A Handy Guide to Being Feminist (For Those Who Are Confused)

Step 1: You have to believe that women are people deserving of equal rights and equal status within society.

I’m actually not sure why people can’t get past this first step.  Women are people.  Say it with me: women. Are. People.

Step 2: You have to realize that women are do not yet HAVE equal rights and equal status in society.

This is where I find we lose a lot of people.  “But you can vote!” I am told.  “But lots of women go to college!”  “Rape culture is a myth”, they tell me.  Where is this coming from?  Let me paint you a little clearer picture: women are paid 77 cents on the dollar as compared to men, even when you adjust for experience and education.  Women are more likely to be the victims of sexual or domestic violence than their male counterparts.  The leading cause of death for pregnant women in the United States is spousal homicide (and that’s just in the US).  They are less likely to have access to adequate medical care and more likely to be single parents.  Women are disproportionately at risk to contract STIs and are more likely to lose their ability to access sexual and reproductive healthcare based on a politics of so-called morality.  We’re not equal yet.  Not by a long shot.

Step 3: You have to be willing to listen to women.

This is where we lose even MORE people.  “Sure, I believe that women should have rights,” they tell me.  But then they don’t BELIEVE me when I say that I am made to feel uncomfortable in public spaces.  They don’t believe that clothes and drinking are not the causes or get-out-of-jail free cards for sexual assault cases; they still buy into the “stranger in the bushes” narrative of rape instead of recognizing reality.  They tell me women just choose lower-paying jobs but never read the literature on it.  They tell me boys will be boys like that somehow negates my own lived experiences.  And they do it to women all the time, everywhere they go, in all parts of their lives.

If you can’t acknowledge the validity of women’s lived experiences, you are not a feminist.  Part of recognizing women as full, equal, autonomous people is recognizing that they may have lived realities that do not match your own, and that these experiences are just as valid and just as important as anything you have experienced.  Writing women’s fears and experiences off as made-up or imagined is diminishing to women, and it’s not feminist.

Step 4: You have to recognize that not all WOMEN have the same experiences.

I am white, straight, and cisfemale.  This means that while I experience certain forms of oppression, I will never know what it means to be queer or trans or African-American or Hispanic; I don’t know what it means to live below the poverty line or to be an immigrant in the United States.  This means that while my experiences are valid, I ALSO need to recognize the validity of experiences of other women whose lives do not necessarily resemble mine, to ask them what they have encountered and what they see as necessary, and to stand with them as they advocate for those things.  That’s what intersectional feminism means, and it’s not enough just to advocate for equal pay or comparable worth policies; it’s not enough to ask for maternity leave or expectant mother parking at big white collar firms.  We need to listen to other groups of women and support them in demanding what THEY need, be it more respect from law enforcement, better access to public transportation, more sensitivity in the healthcare system, etc.

Step 5: You have to be willing to apply these beliefs to real life.

Feminism isn’t just a laundry list of issues.  It’s not JUST equal pay and access to reproductive justice and protecting survivors of sexual assault and funding welfare programs for poor mothers, though all of those things are on the feminist agenda.  It’s about how you see the world and interact with people.  It means treating women with respect every day.  It means listening to problems and trying to see where people are coming from even if they don’t match your experiences, not just with big things but with seemingly small things as well-~-because those things can  be big too.  It means calling people out when they do things that reinforce misogynistic attitudes-~-whether that’s cat-calling women on the street, making comments that victim-blame or are fat-phobic, or making rape jokes.

People are going to tell you to lighten up.  They’re going to call you a party-pooper and possibly a b***h, possibly to your face, possibly behind your back.  Being feminist means knowing when to pick a fight-~-because maybe you can’t get really mad every time someone says “that’s so gay” or calls a girl a “whale”, but you can point it out from time to time, and especially point out the most egregious ones.  Most of all, it means finding the lines you feel should not be crossed-~-the things that trigger you, the things you have seen do the most damage-~-and standing by those convictions, no matter how angry people get with you.

Step 6: Remember to define the terms of your own life-~-a final reminder for women

Yes, feminism is meant to be applied to how you approach social issues, and it can be a valuable lens to look at life, but remember this too: only you can decide what is triggering, offensive, hurtful, demeaning, or empowering in your own life, and you need to stand by those choices.  Feminism was supposed to give us the power to choose.  So choose a career you’ll like, even if it’s “traditional women’s work”.  We need teachers and nurses and caregivers too, you know.  Choose a major in women’s studies or in engineering, whichever floats your boat.  Choose to live alone or with a friend or a significant other; choose a college based on whatever you think the criteria should be.  But make the choices yourself.  In the end, the thing that matters most is that you can find what’s important and go for it, and that goes for how you live your life as well as how you advocate for your beliefs.

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~ by Randi Saunders on October 22, 2013.

2 Responses to “A Handy Guide to Being Feminist (For Those Who Are Confused)”

  1. Your words are splash of fresh water. 🙂

  2. Well said. Should be required reading. Thanks.

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