With over 21 years of experience, specialising in research on women in politics, women and governance and violence against women, feminist researcher Joy Watson is one to watch. Today she joins us as ELLE’s newest guest contributor. Here we get to know her a little bit better...
What does feminism mean to you?
Caitlin Moran pretty much sums this one up for me. She says that the quick way to work out if you’re feminist is to put your hand in your pants and ask yourself the following: Do you have a vagina? Do you want to be in charge of it? If you said ‘yes’ to both, then congratulations, you’re a feminist. Although of course, this does not mean that men should not be feminist. For me, feminism is about tracing the stories of the women who have gone before me. My grandmother was a domestic worker, my mother did not have a job. All the women in my line had limited life opportunities because of the fact that they were women of colour. My life opportunities are vastly different to theirs. When I think about living my life as a feminist, I see the future I want to create for my daughter.
Do you think that the word ‘feminism’ is misused and misunderstood in today’s world?
I definitely think so. In many circles, it’s become a swear word of sorts – fraught with negative associations. I don’t, however, subscribe to the view that feminism should be rebranded, because it seems to imply that there is something inherently wrong with it. But I do think that we need to somehow make people disassociate it from something that is threatening. That’s what I want to try and do with this column, to create a space where we talk about why the world needs feminism, how it is something that is necessary and beautiful and can change your life in positive ways.
What is the most absurd definition of feminism you’ve ever heard?
The notion that feminism is any one thing. Feminism is a movement powered by people, which means that it is always going to be accentuated by different views, understandings and even contradictions. Roxane Gay talks about finding peace with being a ‘bad feminist.’ By this she means that we are all human. So while we may not always have all the answers, may not always set an example, may love pink and may even at times dance our asses off to music that we know is terrible for women, the point is that we try to make the world a better place for women and let it go when we get it wrong sometimes.
What’s your opinion about the suspended Brazilian President, Dilma Rousseff? Do you think it has anything to do with the fact that she is a woman?
I think that there certainly is a gendered aspect to the fate of Dilma Rousseff. It is a crying shame that an estimated 60 percent of the 594 members of Brazil’s Congress who voted to impeach her, face serious charges of bribery, electoral fraud, kidnapping and homicide. Her replacement Michel Temer, unlike Rousseff, has been personally implicated in corruption scandals including electoral fraud violations. The fact that he has appointed a cabinet made up of 23 white men pretty much sums up his attitude to women’s rights.
Describe yourself in five words.
Crazy. In. Love. With. Life.
Where are your favourite cities in the world and why?
I love Cairo. I am mesmerised by its history, the ancient secrets it guards and the sense of spirituality it invokes. I’m also fascinated by the disjuncture between the power and richness of the days of old, contrasted with the some of the ways in which the city has since been broken in a sense. I also find myself simultaneously repulsed by and allured to New York, the city that sleeps, where dressed-up cartoon characters roam the streets to entertain children at 11pm, a time at which they should long ago have been in bed. And yet I love this city's pulse, its vibrancy, how cosmopolitan it is and the fact that while I enjoy being there, I enjoy coming back home to Cape Town even more.
What is your beauty routine?
I am a stickler for ensuring that I get eight hours’ sleep. After late nights out, I make sure to rest and make up for lost sleep. I do the bare basics of cleansing, moisturising and the occasional face mask. I really do believe, though, that beauty emanates from what we are feeling. So I try to take good care of knowing what’s going on in my head and heart.
What is the most controversial subject you have ever written about?
I once pitched a story to a magazine about women who find themselves in situations of tremendous pain and in response hurt themselves further as a way of dealing with their pain. I spent time talking to many different women to pull this story together, listening to stories of self-mutilation, substance abuse and lashing out by being sexually promiscuous. It was fascinating to me that most of this happened after bad break-ups. I think that we all experience a point in life when we will bring on more pain until we are so broken that we collapse on the floor. At times, it is only when you are physically incapable of experiencing any more pain that you will find the portal out of the experience. In some ways, this was the most powerful piece I have written. In the end though, the magazine felt that it was too ‘dark’ too publish.
What is the one topic will you never write about?
My family. My history. Where I come from. I guess that it would feel like a violation of sorts to tell stories that do not belong solely to me.
What should ELLE readers expect from you?
I’m passionate about life, about writing, about my politics as a feminist. I like pushing the envelope and finding different ways of thinking about, and making sense of, the world we live in. I’m deeply committed to issues of social justice and women’s rights. I think that debate and discussion are essential to opening up our minds. I love finding joy in life, so I am always on the lookout for a good laugh!