“Who run the world? Girls,” Beyonce once said. And when Beyonce speaks, you listen.
I guess I’ve always kind of been a feminist, but I didn’t always have a word for it. I credit much of it to the strong women in my life — my grandma, my mom, my aunts — who have always told me I was capable of anything a man could do. And I could do it better, and do it while wearing a dress.
I am not quite sure when I fell into the word, probably somewhere between my senior year of high school and my first year at college, but my first Women’s Studies class cemented my beliefs, and encouraged me to get a degree in Women’s Studies, because finally I had a word for the fire inside of me.
It stuck. I was a feminist. Soon I was attending feminist gatherings at school and bonding with other women over the word and becoming a staunch supporter of Planned Parenthood. I know the word isn’t for everyone — many people take serious issue with the word feminist because it’s so intricately tied with putting the agenda of white feminists ahead of everyone else with the belief that the rights of people of color, LGBT, poor women, etc. would come “eventually.” (That scene from “Iron-Jawed Angels,” where Ida B. Wells wants to march with Alice Paul, Lucy Burns, and the other white feminists, but is told she must march at the back, is a pretty good indicator of how that worked.)
But the label works for me. I like how it feels and the way it rolls off my tongue and how it makes me feel strong. Yet I think there are so many misconceptions about the word, and the label, and the movement — especially this generation’s take on it — so here’s a super-abridged, feminism 101 version (since I could go on all day) of what being a feminist means to me.
1. Feminism means seeking equality. For everyone. Not just for women, not just for able-bodied individuals, not just for heterosexuals, but for everyone. Straight, white, able-bodied, cis-gendered, middle to upper-class men have it best. To me, feminism is about trying to level the playing field for everyone who doesn’t meet that criteria.
2. Feminism means respect for every woman’s choice. That includes the right to choose what she does with her body, what she wears, who she sleeps with, who she doesn’t sleep with, whether to have a career or to be a stay-at-home mom. It includes her right to be traditionally “feminine” — wear dresses, do her makeup, curl her hair, learn to throw a tea party — and her right to reject “feminine” ideals. It includes her right to shave her legs, or not; to like the color pink, or not; to identify as a feminist, or not.
3. Feminism means eliminating patriarchy and rape culture. We need more women who become CEOs, who are encouraged to go into the sciences, who start their own companies, who aren’t bullied out of programs that are popular among men, who go into politics, who are told that they can do, and want, and achieve more. By that same token, women are not just their vaginas, or their bodies, or their sex lives. They’re not objects. They don’t belong to men. They don’t owe men anything. Rape culture tells women they need to watch what they wear and beware of what goes in their drinks and never walk alone at night rather than teaching young men not to rape. Rape culture is blaming a victim for her own assault through phrases like, “Well, she did have a tendency to sleep around.” These things need to end. Now.
4. Feminism means building other women up. Society, the media, your next door neighbor — they all want you to believe women are catty, bitchy, back-stabbing, and mean. That’s not true. You’d never know it, though, with how frequently women are pitted against each other, as if there can only be “one.” I think Liz said it best when she wrote, “Much of our culture operates with the underlying belief that our world is a place of lack. The more she has, the less I have. We can’t buy into this bull anymore.” Women need to support other women, to spread that love, and to say fuck you to notions that we must all be jealous and hate each other.
5. Feminism means making intersectionality a necessity. When websites like Feministing hail Lena Dunham’s “Girls” as the messiah of feminist shows, even though it ignores people of color, that’s kind of a problem. Women of color, LBGT, fat women, poor women, disabled women… we all need to be included in feminism, and made more than just a priority. Being a feminist means fighting for the rights of those individuals, even within the movement. It means recognizing where feminism fails. It means knowing that some feminists have fallen out of touch with the movement. It means understanding that some self-proclaimed feminists will try to make you feel bad, but don’t let them. Because…
6. Feminism means shakin’ the haters off, like Willow Smith says in her totally-badass song “Whip My Hair.” They’ll always be there, but whatever, I look good as hell in my floral pink dress talking about Alice Walker and I can spin circles around most people with my knowledge and strength and perseverance. And I STILL do my makeup every morning before work. Hatas gon’ hate.