(Header Photo credit to Thomas Depenbusch from Flickr.com)
‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy (…)
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet…’ (Romeo and Juliet, Act II Scene II)
“Because I don’t know what I’m supposed to write, why, and whether I should just shut up and say ‘sure I agree’ with whatever people say and stop wincing at the details.” A.B
My name issues started when I was in second grade. Gosh it sounds like I’m in a Nameaholics Anonymous or Namession Group.
Fun Fact: If you check my passport, my name is printed with one ‘t’ but when I write or am asked for its spelling, it comes out as a double ‘t’. Anneta–>Annetta.
The reason I give is:
a) They (I don’t expand) printed it wrong.
b) I prefer it.
Truth: When I was seven, I was convinced my parents were illiterate, in English at least, and spelled my name wrong. We were a family of Belarussians (look for Russia, then go right and down and bingo) who had recently emigrated to the tiny island of Cyprus (look for Greece and go down across the Mediterranean Sea and it’s swimming somewhere there). So I decided I would correct them…for the rest of my life.
My family was what is described as ‘first generation immigrants’. And I, even at 7, was trying my best to hide this associations with something not ‘normal’. ie not English or Greek Cypriot. Give me a break I was at an English School, with English classmates and my family couldn’t speak English. And Belarussians were like elephant shrews in Cyprus (immigrants from anywhere but the UK were a rare species with strange eyes and noses). I was ashamed of them. I was ashamed of being the Belarussian/elephant shrew kid, of having to write the Sorry-I-Can’t-Do-P.E-Today-Because-I-Have-Snot-In-My-Nose letters and Parent-Teacher meetings were like prep school for hell. So I changed my name to make it look right, not so unbalanced or incomplete. ‘Correct’ English. I was still Anneta for my family but Annetta for everyone else. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that one time when years later my mum had to fill in a form for me and I told her she had spelled my name wrong. Her own daughter’s name. Or at least wrong in a sense. Her face was lost like I was telling her I was someone else but her daughter. In a way, I guess I was trying to be.
And now I stand at another crossroad and I don’t want to be a smartass about it. Most of the time, we have to be ready for change. But if we make the change ourselves, we better be sure we know what we are doing. Do you know that chickens can still do a few rounds of running even after their heads have been chopped off? Ever wonder why they choose to keep running? Homework: Do research on headless chickens. Choice is something important here, a matter of denial or survival.
A: Are you a feminist?
Me: (Pause) Yes…No…It depends on what you mean by feminist…I believe in mutual respect and difference. I’m not sure about equality because that means the same right? So I guess I’m a feminist…but…I don’t know…Is it important?
Before I get the feminist translation of ‘bible bashing’ to all parts of my skull and get sent hate mail like the sales, give me a moment to explain my confusion. Or, atleast for my first blog post, name a couple of things I’m shaky about. I’m not an expert in feminism but I want to learn what it means to be a woman and question what is on my plate. Or question the plate. Or, let’s get real annoying here, my being there to be given the plate. Existentialism, much?
Let’s start with the essence of the confusion i.e. what does feminism mean?
And just do a Google/Twitter/Instagram search and you’ll get more definitions, or redefinitions or predefinitions. And more and more words being added to that definition or removed or twisted and twirled into such a dizzy state that a poor old person (aka me) begins with her fist in the air in a high yelp of ‘Yes’ and then does some reading and there comes a droll of ‘No’ and then more reading for another ‘Yep’ and the cycle continues.
Just like any word, ‘feminism’ has its history, memories and secrets. For a while, the notion of ‘feminism’ painted a pretty ugly picture of a fat sheep with a mangled coat trying to balance a crown on her head, obviously too big for her if it had to fit the whole slogan, ‘No More Miss America’. Plus a bunch of crazed ladies punching the air and screaming at the top of their heads how ugly the poor creature was. It must have a lot of pressure for one sheep to carry. Poor sheep.
And let’s not forget the slogan of the century, ‘A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle’ coined by Irina Dunn. For some reason that always brought Nemo to mind. So after a few years feminism became a fantasy world of circus sheep and cycling fish. So when the argument that women don’t need men (lesbianism as the essence of a feminist), the comicality brought the whole show to a farce in the midst of my audience-head.
The name can’t escape its history. For a large population of the world this radical history of feminism is turning them away from the word itself, though not always the actual cause/s.
Yes, some of the more radical feminist actions in history are causing blushes and shame for women before men, women before women and feminists before…not-feminist (I know some feminists have *interesting* terms for the latter).
The name comes with the baggage and in order to claim you have to be ready for that great big stain because your mother/s insisted on packing in a great big tub of some horrible smelling shampoo into your bag. And it popped. So everyone on the flight got a share, a token for their memory of that one moment in their history.
And whose history is it? By birth I am a Belarussian but I grew up in Cyprus. But because I’m a woman, does that mean that women from the feminist 19-20th century hotspots of France, the UK and the USA can still be my Abraham though really I’m a Gentile. The history of the women’s movement in Belarus (as most things happening in Belarus including the special offers in vodka and the gritted teeth of the population against the harshness of regulation and taxes) were just that and it is only recently that this ‘Western’ name has become the McDonalds around the corner. Can I still be Belarussian and do the whole Belarussian cultural thing of getting flowers on Women’s Day on the 8th of March or call a big mush of potatoes baked in the oven an old granny, ‘Babka’? What about my history with Cyprus? I guess my question is how does my history as both an insider (woman) and outsider (culture/nation) link with feminism? Or does it?
Is it important that I take on the name I am given? Is my ‘Western name’ my glob of spit to the ice cold fibers of my Belarussian genes? Even if I don’t feel like my feathers match theirs/ even when the history of my parents may not be connected to the history of Western ‘feminism’/even if I am ashamed…should I take on the name there in the papers, in the textbooks and on the lips of those claiming the ‘F’ word? How personal can we get with the ‘ism’ of fem?
As I move into the next week (two) I will be diving into the fish bowl and rescuing the bicycles. Rescuing them to rescue myself.