April 20, 2013
What 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.
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’.”
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.
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