What Feminism Means to Me
Do you remember the first time you ever encountered feminism? I do. Sadly, I had the impression of feminism/feminists that many individuals possess when they first come across the term: radical, man-hating, obnoxious, the list goes on. Though I’m deeply saddened that I ever entertained such notions prior to even seeking any knowledge on the subject, I am, however, very delighted that the woman who I was sharing these thoughts with was a feminist who responded in the best possible way. She didn’t tell me I was wrong, in fact, she validated my thoughts in saying that there were radicals (as there are in every school of thought) that may give off that sort of impression. She didn’t tell me what to think, she didn’t judge me for the way I thought, she simply explained to me what feminism meant to her and went on her way. Since that day I have identified as a feminist and, though she likely doesn’t remember our exchange, I always will and I am forever thankful.
So, rather than broadly summing up what feminism is in an objective sense, I’d like to premise this article by sharing with you what feminism means to me. First and foremost, feminism is the understanding that there is a problem, I.E. inequality, and oppression. Next, it is looking within to identify and unlearn specific behaviors which may be perpetuating patriarchy (internal or otherwise), seeking to understand these behaviors, and striving to make a change from within. Next, it’s trying to understand the external forces which are oppressive and patriarchal in nature. Lastly, once you’ve gained an awareness of the problem, both objectively and subjectively, small scale and large, you can take steps in your life and interactions to make change such as: learning about contemporary feminism and familiarizing yourself with the movement, starting dialogues, standing up when something isn’t right, being open to educate others in an open, accessible way, and embodying feminism (to some degree) throughout your life and interactions.
For me, feminism is freedom. Freedom to say something isn’t right, freedom to ask questions, freedom to seek out a community and unconditional love among feminists alike, freedom for self-exploration, freedom for sexual liberation, freedom to be angry, freedom to by myself, and so much more. Feminism is recognizing and celebrating all that is good in the world and in humanity. Feminism is sisterhood. Feminism is a part of who I am and how I live, and I am grateful beyond compare for the individuals, literature, concepts, conversations, communities, and schools of thought which it has opened my eyes.
All this said feminism looks vastly different for everyone. It does not have to be a grandiose declaration “I am a feminist,” it can simply be the understanding that some individuals experience oppression (this doesn’t just apply to women) and that as humans, we need to change this.
Sisterhood | Lifting Each other up, not knocking each other down
In communities that experience oppression such as in the community of individuals who identify as female, as much as it is easy to feel victimized, it is important to look within first in order to make a change. The ways in which we speak, act and treat one another give others permission to do the same. So, if we use certain types of language, for example, that works to perpetuate patriarchy (maybe even unbeknownst to us), we are letting others know that this is ok. Take a moment and think about the women in your life, about how truly wonderful they are, and about how the certainly deserve the same rights and respect as the other %50 of the population. Wouldn’t you want to make any small adjustments to the ways in which you conduct yourself in order to make this possible? Of course, we’re not saying that changing a few small behaviors will abolish women’s oppression, but truly, every step counts.
Lately, we’ve been noticing some reoccurring things which women are saying or doing which they may not know is oppressive in nature. The energy which we put out into the world is the energy which we will receive in return, so let’s work together to ensure that we’re aware of the implications of our actions, big or small, and acting to work towards the greater good of women and humanity in general.
7 things women say/do that perpetuate patriarchy & why:
1. “Guys are less drama” or “girls don’t like me”
Have you ever met a woman is consistently pointing out that she prefers to hang out with men? or that women are too dramatic? or brags about the fact that all of her friends are dudes? See what’s wrong here? If women are going around putting men on a pedestal and reinforcing stereotypical gender norms such as men being “chill” and women being “dramatic,” it doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for dialogues about breaking free of gender stereotypes or misconceptions about how people do or should act in accordance with their gender.
2. “Girls are more emotional”
Let’s just take a moment and remember that sadness is not the only emotion a human has. Anger, aggression, excitement, indifference, these are all emotions, too. So, if you are a woman and you find you cry more than your male partner, it is not because you are a girl, it is not because you are more emotional, and it is not because your partner is less emotional. Rather, we have been socialized as men and women to express our emotions in certain ways. Sadly, it is often seen as more socially acceptable for women to cry, so this may be a more comfortable form of expression; this is not to say that men are any less emotional, we all have triggers and we ALL have feelings, it is just to say that the ideas which exist surrounding masculinity and femininity can be restricting. Deeming girls/women to be more emotional allows others to do the same, is patronizing, calls our credibility into question, and is frankly dated and just plain silly. Humans are emotional beings, that’s what makes us so special, so let’s not make it a competition of who’s tougher, let’s just seek to foster spaces in which everyone can be emotional.
3. “I’m the man of the office”
Or house, or relationship. Again with the reinforcing of gender norms, but this time in the way that men are associated with being strong, capable, handy, and able to “get things done.” Instead of using “man” as a compliment for being competent in certain areas, why not just compliment yourself or your peers on what it is they are doing so well. “Wow, you’re so handy” or “I’m confident in my strength, why don’t I do___” are both ways in which you can celebrate yourself and those around you without privileging one gender over the other.
4. Judgement and/or Jealousy of Other Women
Let’s put it like this: Why fight to be the best of the bottom when we can work together to rise up? Competition among women is toxic and unproductive in all cases. We much celebrate one another, encourage one another, and keep fighting to get the collective voice of women heard, to get the collective rights of women met, and to get the patriarchy to STOP. We’re in this together, so let’s act that way.
5. Slut Shaming
The sexual liberation of women is nothing short of an uphill battle. It is difficult to avoid being sexualized, judged, objectified, and degraded when it comes to women’s sexuality, so it is important that we support one another on the pursuit of sexual liberation, as well. Just because you may not agree or identify with a fellow woman’s actions, does not mean that they are wrong. As long as concent is involved, sexual health is taken into account, and no one is being harmed, more power to you!
6. Using Oppressive Language (“he’s such a girl”)
Again, conventionally feminine traits often come with negative connotations and are commonly used as insults: “You’re a pussy,” “don’t be such a girl,” “he’s the woman of the relationship,” and the list goes on. Alikining a male individual to a woman is not something which should be offensive, so it is important that we do not succumb to these behaviors and further promote them.
7. The Crazy Girlfriend Stigma
Ah yes, the age-old crazy girlfriend stigma. Somehow it has come to be a popular trend that women are called “crazy” when they express their feelings in relationships, react to injustices, ask for the treatment they feel they deserve or anything of the sort. Calling ANYONE crazy is not okay, it is oppressive, insensitive in terms of mental health awareness, and just plain mean. Please, women, don’t ever call yourself a crazy girlfriend if you text more than once, don’t say you are a crazy girlfriend if you’re feeling jealous, and don’t call your friend’s crazy girlfriends, either. This is a terrible trend that has got to stop, and we can start by disengaging with the term entirely and, in fact, being sure to call people out when we hear it, letting them know just how terrible it truly is.
We are not going to end patriarchy on our own, this we know for sure. Patriarchy is a powerful force which has been growing and mutating for centuries, but together we have a chance. First things first, bringing awareness inward, being mindful of what you’re saying and doing and the larger implications of these things. Hold yourselves and your peers accountable, and speak up when something isn’t right. Commit to a life of learning and growth, commit to the love and support of those around you, and be kind to yourself and others.