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Tierney Khan

Not another speech about feminism

By Tierney Khan, Cornish College​


When I was 15, I did a speech on feminism. As soon as it was over, as far as I was concerned that was it, I had just played my one and only feminist card. After that, I didn't think that I could do another speech on feminism. You see I'd come up with these rules in my head, how to be a convenient feminist. Don't be too loud, don't be demanding. Be opinionated, but at the rights times, be strong but don't be challenging, be assertive but in a convenient kind of way. And whatever you do, don't be a feminazi.

Feminazi was a term I heard a fair bit growing up, I knew it best accompanied with an eye roll and a muttered, 'here we go'. And the term baffled me, because unless I was missing something, Nazism, an ideology centred around the hatred of other people, and feminism, the belief in equality, were not two things that I would classify together, and because it implied that the me being vocal about injustices was something that made me the bad guy. And I didn't want to be the bad guy, I didn't want to be an inconvenience. So, I was in this dilemma between making others feel comfortable with my silence or standing up for the things that I believed in.

Now, I'm a queer, brown, fourth-generation immigrant woman. Growing up I realised pretty quickly that if I didn't fight to make my voice heard in the conversation, if I didn't fight for my spot at the table, I would be ignored. The privilege of being able to stay out of politics never really applied to me. And I'm lucky, I grew up in a family that nurtured my voice. But what about all the young girls who didn't have that? Who were told that a woman's place is to be seen and not heard? Whose ideas belittled and ignored? Who were never even given a chance to fight for their spot at the table? Who speaks for them?

Recently, I came across a post that said if you ever want to be shocked, ask the women in your life how old they were the first time they were catcalled.

I was 12. And it terrified me.

So, out of curiosity, I did exactly that, I sent around a message to all my female friends asking that very question.

 'I was 12', 'I was 13, 14, 15', 'I was 11', 'They commented on my boobs, my legs, my face, my shorts were too short, my shorts weren't short enough, I was showing too much skin, I wasn't showing enough', 'I was too skinny to have sex with, if I didn't lose some weight no one would want to touch me, they told me all the things they wanted to do to me, they groped me as I passed them'.

An 11-year-old being told they were too skinny to have sex with?

All these stories culminated in one of my closest friends telling me that she felt lucky. 'Why,' I asked her. 'Because I've had it pretty easy, I haven't been sexually assaulted.'

What does that say about us, about our society when an 18-year-old girl thinks that not being violated and abused makes her one of the lucky ones?

And the worst part about it was that I knew exactly what she meant. I knew what it was like to feel grateful that even on the nights where I had a bit too much to drink, that no-one's taken advantage of me, unlike some of my friends.

You see the thing about catcalling is when you're in your early teens it starts off as some kind of shared experience between girls, something to exchange stories on and laugh about, like the worst group-bonding exercise ever. But it manifests itself into something more sinister when suddenly it's late at night, you're walking alone and you're unsure if the man walking slightly too close behind you is just a fast walker. And you try and tell yourself to stop being so paranoid because you know not all men are out to get you, but there's still that voice in the back of your mind asking if you're about to become tomorrow's headline. If it's going to be your family who'll have to wonder why their daughter didn't come home.

And it's not as if people aren't aware that this goes on. Rules to counteract these acts are ingrained in us since the time that we can comprehend them. Don't leave your drink unattended. Don't wear that, it gives the wrong idea. Walk under the streetlights, pretend you're on the phone, always have an escape route. Yell 'fire' not 'help'.

I've always questioned these rules, because they're not right. It's not right. And I was always met with an exasperated, 'we know, but that's just how things are'. Well, where does that get us? If everyone just goes through life like 'yeah we hate it, but that's just how things are', nothing changes. Nothing changes and in 10, 15 years I'll have to teach my daughter those same rules that were taught to me. And I refuse to do that.

I don't want to bombard you with statistics, but these are too shocking not to share.

Every 73 seconds in the US, someone is sexually assaulted, that means that since I've been talking four people have been assaulted in the US alone.

Every two seconds a girl is married off before the age of 18, that means that since I've been talking 180 girls are now wives.

Two-hundred-million girls and women alive right now have been exposed to genital mutilation. That number is equivalent to all the women in Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Imagine that, every single woman you know mutilated.

And if those don't hit close enough to home for you, let me tell you about a Facebook group that popped up not too long ago titled, 'Melb Guy Pals'. According to the description of the group, the purpose was to let boys, 'talk s*** about any girl you want', and that it would, 'stay between the boys'. The group, which had amassed over 7000 members, was subsequently suspended after revenge porn featuring a minor was posted. Along with various sex tapes and nude photos of girls who did not consent to their images being shared, were comments such as, 'holocaust #2 but instead of Jews we target women', and 'I heard nudes got leaked? I hope one of you gents saved them for me'.

If you think that we don't need feminism anymore or that it's in some faraway land that inequality occurs, you are sorely mistaken, because these are our boys. And it is our responsibility to eradicate this mentality.

The night after I'd gotten all the messages from my friends, I couldn't sleep. I was angry and frustrated. Eventually my brain said, 'Tierney, f*** your rule. F*** being convenient, write the speech.'

So here I am, here to say that not only am I going to be an inconvenience, I'm going to take pride in that. I will continue to be 'that girl' for all the young girls whose voices were stifled. I will be 'that girl' for all the women who have died in the fight for equality. I will be 'that girl' until the day that a man who brags about grabbing women by the pussy and talks about how sexually attracted to his 13-year-old daughter he is, is given therapy not presidency.

I'm so tired of how normalised the undermining and sexualising of women is. I'm tired of turning on the radio and hearing lyrics like 'you're the hottest b***h in this place. I know you want it'. I'm tired of three sexual assault allegations coming out against a former high court judge, and not being surprised. I'm tired of complete strangers telling me and my friends how badly they want to sleep with us just because they can. Because who's going to stop them?

I wish that I could go back and tell my 15-year-old self that being defiant against a system that had caused so much inequality is worth being called a feminazi. But I can't. So instead, I am going to be as loud, as demanding, as assertive an inconvenience as I can be, until things start to change. Enough was enough. A long time ago. I'm done being polite, and I'm done making others feel comfortable with my silence. I'm angry, and I'm exhausted, and I don't want to have to do this same speech again in three years. But I will. If that's what it takes, I will do this speech over and over again. I'm beyond asking nicely for change, now I'm demanding it.