The worst thing is probably that everyone seems to have an opinion on every aspect of your life; how women should dress, what jobs they can have, what they can and can’t be interested in, what they should do with their bodies. It can sometimes be overwhelming to rise above all that.

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Feminism, to me, means equality in the simplest terms. Yes between men and women, but making sure that your feminism is intersectional, inclusive, and considerate of people who are trans or non-binary, people of colour, people with disabilities, people in other countries and people of different classes and sexualities. Realising that the ‘feminist issues’ you’re discussing will impact people in different ways. 

Women have been left out of history for a long time because history has always been written by men, for men and about men, so it is important to celebrate what we already know and strive to find out what we don’t. Women have had to fight for the rights that many of us take for granted today and that should always be remembered. We can learn so much from the women who came before us, and they can be amazing role models for girls. Girls learning about all the amazing things other girls and women have done is encouraging and inspiring for them going forward. 

Feminism seems to have become a dirty word and lots of people are reluctant to call themselves a feminist. I think that comes from the misconception that feminists hate men and I wish more people knew that we don’t! A lot of the issues that come from women’s oppression also negatively impact men and I think it’s hugely important to realise that. Feminism is all about choice and opportunities. It’s not about saying women shouldn’t do this or can’t do that but about embracing a woman’s right to choose.

I grew up doing kickboxing and boxing so I came up against discrimination in that setting a lot. One thing that really stood out to me is a coach I had who didn’t really want to work with me. He’d say things like ‘Why do you want to box? You don’t want your pretty face ruined.’ and just generally didn’t want to help me improve. Boys who I got partnered with would laugh or not want to work with me, especially if we were sparring because they didn’t want to hit a girl. Even when discussing the sport, people have dismissed my opinions because I’m a girl - “what do I know?”, I’m probably "just pretending to like boxing to impress someone”. On the other hand though I had some amazing coaches who valued me as a fighter not just as a girl. It was always made so clear to me and to other people that once we were in the gym there were no men or women, just fighters, and I think that was so important.

Then there is more general day to day things that happen like cat calling or having my bum touched in a bar by men even though I’ve asked them to stop. It’s those seemingly small everyday things that stick out to me when it comes to discrimination.

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For me, empowerment comes from proving people wrong. Like the coach who didn’t want to work with me, or the boys who laugh when paired with me - just showing them how strong I can be and that I’m just as capable as they are. I feel empowered when I see or learn about other women doing amazing things too. 

It’s very oversimplified, but listening goes a long way. To be a better ally, listen to the stories of those whose voices have been oppressed and learn from them. So often there’s discussion about issues by people who simply aren’t impacted by the issues. Often there’ll be debate about the rights of trans people and it’ll be happening between two cis people. So listening to the views of those who are actually affected by things and seeking those views to educate yourself. It’s important to speak up when you see injustice too.

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor
— Desmond Tutu

In terms of feminism in the media, I actually only watched it recently but I loved Mulan! It’s not perfect but it’s such a great place to start talking about equality with younger kids. Representation is very important so having a strong woman who saves the day instead of being saved was refreshing. I love How to Get Away With Murder and The Good Doctor, they both touch on important issues and they’re covered really well.

As for songs, any version of ‘You Don’t Own Me’ by Lesley Gore, anything by Beyoncé, but particularly 'Flawless' just for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s sample in it and, it’s a really cheesy song, but I love 'On a Mission' by Gabriella Cilmi. It’s just one of those songs that you belt out and it makes you feel like you could take over the world! 

Millicent Fawcett, Laverne Cox, Viola Davies, Maya Angelou and Katie Taylor are some of the people who first spring to mind, but there are loads of other women who inspire me! I’m inspired learning about the stories of other women. I’m inspired by other women who are fighting for equality for all. 

soulLeo Mateusfeminism, soul