When I was a young teenager I’d rather have run around school naked than admit to being a feminist. Feminists were hippies and men haters with way too much bodily hair, in my ignorant opinion. During my later teens, however, I found myself caught up in the evolving ‘ladette’ culture and, through an immersion in heavy drinking and the adoption of a second home in the shape of a somewhat seedy pub, I gravitated towards a kind of egalitarian existence alongside a bunch of similarly hedonistic males. This unified aim of ‘getting off one’s head’ went a long way to smoothing out the differences between the genders, and I would regularly wander into the aforementioned seedy pub alone, purchase a pint (or five) and fritter away several hours playing pool with blokes I didn’t know especially well, a cigarette continually dangling from my lipstick-stained mouth.
Back then, if I’d been pressed for an answer as to whether I classed myself as a feminist I would probably have said yes, before hurriedly qualifying my answer to ensure I wasn’t thought of as a staunch man-hater (a stubborn definition that took some years to be banished from my internal dictionary).
Fast forward a couple of decades and I would now, very proudly, describe myself as a feminist. When I look back on the young woman I was in the 1990s I see someone who, rather than gaining a respectable parity with the men, allowed herself to slide into a dimly restricted existence that centred around drinking and drastic mental escape. I considered propping up the bar with a packet of fags close to hand to be an admirable way to live; in reality I was drinking so much that I placed myself in increasingly dangerous situations with men who were not of especially high moral standing and who cared little, if at all, about my safety and wellbeing. This was not feminism. It was gravely reckless behaviour and I was very lucky that I wasn’t harmed to a greater degree than I was.
The late Alan Rickman said in June 2015, “I always think feminist just means common sense”. And yes, that is what it is. Heavy drinking and living a life that spins on an axis of havoc amounts to the opposite of common sense, and the opposite of feminism. Living that way means being out of control, putting your safety in the hands of people who could (and regularly do) exploit the situation for their own gains. It leads to walking home late at night, alone and unaware, taking stupid risks and abandoning the gut instincts that we all have and which serve as our early warning systems.
On March 8th it’s International Women’s Day, a celebration of the female gender and all that we bring to the world at large. I am so pleased that today aged forty I am a feminist in the truest sense of the word. I am glad that alcohol no longer unravels all my strengths and potential, turning me into a victim instead of a fighter. I’m grateful that I no longer allow myself to lose control.
Not drinking has provided me with so much, not least a clear perspective on the sort of person I want to be and what I want my life to amount to. I stopped holding rebellious, self-abusive and reckless behaviour in such high regard many years ago. Instead I started to see strong people, those with integrity and self-respect, as the ones I admired the most. Quitting drinking has enabled me to move closer to becoming the person I want to be, and I’m no longer frightened to be a strong woman. In fact, it’s what I aspire to be – every day.