April 20, 2013

IconWhat does feminism mean to you? The 100 Deeds art project wants to know

A couple of weeks ago I took the Metro light railway. A man saw me get on, and he offered me his seat. I am not pregnant, or disabled, or unsteady on my feet. I didn’t need to sit down any more than he did, so I thanked him, and declined.

He looked embarrassed, stood up and strongly insisted that I take the seat. I could see he was trying to be noble and chivalrous, and on another day I might have accepted his offer, to make him feel better about himself.

But on that day I didn’t back down. I knew he wouldn’t have offered if I’d been a man, and I didn’t want to be treated differently because of my gender. So I declined again, and remained standing. So did he. We both felt awkward.

Everyday feminism

That man probably thought I was being rude. Maybe other people on the train thought so too. I think I was being feminist, in a mundane, everyday way.

For me, feminism means trying to treat people the same regardless of their gender, and so I try to reject and challenge positive sexism as much as negative sexism. It was a tiny, forgettable act, hardly on a par with dying for women’s suffrage, but it’s the sort of thing that you might see appear on 100 Deeds, a collaborative art project which aims to encourage feminist deeds.

“Feminism means something different to everyone,” says Sarah Evans, co-founder of 100 Deeds. “This project started because Jennifer [Gaskell, 100 Deeds co-founder] and I were talking about the word ‘feminist’ and how different people took such different meanings from it. I’ve always been comfortable with it, but other people see it as an aggressive, angry, radical word.

“We wondered if we needed another word to describe the equality that we mean, but we decided that any other word would probably get misconstrued too. So then we thought, why not invite everyone to explain what feminism means to them, and how they define it.”

Deeds not words

June 4th, 2013 will be the 100th anniversary of one of history’s most famous feminist deeds, when suffragette Emily Wilding Davison stepped in front of the king’s horse at the Epsom Derby while campaigning for women’s right to vote.

100 Deeds marks that anniversary, and, inspired by the Suffragette slogan ‘Deeds not words’, it invites ordinary people to contribute their examples of feminist deeds to their website. The deeds will then be featured in Manchester’s People’s History Museum, and at London’s Wilding Festival in June, a festival set up to commemorate Emily Wilding Davison.

“I learned about Emily Wilding Davison when I was 12, she was my hero when I was growing up,” says Sarah. “I thought it was incredible that someone would put their life on the line for something they believed in.

“Emily is our inspiration for this project, but the feminist deed you submit to 100 Deeds can be anything, it doesn’t have to be something really massive or life-changing.

“You probably already do something amazing every day that you’re not even conscious of. But if you add it to 100 Deeds, someone else might see that action you took and think ‘I could do that too’.”

Click here to submit your deeds to 100 Deeds.

All deeds will be shared on the 100 Deeds website and featured in People’s History Museum, 4th – 14th June 2013 as part of Wonder Women: Radical Manchester, alongside the memorial of Emily Wilding Davison & Wilding Festival, with ‘Soundcastle’ London.

8 Responses to What does feminism mean to you? The 100 Deeds art project wants to know

  1. Nice idea! Simple.

    • Jill Lyall says:

      To me, feminism is NOT about an every day act of courtesy or kindness such as standing up for me on public transport. People, men and women, will stand up for me on a bus or train because I am a grey-headed 63 year old and they are trained to be courteous and give up their seat for an older person. Yet I am a very fit 63 year old and I don’t need this consideration. However I don’t get upset and see such an act as “ageist” – I recognize that people are simply doing what they believe is right. The tradition of giving up a seat for a woman comes from the recognition that a woman could be pregnant or having a bad menstrual day. I have been in these situations on public transport and been grateful for the offer of a seat, as a younger woman.

      For me, feminism is about far more serious and pressing issues than this. Feminism is about rising up against institutionalised violence against women and children in family law and in the family court system, and in the child protection procedures in various countries. The state of these laws, at least in Australia and by the looks of it in the US, means that women are deprived of their right to protect their child from an abusive and violent partner. They are also punished by society when sole parents, monitored, forced to leave their children in care from a young age while they look for work and generally reviled an unsupported in their role of nurturing and raising the next generation.

      To me, feminism is about contributing to the prevention of the rape, torture and mutilation of children and women around the world. It is about refusing to accept these practices because of an idea of “culture.”

      Please don’t trivialise the cause of women by making a big deal about the generous offer of a seat on a train.

      • Milly Shaw Milly Shaw says:

        Hi Jill

        Thanks for your comments. Of course I don’t think that feminism starts and ends with seats on trains – there are huge issues relating to equality and violence, as you rightfully point out. However, the point I was trying to make is that there is also feminism in the tiny details of everyday life.

        With regard to the train example, I do think it’s a feminist issue because when a man gives up a seat for a woman as default behaviour, it supports the cultural notion that women are somehow more delicate and fragile and need looking after. In isolation of course it’s trivial, but it’s one of hundreds of examples of the same thing.

  2. S says:

    Goodness, their examples are a bit rubbish / trivial aren’t they? http://www.100deeds.co.uk/examples/ Seriously, getting a group of men together to sing “I’m Every Woman”, with those famously empowering lyrics: “And when it comes back to some good old-fashioned love, I’ve got it, I’ve got it, I’ve got it, got it, baby, ’cause I’m every woman…anything you want done baby, I’ll do it naturally”. Which absolutely plays into the woman as tradition, nature / men as cultural innovators, driving force of modernity divide. It’s not exactly what the suffregettes had in mind. I can’t imagine a 100 deeds to fight racism project would suggest getting a bunch of white people together to sing “Young, Gifted and Black”. Goodness. There’s just so much that’s problematic about this really well intentioned campaign.

    To me, feminism is something like…founding and managing a website that talks frankly and enthusiastically about women’s sexuality, raises awareness of and addresses gender inequality on a consistant, ongoing basis, with open comments all women writers, while holding events with all women comedians, rising the profile of thinking, acting, capable women all over the internet and in a typically male domain. That’s a pretty good one.

    • Milly Shaw Milly Shaw says:

      “To me, feminism is something like…founding and managing a website that talks frankly and enthusiastically about women’s sexuality, raises awareness of and addresses gender inequality on a consistant, ongoing basis, with open comments all women writers, while holding events with all women comedians, rising the profile of thinking, acting, capable women all over the internet and in a typically male domain. That’s a pretty good one.”

      ha, that’s very kind, S ;-)

    • Sarah Evans says:


      I realise this is a long time after this post was made but I’ve only just seen it and wanted to reply – the examples page wasn’t created by us, we asked people at various events what they would like to see/do. We asked a diverse range of people so that the examples could be accessible to all and open up a dialogue just like this. These examples were for just this reason, so individuals could read them and think of their own. Your example sounds great and if you’re able to do it and submit is, please do! You might also be interested in the Women in Comedy Festival which has been submitted and also a lot of the others of the 130 deeds we’ve collected so far.

  3. sue sanders says:

    As a Lesbian radical feminist I am passionate about visibility and safety. For most of my youth I was other,I worked with my sisters straight and lesbian to challenge the heternormativity- the idea that most of us are white, male, straight, able bodied and christian. I have challenged that concept in education and the criminal justice system and supported and enabled initiatives that give resources to enable change – see LGBT History Month and the Classroom websites. I despair that when schools teach the suffragettes assumptions are made that they were all heterosexual. Check out Ethel Smythe whose 70th anniversary of her death falls in 2014 when LGBT HM will be celebrating Music! Smythe was a talented Musician, lesbian and active suffragette her deeds were political and artistic, she wrote the suffragette marching song http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LCtGkCg7trY, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=65NuypEkg-4
    Emily clearly was passionate about her work see http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/Wdavison.htm
    and her sexual orientation is not obvious. Can we please when we celebrate her also celebrate all women from all ethncities, all religions, all ages,sexual orientations, gender identities with disabilities as well as able bodied, married, single, civil partnered. Any one good at organizing flash mobs ? a rendering of the march song in Westminster would be powerful and fun!

  4. lizzy says:

    feminism to me means, slogan: we are angry….. it means takin one step not takin two. it’s revolutianry, it isn’t butch but it looks butch, feminist have affintie with radicalism, as a women we where all born this way with the capacity to love women, a feminist radical group is far diffrent from any gay parade or group. To me a feminist women is willing to work hard to have a home and make money to take care of themselfs showing the society we don’t need man. a femist has to be welkomed in a group of people before she can take part.

Milly Shaw


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