A lot of discussions about feminism tend to deal with the very big picture, out of necessity -- the patriarchy is a many-armed beast, and dismantling it is a big job. But feminism can be equally powerful when it comes to making a difference through little, everyday "micro-empowerments" -- for example, feminism helped me become a better friend. I mean, feminism has helped me in a lot of ways -- more confidence, better critical thinking abilities, a sense of bravery -- but it's worth remembering how it helps us build our relationships with other people and the world, too.
Like many, I "found" feminism in college. I say "found," with quotation marks, because I had always known about it, having been raised by very liberal, very progressive parents; before I got to college, though, it was something of a nebulous concept. Once I began reading about the history of feminism, debating feminism both in theory and in practice, and understanding the ever-looming presence of the patriarchy, however, my personal evolution began to pick up speed.
I became more open-minded, more accepting, and more empathetic towards other people. I gained confidence in the value of my own voice, while coming to understand that my voice does not always need to be (and sometimes shouldn't be) the loudest in a conversation. Sure, I lost a few people in my life, but I didn't need that toxicity anyway.
I think perhaps what I am most grateful for, though, are the little ways that feminism has made me a better friend. Here are just a few.
1. I Became a Better Listener
As a white intersectional feminist, my role sometimes is to simply be a witness. To listen. To absorb. To know that not every space is inherently for me, and to make a concerted effort to understand narratives different from my own. That's just kind of like a basic, being a good human rule, to be honest.
2. I Became More Accepting of My Friends' Choices About Their Appearances
In theory, what your friend does with their appearance is none of your business. In actuality, we almost always have opinions. Gender stereotypes are heavily enforced when it comes to hair, makeup and clothing choices. Feminism taught me that existing exactly as I am, exactly as I want to, is a step in dismantling the patriarchy, and the same goes for my friends. Wear what you want. Shave what you want, or don't shave anything. Cover yourself in glitter. Only wear skirts. Never wear skirts. Whatever.
3. I Erased Slut-Shaming Talk From My Vocabulary
Sometimes the loudest slut-shaming voices are from your friends. Just a little reminder: Who your friend does or does not sleep with is none of your business, nor does it dictate their worth as a human. Embracing your sexuality, whatever it may be, can be threatening to people. Eff those people... metaphorically speaking.
4. I Became An Advocate For My Friends
If I hear someone attacking my friend with sexist or racist remarks, I'll say something. In high school, I used to be much more passive when it came to sticking up for others, but once I became more involved with feminist activism, I realized that nothing will ever change if we stay silent. Solidarity!
5. I Became Less Jealous And Competitive
Jealousy is a sneaky, vicious thing, and I don't know a single human who has been able to completely eliminate it from their wheelhouse of emotions, but a thing that the patriarchy loves to do is foster competition between women. It perpetuates the damaging stereotype of women as "catty" and "gossip-y," and it cracks the foundation of feminism. We should be standing together, not trying to tear each other down -- even if we don't always agree with each other.. Support your friends. Champion your friends! Life is long and tough. Successes, even little ones, should be celebrated.
6. I Say "I Love You" More
Loving yourself and loving and accepting others is a radical act in a world that is constantly criticizing us. You love your friends, right? Tell them. Tell them all the time. bell hooks, an incredible, contemporary feminist activist, can articulate this concept waaaaay better: "Dominator thinking and practice relies for its maintenance on the constant production of a feeling of lack, of the need to grasp. Giving love offers us a way to end this suffering -- loving ourselves, extending that love to everything beyond the self, we experience wholeness."
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