This is a guest post by Anamarie. You can find this article and more at Que Milagro
It disappoints and kind of embarrasses me that so many young women today refuse to describe themselves as feminists. It completely blows my mind when I hear girls say that they personally, or women in general no longer “need” feminism.
The other day I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and saw one of my 17-year-old sister’s friends had shared this:
Of course this isn’t to call her out specifically; I just see this kind of thing all over social media these days. I wanted to reach through the computer and shake her, along with whoever wrote the damn thing in the first place, and cry, “LITTLE GIRL YOU ARE BEING SO BLIND.”
Instead I politely commented that it was (bitterly) ironic that the list states “first world women don’t need feminism” even as it rattles off just a handful of issues pressing (and oppressing) first world women – Planned Parenthood facing defunding, breastfeeding backlash and the inherent hypersexualization of the female body implied in that backlash, the right to abortion, and Trump being a horrible human being because he’s a racist, misogynistic fuckwad. This just scratches the surface when it comes to why women — first world or otherwise — still desperately need feminism. The ultra-conservative right-wing warriors are winning the culture wars when they have effectively told girls today that feminism will do them a disservice, that feminists are just ugly man-haters, or that feminism has “won,” done its duty, achieved its goals.
Feminism isn’t done yet. Not even almost.
I grew up on girl power. I grew up as the 90’s revived the 60’s and 70’s, in bell bottoms and peasant tops, with peace and love and flower power and the Spice Girls. I grew up surrounded by working women, generations of them, a family of matriarchs who never left any doubt that feminism had helped them live fuller lives. I can’t remember a time in my existence when I would have said I wasn’t a feminist.
There have, of course, been times I struggled with feminism. Going into graduate school I was excited to declare feminist theory as one of my content specializations, only to be crushed by the weight of various feminisms to which I had never been introduced or even considered. Radical and lesbian feminisms shook me to my core and made me question everything. At its most basic feminism is supposed to be about equality between the sexes, but the way in which women achieve that equality is pretty hotly contested between the different schools of thought. Radical forms of feminism made me question whether I could be “feminist” – and if I wanted to be – if I wanted marriage and babies or wore make up and dressed up. Radical forms of feminism showed me that even my beloved “girl power” cultural icons were likely perpetuating their own oppression – I remember getting stoned one night in graduate school, watching the Spice Girls movie for the first time since childhood and being absolutely horrified by a lyric I had repeated probably ten thousand times on the playground with my cousins: “We’re the spice girls yes indeed, just girl power is all we need! We know how we got this far, strength and courage and a wonderbra!”
I’ve written in the past about how I’ve struggled to come to understand a feminism that works for me, one where I can be proud of being “just” a wife and mother but also establish and maintain an identity separate from my domestic life. I think a lot of the women of my generation — post second wavers, third wavers (?) — are struggling to make sense of things as well. In a lot of ways the feminism that have come before us are failing us now… More frightening though is the number of us fleeing the term, abandoning our daughters and leaving them to fight wars already won by their grandmothers, great-grandmothers… Great-great-grandmothers.
I’m the mother of a daughter now. Lord help me if there’s a day when this child is ashamed to say she’s a feminist.
So how do I help her navigate these muddy waters?
Short answer: I don’t know. There is no “how to raise a feminist in 10 easy steps.” But here are a few things I (think) I know about feminism and will be trying to relay to my daughter:
1.) Feminism isn’t about equality, really. I mean you can say it is and it works just as well for the most part, but feminism is about justice, not equality. So when some idiot (who may or may not end up being your father, uncle, or grandfather) says something moronic like, “If women/feminists want equality so bad, why don’t female basketball players shoot from the same three point line?!” (or anything along the lines of “women actually have it easier while demanding equality”). The answer is because feminism is about justice, not equality. Sometimes justice and equality are the same thing and sometimes they are not.
2.) It actually doesn’t matter if you’re beautiful or not. So much of what I see today are campaigns that “all women are beautiful,” and on the surface I suppose that’s a nice sentiment. Everyone should feel comfortable in their own skin. But feminism also – and more importantly, I think – means that it’s ok to not be beautiful or even to feel beautiful. It’s ok to be ugly. It’s ok to be fat. It’s ok to know that you’re ugly and fat and be ok with it anyway. You are worth more than your physical appearance. You do not exist to be visually stimulating for others. Of course I hope my daughter loves herself… And she will always be the most gorgeous girl in my eyes… But feminism demands that we stop putting so much emphasis on our bodies, even if it’s #bodypositive messages we are sending.
3.) It’s not about personal choice. At least not exactly. I hear way too many of my contemporaries going on about how feminism is really about women being able to choose what kind of life they want to lead, and that being able to choose in and of itself is empowering to individual women and by extension all womankind. Again, in a superficial way this sounds all well and good but in reality NOT all choices are empowering – to individual women OR to womankind. Feminists have a responsibility to make choices that empower not just themselves, but other women. We have the ability to change the culture around us by making informed and beneficial choices. Sorry ladies, but it’s not all about you. By all means, do what’s best for yourself, your family, what makes you happiest, etc… I’m a live and let live kind of gal… But not every decision is a feminist one just because a person with a vagina made it.
4.) Feminism is not about man-hating, but it’s also not about men. And that’s OKAY. Ok?! Look… Feminists don’t hate men, and we don’t want to live in a world where roles are reversed and women oppress men or are viewed as superior to men. And despite popular belief, feminism has done many things to the benefit of men (how about that domestic violence point from above about how women aren’t the only victims? That’s an example of feminist study creating insight into an issue that seemed like a women’s issue until we realized it totally wasn’t and male victimization keeps getting more and more attention because feminism wants to talk about domestic abuse. I digress but just sayin’. Ultimately, though, women are ALLOWED to have a social justice movement that revolves around their needs. The fact that men and society in general can’t wrap their minds around the possibility that something doesn’t have to be beneficial to men to be worthwhile is just one more reason why we still need feminism to keep doing its work.
5.) People may not like you. I can’t count the number of times I have been told or asked if I hate men, that I’m a bitch, that I’m a feminazi, or some variation of the sort. All feminists have this shared experience to varying degrees and I think this is one of the biggest reasons girls are hesitant to identify as feminists. It’s seen as something almost derogatory. But that’s just male privilege talking, and ain’t nobody got time to listen to that crap. They will try to vilify you to silence you, to maintain the status quo, to leave privilege unchecked. So instead just wear your scarlet “F” for feminist with pride, and don’t ever stop talking or doing because someone might like you less for it. Oftentimes being unpopular means you’re doing something right.
6.) GIRL POWER. In all its glory. In every form. With all its contradictions and nuances.