Luna* took our Feminism course in October 2018, before going on to do Knowledge for Change. She has just completed a 6 month intensive skills training course as a member of the pilot intake for Clothing for Change. Prior to coming to Foundation for Change, Luna had faced an uphill struggle accessing treatment for both alcohol addiction and eating disorders. It wasn't until she was able to go to a women-only rehab that she managed to get any kind of long-term sobriety at the same time as help to deal with her eating disorder. She found this in the form of support from other women in the community, which she identifies as the beginning of her healing process. 

What led you to decide to take the Feminism for Change course?

When I came out of rehab, I really missed being surrounded by women. My friend told me about the course and I thought it would be a good chance to be in that kind of supportive environment again. I was becoming uncomfortable in AA meetings attracting these sorts of men, and women didn’t tend to approach me. After I went to the second rehab I knew there was loads more healing to be done with a group of women. So I was really eager to learn about the history of feminism and the course ended up opening my mind to loads of concepts and ideas that now I can’t stop reading about!

What were your feelings about the word “feminism” before taking the course?

I didn’t know much about feminism as I didn’t really have the capacity to think about many things outside of my own world at the time.

Being part of the group at first was a bit like going into rehab - you think you will get on with everyone because you are there to help yourself, and so is everyone else, and you have that in common. It comes as a bit of a jolt when you realise you don’t all share the same perspectives. But once you take men out of the equation - once we began to get rid of the layers of misogyny we all had internalized as women - we were able to connect and find that common ground. But yes, the first week or two some of the women really grated and it was challenging. I thought it was like having a man in the room because they were blaming everything on women and I felt “why have you come then?” It was frustrating! But once we shared our timelines and got to know each others stories, I could begin to see why. One of them, for example, didn’t have any women in their life they could look up to as a role model. Her brothers and her dad had done everything, and so it made sense. Her sponsor set a goal for her to have lunch with us one day because she was always around men the rest of the time. I could understand a bit better and also see how I did similar things – in mixed rehabs I had particularly made friends with men; I would seek safety by being the “vulnerable” girl who they could look after. Which they did, but then they would expect something more...I was confusing and upsetting.

What challenges did you encounter doing the course?

It was the first time I was able to get angry at the men in the world, the first time I understood my place as a woman and realized that we have all these similar experiences, simply because we are women. We all have different traumas because there is so much to fight against under patriarchy; it’s a system that plays out all through school, in treatment, in recovery…I guess being in the group was the first time it hit me just how unsafe the world is for women. 

There’s a cliché about “angry” feminists, but women are socialized to take out our anger on ourselves; with eating disorders, with drinking, even though it’s justified! I never got angry at anyone, and always punished myself for having feelings.

To be able to get angry is a really healing thing. Women are taught to be polite, to put everyone else’s emotions and needs be before our own. It’s a really big deal to be in a group of women and share just how much sh*t we have to go through and usually end up keeping to ourselves, inside our heads.

It begins at such a young age, especially conforming to the beauty ideal. I’ve started reading a lot of books around it now and feel excited and exhilarated, proud and comfortable in calling myself a woman. Don’t get me wrong – it can be really depressing sometimes. Ignorance can be bliss. I can get angry watching Escape to the Country.“This is Kevin; he’s a pet food supplier. And this is Karen.” [Pause]. Kevin then starts talking about why “they” want to downsize - turns out cleaning the house is a lot of work for Karen. Oh, you mean, the unpaid, unacknowledged job she’s expected to do for you is making her unhappy…?!

How have your relationships changed? What about your relationship with and understanding of yourself?

I have been living with my partner a few months now and it’s so hard not to be his mother. I have to get him up in the morning. Women, no matter who we are and how educated we are we all end up in the same place; educating a boy how to be a man…He wants a pat on the head for making the bed or for using all the butter and remembering to put the (empty) packet back in the fridge…he reminds me, “we’ve run out of bath salts,” like it has nothing to do with him…Women take all this on naturally, we feel like we have to. I get so angry about it. It’s so much extra work. Sometimes they moan “But I’ve never been taught!” So what? Women aren’t taught, we just do it! I just do it, because I don’t want him to abandon me… I’ve got to be this mother figure for him. It’s all very engrained. I was brought up by the kind of sexism I can see now in, let’s say, the Extinction Rebellion movement: it’s just run by middle class men who think they know everything and shut down women’s voices. “This isn’t about sexism,” they say. Well yeah, it’s never men that’s the problem! Men have got the world into this crisis and yet they still think the answer is listening to other men…

People have a strong reaction to my feminism (especially men). I try and bring it up with my foster mum because she does all the cooking and cleaning in her marriage - the way her partner speaks to her is appalling. She wants to eat healthily but can’t; he wants to eat crap, she’s expected to make it, and she can’t be bothered to cook them both two dinners so she puts up with it. I try and introduce a feminist perspective on this situation, but it’s like treading on eggshells. I wouldn’t dare raise it with the men in that family - they are very closed off. On the other hand, I have a male friend that said he doesn’t watch porn anymore because of the articles and things I post online – he didn’t realize or wasn’t conscious of how damaging these images are for women and girls.

It’s taken my boyfriend a long time to not roll his eyes, get bored, dismiss my comments as me being “the angry feminist.” A big change, which happened while I was taking the course, was that I decided to stop having sex: it was a problem for me but I had been doing it because I felt I had to. So, instead, I decided not to. Nobody talks about it, but I think every girl in a heterosexual relationship goes through this – feeling like they can’t say no; like they just ought to go along with it. Loads of women have never had an orgasm. Men don’t even know how to pleasure a woman; they don’t care - they’re taught it’s all about them. The more pornography gets watched the more horrendous it is for young girls whose bodies end up being damaged because they think they can’t say no to the things boys want or expect them to do. It’s really terrible that sexual abuse and rape - as something that happens in the context of every day, “normal” relationships - is not talked about. Like my foster mum and her sister had a bereavement recently, and they were talking about sneaking off to bed early to avoid their men trying to have sex with them that night. Their sister had just died! They were laughing it off and turning it into a kind of joke! I don’t want to get to 60 and still to be doing things like that, it’s so sad.

What barriers do you think women in particular have to face – either in overcoming addiction or in the arts and creative industries, which is where your interests are?

The art world is very male dominated. I went to a friend’s exhibition recently and all the men who were painters had done self portraits. It speaks volumes; most of the women had done naked body portraits. I don’t see any naked men being all vulnerable! There is something really creepy about male painters obsessing over female nudes. I’ve stopped reading crime books written by men and can really tell the difference; again, it’s male writers’ descriptions of violence and pornography that are so graphic and gross.

I think women face challenges going to the doctors and being listened to. During my first couple of years in recovery in London I was so ill. I would go to the surgery with a lot of complaints and they would never listen - or they would say it’s “hormones,” or that it’s all in my head. They wouldn’t give me anything when I had constant really bad IBS. Even a cough! I mean, If a man goes in with a cough, he gets something immediately to relieve his symptoms, but anything a women says, it's either all in their heads or it’s because they have a womb.

Another problem is contraception. Trying to change contraception as a woman is a nightmare – they don’t believe you if you try and say you don’t feel right. I had an implant removed and a coil put in straight away after I complained about the first one, without any knowledgeable advice from women. It was so painful: I was in agony and had thrush and constant BV every month. The doctor just told me to keep taking antibiotics. Apparently this happens to most women when they get a coil put in, but nobody tells you - women have been complaining for 50 years about its side effects and no one has done anything! It’s not designed for women who haven’t had a baby! Viagra is a multi-billion dollar industry, and it’s for men, so they make sure there’s no side effects; nothing like as much funding or research goes into the side effects of contraception for women.

What advice would you give to other women who are in the position you were a couple of years ago?

Don’t be too scared to be in a group of just women. I have a friend who I am trying to persuade to do the Feminism course and she keeps saying, “I don’t get on with women: they don’t like me and I don’t like them!” But I would say you have got to put your pre-convictions aside and give it a go, just for a few weeks. Even if your relationship with one woman changes or you find another you can connect with, that can be enough to give you this different experience. There are so many women these days I just want to shake and that I wish they could do the course. It’s different to being in a women’s recovery groups; it’s an education, it’s a guided space, you are not just speaking about recovery ‘nuts and bolts,’ but about your very being

I am in recovery, but it’s not all that there is in my life, not all that I am. I am a woman who happens to be in recovery and this is important because there is so much more to life than what it says in a book that’s written by a man for men, essentially.

It’s not enough to just go to women’s meetings and read the same material – what about the women who don’t connect with the material? Doing the Feminism course is about finding your own voice – your own inner power. Because there is something powerful in side ourselves, I believe that, we just have to find it. That’s when change happens. If I hadn’t done the feminism course or been to an all women’s rehab then I honestly wouldn’t be where I am today. I don’t go seeking male friendships anymore. And I love our women’s reading group! It’s the highlight of my month. I’ve looked into them before, but this is really accessible, not too academic. I don’t feel insecure or like I’m not clever enough to be in it.

Finally, what are your hopes for the future?

To have an art career. Or at least to be able to make a living off something creative.

To keep finding my voice; if you’ve had a lifetime of not setting boundaries and not saying “no,” it’s going to be a very long time until you can do it comfortably.

To keep surrounding myself with women. And to get more cats, probably.

To find out more about the feminism course, contact [email protected]

*names have been changed to protect anonymity.