I’m typically a huge proponent of the idea that feminism is for everybody. Feminism is for ladies! It’s for men! It’s for individuals who don’t subscribe to the idea of a gender binary! Feminism is for teenagers and small children! In fact, I’m even pretty sure that at least one of my cats is a feminist, although the other one just prefers to think of herself as a cat-ist, because that’s less political. Regardless, I’m usually of the opinion that feminism, as a philosophy, can and should be embraced by everyone.
Lately, though, I’m not so sure. I’ve been seeing a lot of questionable behaviours and comments, many of them coming from purported feminists. I’m starting to wonder if some people might want to re-think whether the feminist movement is right for them. With that in mind, I’ve created a handy-dandy list of ways to tell whether or not this movement is for you.
So without any further adieu, here are ten signs that feminism might not be for you:
1. You are against victim-blaming except in the case of _____.
No one is deserving of any kind of violence, sexual or otherwise, at any time, ever, full stop. I would have thought that this would be something that would be fairly well understood within the feminist community, but apparently that was just wishful thinking. I’ve heard self-professed feminists say all kinds of nasty victim-blaming shit, especially about women who have been sexually assaulted, ranging from complaints about girls giving out mixed signals (hint: there is no such thing as a mixed signal, there is only consent and lack of consent), all the way to suggesting that if a woman does not loudly and forcefully defend herself against an attack then she’s somehow complicit in it. I’ve also heard people criticize and even doubt assault victims because they’ve said something problematic or at some point in history weren’t very nice. But let me tell you something right now: there is no such thing as a perfect victim.
You guys, a victim is a victim is a victim. It doesn’t matter whether or not they’ve lived an exemplary life. It doesn’t matter if they’ve said things that you find disagreeable. It doesn’t matter whether or not you like them or would want to be friends with them. None of those things mean that they are deserving of violence.
2. You think that one of the goals of the feminist movement should be to make men feel safer or more comfortable about feminism.
Someone recently shared this video with me and it made me want to throw up everywhere:
I mean, I have so many issues with this video that I could probably write an entire series of posts about it. Also, I’m not sure that someone who doesn’t understand that sex and gender are two different things should be telling anyone about anything, and especially not opining on feminism. But the moment that especially makes me want to claw my own eyes out is when she asks “young women” to make feminism “male-friendly.”
Look, lady, the entire world is male-friendly, for one thing. For another, feminism isn’t anti-man – it’s anti-patriarchy, which is completely different. It is really fucking toxic to the feminist movement to suggest that we need to be more open and welcoming to men. That’s like saying that the civil rights movement should have been more open and inclusive towards white people. And this isn’t to say that men can’t be involved in feminism, in the same way that white people are still able to fight against racism – it’s just that movements working to forward the rights and freedoms of the oppressed should never, ever try to make themselves more friendly to those who have been historically oppressive.
That’s just common sense.
3. You think that someone can’t be a feminist based on how they dress or present themselves.
I can’t help but think of an interview with Zooey Deschanel that Glamour ran in February of this year. In it, she said:
“We can’t be feminine and be feminists and be successful? I want to be a fucking feminist and wear a fucking Peter Pan collar. So fucking what?”
There’s this weird idea (even within the feminist movement) that femininity somehow takes away from feminism. And, I mean, I guess that I kind of get it? Maybe? Sort of? Like, wearing pretty dresses and putting on makeup and removing your body hair definitely plays into patriarchal ideas of beauty. But you know what? Feminism is about choice, and these patriarchal ideas are so deeply ingrained in our culture that’s it’s nearly impossible to escape them. So you know what? You fucking wear your feminist Peter Pan collar with pride, Zooey, and I will do the same.
4. You don’t think that feminists are funny.
We’re fucking hilarious. Deal with it.
And not only are we funny, but our jokes don’t rely on the same old tired stereotypes about women that dudes seem to find so charming. That’s right – we’re actually coming up with new material and it’s fucking fantastic and maybe you should get over yourself and read some Lindy West or Mallory Ortberg or one of the other million women who are a riot and a half. Turn off your white dude comic show for HALF A SECOND and check out something new for once in your life. Just saying.
5. You’re not interested in hearing how women of colour, queer women, or trans* women feel that the feminist movement has failed to recognize or address their needs and wants.
The feminist movement likes to think of itself as being anti-oppression, anti-racism, anti-homophobia and anti-transphobia. And I do think that most feminists believe in these ideas in theory; unfortunately, many of them have a harder time putting these concepts into practice. There’s a tendency to ignore or even silence queer women, trans* women and women of colour, and while I don’t think that this silencing is intentional, exactly, I do think that many people, even those working within the feminist movement, don’t want to address this problem or even acknowledge that it happens.
Here’s the thing: when someone from an oppressed group speaks up, you listen. You shut your mouth and you listen. You don’t tell them that we’re all women, here, and the issues that we’re working to resolve are issues that affect all women. You don’t discount their lived experiences by countering with your own examples of being oppressed as a white woman. And finally, you most fucking do not pretend that sexism experienced by women of colour or queer women or trans women is exactly the same as what you’ve experienced. Because it’s not; it’s worse. Get off your high horse, acknowledge your privilege, and let someone else have the microphone for a while. Feminism isn’t an egalitarian movement if it’s only promoting the rights of white, educated, middle-class women.
6. You can’t handle being called out.
Getting called out is going to happen, I can guarantee it. Pretty much any person working in any kind of social justice movement is going to fuck up at some point (or, at the very least, do something that another person views as “fucking up”), and someone is going to call them out on it. And when that happens to you, it’s important to take a moment, cool your jets, and not immediately get your back up or become defensive. Instead, actually listen to what that person is saying (especially if they’re coming from a place of oppression that hasn’t been your lived experience). Try to take what they’ve said into consideration, even if you think that you’re not, ultimately, going to agree with it. And you know what? The funny thing is that you may very well end up realizing that the person calling you out is, in fact, right.
If you do realize that you were wrong (and let’s be real, probably you are if the caller-outer is from a more marginalized group than you) and you need to apologize, try taking a few notes from the fabulous Chescaleigh:
7. You ever, ever, ever feel the need to clarify that you’re not one of those feminists.
This is code for, “But I don’t hate men! I don’t wear cargo pants! I shave my legs! I promise!” And for sure those statements are true for many feminists; in fact, none of us hate men. But by distancing yourself from those feminists, whoever those feminists are, perpetuates the idea that a) there’s something wrong with those feminists, b) those feminists are totally threatening to men and masculinity, and c) that they make up the majority of the feminist movement.
Remember how we were talking earlier about feminism being all about choice? Well, it’s a two-way street, my friend. You can choose to wear your lipstick and your Peter Pan collar, and another woman can choose to wear hiking boots and a baseball cap, and at the end of the day, both of you are awesome feminists.
8a. You think that there might be a type of body-shaming that is acceptable.
Nope. Never ok. You don’t get to comment negatively on another woman’s body, ever. You don’t make fat-phobic comments, you don’t make divisive remarks about how real women have curves, you don’t treat “fat” as if it’s a dreadful, dirty word. Oh, and while we’re on this subject, you can also feel free to keep any remarks about plastic surgery to yourself. Recently, when the new season of Arrested Development came on the air, a ton of my friends were gleefully jumping all over the fact that Portia DeRossi appeared to have had some kind of plastic surgery.
And yes, plastic surgery typically plays right into patriarchal ideals of how women should look. And maybe these women are furthering the idea that there is only one, very narrow definition of beauty, and that the appearance of aging is to be avoided at all costs. But you know what? Bodily autonomy. Bodily autonomy means that you get to do whatever you like with your body, and other women get to do whatever they like with their own body. End of story.
8b. You think that there might be a type of food-policing that is acceptable.
I once had a woman say to be that she openly judges anyone who uses margarine instead of butter, because apparently margarine is a tool of the devil or some such shit. Now listen, I am the last person to deny being judgmental. I will openly judge you if you are sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, anti-choice, mean to puppies, or any of that sort of vile shit. But when it comes to what you put in your body? I literally have zero things to say about that. No wait, I have one thing: bon apétit.
You guys, food is complicated. On the one hand, yes, you do need a certain combination of nutrients in order to keep your body functioning at an optimal level. On the other hand, not everyone has access to so-called healthy foods, and even if they do, they are under no obligation to eat them. In fact, no one is really under any kind of obligation to even be healthy. Bodily autonomy! You get to treat your own body however you want.
9. You are pro-choice, except in cases where _____.
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
If you were on Jeopardy or whatever, the WRONG ANSWER buzzer would be going off right now.
The first part of this statement should never be followed up with an “except” or a “but.” You are either pro-choice or you are anti-choice. There is no hierarchy of abortions; they should be available to everyone, on demand, and without apology.
Sure, you are totally free to feel uncomfortable about why someone might choose to terminate their pregnancy, but you know what? You keep those feelings to yourself.
Say it with me, now, one more time: b-o-d-i-l-y a-u-t-o-n-o-m-y
10. You think that there is one specific way to be a feminist.
I know that I’ve pointed out a ton of things that people do that are unfeminist, but the flip side of this is that there’s no one way to be a feminist.
You can be a feminist and be married. You can be a feminist and be single. You can be a feminist and have kids. You can be a feminist and be childless. You can be a feminist and take your partner’s last name. You can be a feminist and keep your last name. You can be a feminist and breastfeed. You can be a feminist and formula-feed. You can be a feminist and work outside the home. You can be a feminist and stay home with your kids.
You can be a feminist in a box. You can be a feminist with a fox. You can be a feminist in a house. You can be a feminist with a mouse. And so on. And so forth.
Seriously, you guys, I can’t believe that I have to say all of this in 2014.
And yeah, I know that I said earlier that maybe feminism isn’t for everyone, but I totally take that back. I still think that everyone can and should be feminist. But I also think that it’s super important for people, especially those already within the movement, to be able to take a step back every once in a while, re-evaluate their beliefs and ask themselves if their speech and actions actually do help to promote women’s rights and equality. Because you know what? It’s easy to fall into the trap of offering the appearance of giving a hand up to women while actually actively engaging in pushing them down. It’s easy to feel that you are working towards “equality” while still sliding back into the old patriarchal beliefs that we all grew up with, to one degree or another. And it’s especially fucking easy to find things to criticize about the ways that women dress, act or talk – in fact, I actually can’t think of anything easier than that.
But we’re not here to take the easy route, are we? So let’s all start taking the time to check in with ourselves, to make sure that the stuff that we say and do actually promotes the changes that we want to see in the world. Let’s take a long, hard look at our thoughts and beliefs, and try harder to call ourselves out before anyone else can. And let’s all try to take few moments every night to repeat bodily autonomy is a necessity five times, out loud, in front of the mirror.
Because, you guys? This is our movement. And it’s our job to continue to make it a better, safer, happier place.