Once upon a time, I was called Joseph. I was a boy.
On 4 January 1991, I was welcomed into the world quashing the assumption I would be the third son of the Lees litter. A slightly small, jaundice but beautiful girl who from that moment was the apple of my Dad’s eye. They called me Rebecca Jo by law and Becky Jo by name, you know ‘just in case you want to change your name to Rebecca when you are older‘. I am now twenty something and Becky is just fine.
From day one I have always been a little different, a little rebellious to the tyranny of life. From a young age, I was always arguing against the assumptions made by grown men in the pub about the less advantaged and oppressed, then later congratulated by my parents for standing my ground and giving them my all.
I was always ready to pierce wicked sentences with truth and rebuttals with my sharp, witty tongue. They would say I was ‘gobby‘ and ‘outspoken’, yet never rude or impolite. I was brought up well and knew exactly how to play it. I wouldn’t raise my voice when they raised theirs, I would merely strenghten my argument.
Then I almost killed a man. I was about 13. It was New Years Eve and he grabbed me from the armchair I was sitting in and ordered me to dance. He was drunk. I wasn’t interested. After 3 times of saying no, get off me, he continued to pull me like a rag doll. I kicked him in his stomach sending him backwards into the TV cracking his head as he fell to the ground. He must have been 16st, it was a hefty fall.
I didn’t care. It was a victory. A very George and Dragon-esque one at that. (Not according to everyone else who witnessed it, apparently he was just ‘trying to have a bit of fun with me.’ We’ve heard that one before haven’t we ladies?).
After a while, he came round and never bothered me again.
Looking back at my younger self I am proud of the way I stood up for what I believed to be right even if I didn’t have the support of others, yet now being twenty-something I often feel sad. I feel sad that I have almost become immune to discrimination and accepting of inequality, particularly when it is aimed at me.
I walk by when someone wolf whistles.
I cross to the other side of the bar when someone touches me inappropriately.
I delete people off social media when they express perverted slurs on my pictures.
I roll my eyes and take a gulp of wine when a man publicly declares his desire to sleep with me in front of a crowd of 300 people, all of whom are laughing and jeering.
‘Calm down dear, it’s only banter.’
I ignore decent men in fear they will be like him, the one who didn’t take no for an answer.
I avoid conversations about how I play football so to deafen the homophobic abuse that of course isn’t aimed at me, because I ‘don’t look like I play football’.
I am a victim but also a fugitive and an antagonist.
But most importantly, I am a woman with a voice;
to challenge assumptions.
to fight inequality and prejudice.
to protest against behaviour we deem inappropriate.
But do I use it? Yes, when I have to.
When you have to? Yes, I often wait to hear the slur before I challenge.
Isn’t there more to be done to challenge assumptions in the mind before they become words and actions? Absolutely, but I am scared I will get it wrong.
Let’s get one thing straight, to challenge oppression you do not need to be qualified, but you do need to be educated; not in the sense of books and degrees but educated in the sense of having an understanding of what is right and wrong, what is moral and oppressive.
Pretty straight forward isn’t it?
There are thousands, millions of women in the world who are deprived of having a voice. The least you can do is use your right to free speech to liberate the oppressed, educate the naive and fight for a better society where we may one day all be equal.
Crossing the road, pretending like it isn’t happening and wondering what life would have been like as ‘Joseph’ is almost as bad as being one of them, and actually this isn’t just about highlighting women’s issues on International Women’s Day, it’s about opening our eyes to discrimination on all levels taking place every. single. day and doing something about it.
Stop being a total tit Becky Jo and learn to embrace being a beautiful strong woman with a sharp tongue. It’s people like you who can empower voices to release others from the cages of oppression.
Sort your shit out girl, you have a lot of work to do.
And you, yes you reading this do too.