The Difficulties of Picking an -ism

During my first year of university, I studied a different -ism every week. I looked at socialism and conservatism, wrote essays on environmentalism and Thatcherism, read pages on feminism and liberalism. I found the dedication of individuals to their chosen ideology varyingly confusing, admirable, daft and logical. But most of all, I found their certainty enviable. 

For as long as I can remember, I have called myself a feminist. I have tried to check my privilege, tried to be an ally for the LGBTQ+ and BAME communities. I spend most waking hours listening to podcasts, trying to understand events in Russia, the minutia of Brexit, what language might cause offence and what the hot takes on Love Island are. I have been on anti-Brexit marches and attended climate crisis lobbies, signed petitions and written to MPs, empathised and criticised figures from Margaret Thatcher to Jeremy Corbyn. I have voted for three different parties, learnt about the difference between body positivity and body confidence, staged mini plastic protests in Waitrose and agonised over the environmental impact of an avocado.

‘People’s March’

If I sound confused, conflicted, eager to please but unclear on how to do so, it’s because I am. I can’t work out which political and social issue I should be prioritising. For years, feminism has been my priority, my specialist topic on Mastermind (or my 2am drunken lecture for whichever poor sod I’ve cornered in the stairwell). My feminism has matured with me, becoming more intersectional and complex, but it has always been something of a calling card.

Three years ago, however two new topics began vying for top spot on the hallowed list of Lauren’s Political Priorities. Xenophobia and division in Britain – for which Brexit was both a catalyst and a cause – dominated the news and my conversations. I have obsessively followed the unfolding drama, listening to Brexitcast with a level of devotion that my therapist might deem unhealthy. In the same year, I was diagnosed with anorexia and depression. Mental health became a passion project – I embarked on recovery, ran a marathon and raised money for Mind, wanged on about mental health to anyone who would listen. Feminism and overthrowing the patriarchy remained my main concern, but my energy and attention were increasingly divided.

Climate Crisis lobby

But then all of these concerns – from the existential to the everyday – were enveloped by a climate crisis. I began to have anxiety dreams where I was the polar bear on the shrinking ice cap. I was paralysed in supermarkets trying to work out if loose tomatoes from Spain had a smaller environmental impact than packaged tomatoes from Kent. Did Brexit matter if we were heading for environmental oblivion? Could I balance my need to lessen my rigid diet with my desire to eat less meat? Did the equal distribution of unpaid housework and emotional labour matter if the planet was about to go up in flames?

I feel guilty for attending an anti-Brexit march because it involves a two hour train journey. I am conflicted when I spend time assessing the carbon footprint of tofu because obsessing over food is something I am gently trying to move myself and others away from. I worry that I am ignoring issues such as female genital mutilation when I write essays on the importance of feminism within liberalism, because the former is of vital importance while the latter is an academic indulgence. In my fear that I am not doing the right things for the right causes, I end up doing nothing for anything.

In a world of cancel culture and social media, when every political position you have held and supported is recorded, lauded and crucified, it is easy to assume a position of concerned ambivalence on the major issues. Virtue signalling is rife, as is the green-washing of fast fashion and the commercialisation of feminism. But if you want to do more than vaguely support a cause, it is difficult to work out where to channel your finite energy, time and resources. 

I wrote this piece, in part, to help myself out of this conundrum. If anything, I have only succeeded in confusing myself more. But perhaps in a time of political, social and climate chaos, the only option is to be confused but do your best. I can be a feminist and not always get things right. I can be active in the fight against the climate crisis and sometimes eat my grandma’s roast chicken. If we are afraid of backlash, of missing the ‘woke’ boat, then we will never make a difference. But multiple imperfect steps, by multiple imperfect people is how progress is made. If I can’t commit to a preexisting -ism, perhaps I can create my own patchwork quilt of intentions, beliefs and actions that will help make the world a better place.

The Rise and Rise of the Modern Witch

As Halloween looms, the witches are rising. These witches carry placards not broomsticks, but they are following in the footsteps of women who have for years thrown off oppressive authorities and struck fear into the hearts of the ruling powers. Women have been associated with a dark magic for thousands of years – in the late nineteenth century, Chinese rebels attributed control of the wind and defensive powers to prepubescent girls called ‘the Red Lanterns’, and menstruating women were hugely powerful weapons in battle.

The patriarchy has oppressed this female power for centuries – within the West, the traditional concept of witchcraft is heavily influenced by the Christian notion of a theosophical battle between good and evil, with witchcraft generally associated with evil. This resulted in years of persecution, but modern day Christian views range from intense belief and opposition, to non-belief, to approval in some churches. Modern witchcraft has become an established branch of modern paganism and the shroud of secrecy around witchcraft is lifting. Beyond the Western world, many cultures continue to have widespread practices and cultural beliefs that in English are loosely grouped together as ‘witchcraft’. Historically, attitudes towards these beliefs wereoften heavily influenced by Western hostility towards witches, and witch hunts still occur today.

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But as modern day witchcraft emerges from the shadows, the movement is stoking the fire of feminism. In the 1960s, several US groups campaigned under the acronym ‘WITCH’, from the Women’s International Terrorism Conspiracy from Hell to Women Incensed at Telephone Company Harassment. More recently, the rise of the#MeToo campaign has been mirrored by a rise in the number of women identifying as witches and several witchcraft traditions are increasingly focussed on sexual assault and right-wing politics – a coven recently met to hex Brett Kavanaugh, and mass hexing followed Trump’s presidential inauguration. Against a US administration quick to brand any criticism as a witch-hunt, the so-called ‘nasty women’ have reclaimed the name and the movement to turned the tables on the president.

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However cynical you might be about the magic or power of witches and their hexes, there is no doubting the community building power of such rituals. The term witch has been used for centuries to signify fear and empowerment, often at the same time. The contradictions that modern witches embody – sexually empowered but psychologically mystical,possessing hidden knowledge but led by instinct, eccentric and haggard but intensely seductive – allow for the intricacies that are innate to all people, but often denied to women by the madonna/whore dichotomy. Modern witches are complex, varied and powerful. They are the nasty women the patriarchy fears and they are rising.