What does it mean to be a feminist?
The beauty of feminism is that it means different things for different people.
In her Ted Talk (now also made popular in Beyonce’s “Flawless”) Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie defines a feminist as, “the person who believes in the social political, and economic equality of the sexes”. It can be as simple and beautiful as that.
I am a feminist. I am a FEMINIST. I AM A FEMINIST.
Now I don’t mean to cyber scream but I want to make sure my point is clear. To publically make this declaration is still scary to many.
We’ve all heard the stereotype: man hating, cat loving, big sweater wearing, hairy-legged, lesbian right? What can be so damaging about stereotypes is that they automatically pit something as bad. By people getting defensive against the stereotype they reject those identities as undesirable.
I want to note that you can be a feminist with all of those identities, with none, with all of them, or a combination of all the other stereotypes that come with the label. I myself happen to love big sweaters, really want a cat, sometimes I am hairy legged, I identify as straight, and I don’t hate all men.
People want to reject the stereotype by saying well I am a feminist but not like that. Aww the I’m not a feminist but…. My favorite saying in the whole wide world. Right up there with not to be racist but….
As much as it pains me to see people reject feminism, the feminist bubble can be hard to live within.
Now despite my best efforts when I declare that I am a feminist, a force field does not automatically come up around me, deflecting all bombs put out by the patriarchal society we live in (although take a minute to picture that……it would be awesome amiright??)
Living as a feminist does not make me or anybody else immune to the perils of social pressure.
Take Gloria Steinem, feminist pioneer of the second wave feminism era and my bff (ok I met her once but we totally clicked). She is an amazing woman who led the way for many women’s rights issues but was also transphobic for many years (she has since apologized).
I do not for a second mean to excuse actions that go against basic feminist principles. On the contrary an open dialogue critiquing society is what causes change. Constantly challenging each other is important way for conversation to continue.
I myself have written and plan to continue writing pieces that criticize groups, organizations, or people for their lack of feminist principles or defying of their feminist label.
But I want to stop pretending that when a person claims the feminist label they become perfect, the ideal embodiment of a sexism free world. It is much more complicated than that.
Many of you reading this are probably saying duh Carly we know this and I get it. But my hope is that others are taking a step back to consider how you hold yourself accountable for being a feminist (because by now I am just assuming if you weren’t already I’ve converted you to identifying as a full-blown feminist).
Beyoncé, Gloria, me and all the other feminists of the world are still living within the patriarchy and still can fall pressure to gender norms or the gender binary.
Do I want celebrities to embrace the label, therefore making more young people consider claiming the label themselves?
Will I continue to question and call out people who reject the label?
But there’s no perfect feminist and as Hillary Crosley said, at times, “there are bigger fish to fry”. We have to remember the pressures put on someone when they accept or reject the label
We also have to remember that a person claiming the feminist label does not have to check off the requirements from a feminist checklist. People are complex and different. I want to demand room for all strands of feminism, however complex and different they may be.