A year ago, I would have seen this title, rolled my eyes, and prepared for outrage. So if YOU’RE reading this, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but this won’t be anything like the “Why I Don’t Need Feminism” tumblr that made the rounds a few months back. That was pretty terrible, and this post won’t be holding hands with that one anytime soon.
But you might still get mad.
To provide some context, an overview of my affair with feminism might be helpful. In high school, I knew it as a vocab word in my social studies textbooks and as a concept that the pundits on Fox News despised. I didn’t have any strong opinions on feminism when I was eighteen, but, if pressed, I would probably say nah. I didn’t know too much about feminism, but I thought it could be summed up as women who think that stay at home moms are losers, promiscuity and abortion are cool, women who want to get married are dumb, girly-girls are offensive, and all men are chauvinist pigs. Although I knew I wasn’t not cut out to be a stay-at-home mom, I thought that this was a very honorable choice. I thought that sleeping around was a bad choice for men and women both. My stance on abortion was, politically, pro-choice, but morally, I believed abortion was always the wrong choice unless the life of the mother was in danger. I wanted to get married and have sweet little babies. I was hyper-feminine. I knew some really amazing men (Exhibit A: my father). So, given my opinions and limited knowledge of the concept, I could definitively say that, not only was I not a feminist, I believed the movement as a whole was unnecessary and silly.
There was no landmark occasion or big event that marked the turning point in my way of thinking. Ultimately, it came down to getting more education about the subject and being able to discuss it with well-informed people. It’s hard to pinpoint how exactly it came about, but by the end of my freshman year of college, I was a proud, nineteen year old feminist. What’s more, I still held tight to the things I thought and was in high school. Actually, the list in the last paragraph is accurate still today. And believing and being all those things, from high-femme to man-loving, was totally compatible with feminism! Gee, isn’t that neat.
And feminism, at its best, is not mutually exclusive with values like those I have – it celebrates the dignity of all lives, the equality of all people, and the belief that freedom from oppression is a right and a possibility. Those are my values. But alas…feminism is no longer one of them.
Here’s where I’ll leave a little intermission for you to Google a certain image, smugly proving to me that I am indeed a feminist. You know what, I’ll save you the trouble, here it is:
For good measure, here’s another!
Yeah…that’s not what feminism is anymore, folks. Denotatively, sure, but connotatively – NOPE. And that’s why I no longer want to associate myself with the term feminism. Connotations and usages of words change and evolve; it’s part of the dynamism of language. That’s why you won’t hear me saying, “I’m going out to get some fags for the fire,” “Michelangelo’s “David” is awful,” or, “My shoe closet is full of rubbers and thongs.” So yes, if feminism were simply “the radical belief that women are people too” or “the social and political equality of women,” I would totally be a feminist. But, as it stands, it’s something else; something that I’m not. I hear the chorus now: “That’s not true feminism! That’s a bastardization of feminism! The thing you’re against is a misunderstanding of feminism (see Fig 1 and Fig 2)!” Sorry, but at this point, IT HAS BECOME SOMETHING ELSE. These so-called “bastardizations” and “misunderstandings” are the vast majority of feminist “discourse” today. The label has changed to a point where I can’t associate myself with it anymore. (If you don’t think that makes sense, read about a member of the Republican Party about 120 years ago and ask yourself if they would still want to identify as a Republican today.)
So, now I need to clarify a really major point that does lead into the crux of this post, but more importantly, it stands on its own as something that I believe with all my being. If I were reading up until now, I would be thinking “Wow, I’m so happy that you, a white middle class girl from Illinois, don’t need feminism. Sure, you don’t like it, so it’s useless. I can’t hear you over the sound of your privilege.”
That’s where you’re wrong. I might not call myself a feminist anymore, but nothing will ever change the fact that I am a member of the universal sisterhood. In a world where mass rape is a war weapon but not a crime, young girls – little girls, little children – are locked up like animals and sold as sex slaves, a uterus may well be a death sentence, and mothers see no problem mutilating the genitals of their own daughters, I can’t and don’t ignore the plight of my sisters. Those women and girls don’t belong to their oppressors; to the individuals and warped cultural elements that have claimed them – they belong to the sisterhood of the world. This sisterhood in itself is power, and that power can only be harnessed through solidarity.
But of every fifty “feminist” articles I’ve seen, thirty are lambasting Photoshop, fifteen are railing against high school dress codes, five are decrying the lack of social acceptance of body hair on women, four have something to do with Disney Princesses, and all of those find a way to mention Beyonce and a hashtag. Oh, the other one? That one, lone article that pops up talking abut ISIS’ brutalization of little Yadizi girls is the only one that feels like feminism to me. The rest are just…well, they’re stupid. My queen and spirit mother Simone de Beauvoir turns in her grave every time someone writes a feminist manifesto revolving around Meghan Trainor.
(Yikes, if I really wanted to sound like a snob, I would say here that I think everyone who wants to write a piece that could have “feminism” as a keyword has to read The Second Sex. Is it cool if I say I do totally think that but I know it sounds pretentious?)
Worldwide female empowerment is a priority, passion, and prayer of mine. But what feminism means in the American zeitgeist is not synonymous with worldwide female empowerment – it’s more of what I like to call uneducated Western white girl feminism. It’s the kind of drivel that minimizes and dilutes truly important women’s issues in America and the world. (American Black feminism, however, is a movement I admire – add Audre Lorde to my Queen Spirit Mother/required feminist thinkpiece prerequisite reading list please!
But, even movements that come so close to the ideals and convictions I hold have a few issues with me. The issue I really want to focus on is hypocrisy. American social justice cannot ask for equality and grow angry when it’s not offered a pedestal. Feminists can’t demand certain treatment from men but still find glee in getting away with being able to treat men in a poor manner.
American women are very close to gender parity, and I think that there are three steps that need to be taken before we more or less reach it and I feel comfortable wearing my feminist t shirt again, all three of which have to do with fighting hypocrisy. The first is to cease with self-victimization. It’s kind of tricky to articulate this, but I so often see and hear things that (American) feminists interpret as micro aggressions against (white) women, when in reality, they are very similar to things that these women would say to or about men without anyone raising an uproar. It often seems like feminists today look for “rage fodder” by focusing solely on female victims of gender-neutral issues. Before it sounds like I’m defending the poor ol’ white man – who has been and still is wildly privileged in this world – think about what I’m really saying. The closer we get to achieving equality, the need just becomes greater for women to start letting go of our own inferiority complexes. The more we need to refuse the urge to victimize ourselves. The more we need to see how we’ve proven our competence – hell, our excellence – now we need to start simply living it.
We don’t live in a world of mind readers – no one we meet will know exactly how we want to be treated or spoken to. So we still need to let them know respectfully, but we need to let go of the temptation to be offended. I know, it’s a huge high to feel like you can make people walk on eggshells around you. This is why I took up industrial dance. But it’s something that we just have to let go.
The second change I’d like to see comes back to a huge bugaboo I’ve had about feminism forever. Woman is not a “second sex,” but as sweet Simone herself would tell you, men and women, generally, are different!! It’s not a bad thing! My ideas about this, like, the mental image I get, is a scene at the end of a Paxil commercial. A diverse group dances with streamers at an outdoor festival and goes out for brunch in colorful sweaters and then each goes to his or her separate loft to create a Jackson Pollock-style painting. We are a celebration of difference! If you’re a woman who identifies more with masculine qualities or a man who identifies more with feminine ones, great! You’re not an anomaly, you’re another attendee at the Outdoor Festival of Difference. Because – Simone, holler if you’re listening – individuals contain more difference than the groups to which they belong. I want women to feel empowered by being, I don’t know, nurturing! Emotional! All those dirty words. In that empowerment comes the knowledge that such “negative descriptors” are expressions of a uniquely feminine strength. And, the fact that men can and do have those qualities as well is just further proof that the feminine and the masculine aren’t male/female specific, but they are real and very different concepts that have a beautiful power to tie people together.
And, last and most importantly – be kind to the person in front of you. We can talk all we want about matters of equality and social justice, but these conversations are meaningless if we can’t see the trees for the forest. If we lose sight of what it means to listen to the individuals who come into our lives, to truly seek to understand and love them, then our missions lose meaning. Change never trickles down, it trickles up, and the best way to effect change is to keep your sight on your own sphere of influence. It’s easy to rage about the shit going on “the world,” but it’s more important to make your own life an oasis in that sea of shit. Even though it might be more satisfying to go take a swim in it just so you can groan to people about those swims you’ve taken in shit. The world is an angry, aggressive place. Posting articles with pull quotes on social media, while informative, won’t change that, but taking time to cultivate true kindness in your daily life certainly will.
Bottom line: I love women, and I’m glad to be one. But it’s time to stop demanding power and to start LIVING our power and pouring our strength into those who don’t yet have the courage to do the same.