Last autumn I attended a feminist conference for the first time. It was wonderful and exciting and engaging. I had done a little work alongside a group of wonderful women to help with the planning. I felt immensely proud that it was the kind of conference I would have attended as a “new feminist”. Having always identified as feminist I’d only recently discovers twitter feminism, used women only spaces and joined a feminist group. I was excited to be learning from and meeting other feminists.
It wasn’t perfect. There was a talk on objectification which although fascinating and insightful left me a little antsy. I wasn’t sure exactly why. There was the briefest of mentions of how austerity is impacting women disproportionately. Then the main point was got to. Despite this business is booming for nail salons. Poor women are spending what little money they have on their nails!
It’s taken some thought but I think what bothered me was quite simply I like getting my nails done. It’s not an act of empowerment and I don’t kid myself that I’m subverting the patriarchy in a post modern kind of way. The reason I like it is because I am poor. It is a little time I get as a working mother to be alone and relax. Before joining NFAN it was also the closest thing to women only space I had ever known.
Women are not naturally hateful of each other, competitive for male attention and approval or any of that other nonsense. Working class women who chat with women they don’t know in the nail salon feel this. You’re told your choice of colour is lovely and that it’s really fun to have those words or patterns. You make each other feel good.
Being made to feel silly for enjoying this wasn’t great. But I realise it means only one thing. Not that the speaker was wrong. Just that we need other voices alongside hers and those like hers, to contextualise the experiences of women like me. What I think is needed is an awareness of class privilege. Of course I can’t speak for all working class women. But I want to hear us speaking for ourselves.
This year we have other themes and ways we want to bring women together and establish effective campaigns. I’m still passionate and happy to be involved. One of the difficult decisions we have taken already is to discuss pornography under the theme of violence against women and girls. I don’t know if I agree that is is. But I do know it can be so harmful.
Other feminists have decided that because of this stance our conference is non intersectional. This made me want to break down intersectionality a little more to understand this critique.
Looking at the intersecting oppressions women face I see race, class, gender identity, sexuality and a whole host of other things. I don’t see pornographer as an oppressed class. I don’t see them as always the ultimate villain (life isn’t a pantomime). Although here is where I admit my bias. Porn has been harmful to me. As a working class woman I’ve earned money at a time I needed it through glamour modelling. Some of the work I am immensely proud of. Some of it is awful and no doubt I would not have been doing it if I wasn’t desperate for paid work at the time.
I’m certain many of you reading this will imagine a world where there was no porn and I would have had no work at all. Surely that would be harmful to me and other women like me? Shortly after a bizarre shoot which wasn’t especially well paid I stopped modelling. I missed the creative shoots and some of the people. I partly missed “being my own boss”. I did not miss living paid job to paid job, cutting rates on quiet weeks rather than upping levels. I found without having to put hours into finding work I could just do a 9-5 on fairly low pay and feel secure. Those jobs were there all along but I couldn’t consider them until I had more perspective.
The time I’ve had to grow, and the salaried job in a call centre with a living wage helped. I couldn’t stick at that job because it was soul destroying in a different way to taking your kit off for men without talent or vision who just wanted to see a naked girl. But I moved from that job with security, time and space into education. I am now aiming for a good degree from a good university. I’m somewhat privileged although having to work minimum age jobs while doing my A-levels isn’t fun. I know I couldn’t focus on education while modelling. I know other women who could and did. They did fabulously at both. But we were coming from different places.
I started modelling because it seemed a fun way to make some pocket money. I kept at it and started taking my clothes off because I had the intelligence to see that I could earn money quickly, more so than my mother who was trying to become a care worker. Any money I earned would stop the bailiffs who bothered us. Many of them started because they were both artistic and intelligent and saw it as a fun and creative way to make extra money while at university.
As it stands now I know I could have more time to study and much less day to day stress about bills if I took up work as a camgirl or a sex phone line operator. I know women doing these things who will help me. Because ultimately women help each other, regardless of what job they’re currently in.
But I don’t want to. And I should be free to make that choice. Poverty saps away at choice in an insidious way whereby we have illusionary choice. When we choose through necessity rather than desire we need to be honest about that.