I remember the moment I realized I was a feminist.
When I was in sixth grade, we had to do these in-class debates every week. It was a stupid activity designed to make us think critically and, I don't know, prepare for lives as lawyers, which was a completely ludicrous thing to expect from a class of actual idiots (which might be a little rough to say about a group of 12-year-olds, but my middle school classmates were particularly cruel and, I would argue, worthy of some lingering bitterness). Anyway. One week the class was split, and we were assigned to be either 'pro' or 'con' Title IX. I got on the 'con' side.
I was livid.
I was expected to make a convincing argument for why boys and girls needed to have separate and not-equal activities. And I was suddenly acutely aware of how ridiculous that concept was. How could I even fake thinking that? In my preteen mind, this is what feminism meant -- to refuse to do a dumb assignment that went against something that I didn't so much believe as find obvious.
Feminism is more nuanced than "boys and girls are equal" -- there are conversations about gender representation and identity, the intersectionality of women's issues with queer issues and race/ethnic issues, the concept of agency, explorations of the broader culture and societal attitudes ... Basically, anything that's against the patriarchy, is feminism. Or, as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says on Beyoncé's song "***Flawless," a feminist is "a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes."
And that's what makes you a feminist.
You don't become "more of a feminist" by posting links to articles about women getting surgery to look like Barbies and commenting on how sad this makes you. You don't become "more of a feminist" by cutting your hair short, nor do you become "more of a feminist" by shaving your legs. By having sex, by not having sex. By being attracted to men, women, both, or neither. By having The Feminist Mystique on your bedside table or by just liking the song "Run The World (Girls)." Trying to prove yourself as "more feminist" than another woman is tantamount to suggesting that you are intrinsically better than another woman. That you are more enlightened, you are more aware, you are smarter -- that is what you're saying when you question how "feminist" a person "is" or "isn't."
Feminism has nothing to do with whether or not you're wearing makeup or if you have fake boobs or don't wax your eyebrows or where you identify on the gender spectrum. Do you think Susan B. Anthony would care about the (pointedly absurd -- she's a doll, not a person, and any intelligent child understands this, but, I digress) proportions of a Barbie doll? No. She'd be like, "Oh, wow. I can vote, run for office, own land, and hold a job. Oh -- what's that? There still isn't equal pay? People are killing themselves because others won't accept that they identify as a gender they weren't assigned at birth? Girls in the Middle East are being attacked walking to school? SOMEONE ACTUALLY ALLOWED 'BLURRED LINES' TO EXIST?"
It's okay to be outraged. Hell, it's good to be outraged. But be outraged by the things that actually matter. An article on some dumb website about how men think bob haircuts aren't sexy isn't the actual battle here. The fact that an article like that got more traction than one about how 44 percent of rape survivors are minors is what should be concerning you.
If you believe in basic equality, then you automatically oppose the patriarchy. Just by saying, "Hey, I'm a person who matters" is political enough to shock the system. This is why, to go back to "***Flawless," Beyoncé matters so much. She's a woman of color who refuses to have her narrative shaped by somebody else, who chooses to exert herself sexually as a giant "fuck you" to the historical fetishization and "othering" of black women.
Obviously, we can't all be the queen, but we can still all be flawless. Some days, I like to streak eyeliner above my lids like I'm Cleopatra, wear my favorite vintage gold lamé lacket and floral Doc Martens, and take on the world. Some days, I feel more powerful in tiny shorts and a crop top; other days, without any mascara; with my legs freshly-shaved; with strands peeking out from my armpits. By presenting myself in a way that makes me happy and confident, I am fighting back against people who would prefer me to be silent and on the sidelines. And this presentation can change as often as I need it to. And sometimes, yes, the way I feel like looking does coincide with societal norms. This does not make me a bad feminist. It just makes me a person who likes the feeling of Victoria's Secret yoga pants.
I hope none of this sounds like I'm dictating how to behave as a feminist. This is no manifesto; that's the opposite of my point. All I'm saying is, that we're going to get nowhere by attacking and belittling each other, or by focusing on non-issues, or policing each others' bodies.
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