In the small town where I grew up, everything is filtered through a funnel and out come various labels. Once someone is given one of these labels, it will never leave them. It is like an invisible tattoo and it can never be removed. In some cases, these labels can become cages that trap you (for your convenience, they are travel-sized). These labels can pigeonhole you until you just give in to whatever label you are assigned. After all, it’s tiring to fight against what I like to call “Label Maker Mentality.”
By the time I entered high school, I had unwillingly collected a series of constricting labels. By that point, I did not want to add another label to my ever-growing collection. I was already playing my part so well that I did not want my character points to change. That is why I, ironically, used the excuse, “I don’t like to label myself,” anytime that someone asked if I was a feminist.
In my school, certain images accompanied these labels. And the image that went along with a feminist was not pretty. Many of my peers considered the word “feminist” to be synonymous with “brash”, “lesbian”, “short-haired”, and “aggressive.” My classmates had clearly watched a lot of stereotypical footage on feminist protests and bra-burning excursions.
Although I did not consider my peers’ chosen synonyms to be negative by any means, I knew that they did. I would overhear both girls and boys say the word “feminist” as if they were referring to something troublesome and offensive. They thought that all feminists were the type to push their opinions down other people’s throats. Due to this, I would hear girls say that they would never call themselves a feminist because they did not want people to think that they were the “rah-rah type”.
On the other hand, the few female peers that did call themselves feminists did not try to change such opinions. These girls would lose their temper every time that anything relating to women’s rights came up in conversation. They would interrupt classroom conversations and spend a significant amount of time forcing their opinions on others. There were never any calm, fact-based, or relatable arguments. All these girls did was go along with the aggressive feminist stereotype. This was incredibly disappointing because, secretly, I did not want to believe in this stereotype. I wanted to believe that being a feminist meant something more.
The summer after I graduated from high school and left behind my stack of labels, I read How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran, a book that completely changed my perspective. There is a specific quote in this book that caused a cartoon-like light bulb to appear above my cranium. I think there may have even been a “ding!”
So here is the quick way of working out if you’re a feminist. Put your hand in your pants. A) Do you have a vagina? and B) Do you want to be in charge of it? If you said ‘yes’ to both, then congratulations! You’re a feminist.
The simplicity and straight-forwardness of this quote put my whole world into perspective. It made me realize that there are no specific qualifications or labels that go along with being a feminist. My peers were dead wrong in their complex assumptions. In fact, it is actually quite plain and very simple. If you are a woman and want to have control over your own body, then you are a feminist.
I guess a “less quick” way of finding out if you are a feminist – especially, if you find that you do not, in fact, have a vagina when you put your hands down your pants – is to ask yourself if you want the women in your life to have control over their bodies. Do you want your sister, mother, cousin, aunt, best friend, and other female influences to be in charge of what they do with their bodies? In short, do you want them to feel happy and safe? If the answer is yes, you can freely use the term “feminist” to describe yourself. I promise, it won’t hurt a bit.
Being a feminist does not have to mean anything that you do not want it to mean. All that matters is how you approach the topic and approach others. Yes, women do experience a lot of unfair treatment. But getting angry is only going to make things worse. Anger is only going to fuel the fire for people that believe that feminists are an angry, picket-sign holding bunch. In our quest to protect our rights, why not prove the non-believers wrong? All we have to do is be ourselves and prevent negativity from unraveling our composure. All we have to do is make the term “feminist” a term of equality, positivity, and freedom.