I’m a feminist.
I’m a feminist because I believe women are equal to men, should be treated equally and should have equal rights.
I’m a feminist because I believe women should have the right to make their own life choices, to decide for themselves how they wish to live their lives.
I’m a feminist because I believe women should have total control over their own bodies, which includes access to health care, contraceptives and legal, safe abortion.
I’m a feminist because I believe women should be able to define their own sexuality, to make their own decisions about with whom, when, where and why they engage in sexual activity, and to make their own decisions regarding consent.
I’m a feminist because I believe women should be able to wear what they want and to alter their appearance however they feel comfortable.
I’m a feminist because I believe women are human beings, and therefore have human rights, like the rest of the human population.
With me so far? Good. 1
You might have noticed that none of my reasons for being a feminist have anything to do with my own life, my appearance, my work, my culture, my sex, my gender, my religion, my reproductive choices, etc., but are all based on what I believe.
Oxford dictionaries defines a feminist as “a person who supports feminism” and feminism as “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes”.
So you see, there is no certain way a feminist is supposed to look, there is no absolute way a feminist behaves, there is no rule about whether or not feminists shave their armpits or wear lipstick. The only thing one has to do to be a feminist is to support feminism.
Sounds easy, right? All we have to do is fight the good fight, go for equality! And we’ll all get along!
But we don’t. Lately I’ve been witnessing an amount of slut shaming, body policing, sex shaming and oppression in feminist discussion that is baffling, and that has left me seething with rage. We seem to agree up to a point, but as soon as our own personal boundary has been crossed suddenly it’s wrong. “WRONG! And must be stopped!”
We’ll have Slut Walks and protest our rights to walk down the street wearing whatever we want without being harassed. Great! But when an influential performer who wears little on stage makes a comment on equality and the need for women to be financially independent, women who call themselves feminist call out “maybe if she wasn’t shaking her booty on MTV in next to nothing dressed like a porn star I might take this more seriously”. Really? Do you realize you are implicitly stating that I do not have to take you serious when you’re wearing a mini skirt? Is that what you want? And what’s with the putting down of porn stars? Are they now second class humans because you don’t agree with their life choices?
We say women should be allowed to make their own career choices….. well, unless they choose a career that doesn’t fit your fancy, then suddenly it’s WRONG. Yes, I am aware that there are a lot of bad things going on in the sex industry. A lot of horrible, horribly bad things. But you know what? Shaming the women working in the sex industry is not going to help that. Talking about them in a derogatory way is not going to help that. Dismissing their opinions and their realities because you do not like their life choices is not going to change anything. You are not helping. If anything you are making the problem bigger, because you are making it more difficult for them to talk about their experiences without fear of being blamed, dismissed or judged.
The same goes for discussions regarding women in hijab or niqab, or any other religious or cultural dress. You do not get to decide for someone else whether they are being oppressed or not, and definitely not based on what somebody is wearing. “But they are being oppressed, I know, I’m sure, because I would not want to wear that!” Just because you don’t want to do something doesn’t mean nobody does.
As for the argument that ‘those women think they’re making a choice, but actually, it’s not really a choice because their society tells them to behave like this……” do you see how patronizing that is? You’re basically saying that even though you don’t live her life, or in her culture, or actually know anything about her, you do know better than her whether something has been her choice or not. Unless you were dropped on an island far away from society at birth and somehow managed to survive into adulthood all by yourself, and magically acquired an internet connection, you too are being influenced by society and the cultural norm, which means that by that argument all of your choices have not really been choices either. So let’s throw that argument out the window.
Also, what’s with the protests and petitions about other people’s sex lives? No, I’m not talking about gay marriage, I’m talking about the ridiculous notion that BDSM is bad and must be stopped. NOW. Ban 50 shades of Grey for being a bad book, but don’t try and ban it because it ‘will cause women to suffer’. Seriously? Just because you only like romantic, vanilla, missionary sex doesn’t mean the rest of the world subscribes to your taste. And furthermore, how do you even start to go about policing and reinforcing this? Is there some super secret feminist squad that will raid people’s bedrooms that I don’t know about? As long as all parties involved are consenting adults, do whatever you fancy, and have a blast! This really isn’t any body’s business but your own.
You still want to stop oppression and work towards equality? Great! Start realizing that the freedom to make your own life choices includes people making life choices that differ from yours. That’s OK, it’s their choice.
That people having total control over their own bodies and reproductive choices means people might use that freedom to do things that you personally wouldn’t do. That’s OK, it’s their choice.
That people having the freedom to define their own sexuality means that people will define theirs in a way that doesn’t appeal to you or fit your norms. As long as when engaging in sexual activity all parties are consenting adults, that’s OK, it’s their choice.
That people being able to wear whatever they want and to alter their appearance however they feel comfortable is not always going to be how you would like it to be. There’s a whole range of options out there, varying from wearing practically nothing to being completely covered up. As long as it’s their choice, that’s OK.
There is no right or wrong on these things, only right for the one person and wrong for the other. But all of us have to figure out for ourselves what is right for us, and what isn’t. We can talk about it, we can discuss the reasons behind our choices and our differing realities, but we can’t decide for each other. And sometimes it’s difficult to see the other reality, to see that something that doesn’t work for you might best for someone else, because it goes against other things we hold true. But shaming and judging each other doesn’t help, it gets us nowhere because it just keeps us busy while patriarchy keeps going about it’s evil ways.
And you know what? Oppressing, shaming or judging other women because they make choices that differ from yours doesn’t show you’re a feminist. It shows you would be perfectly happy being oppressed by patriarchy if patriarchy would only have the common sense to stick to the same rules as you do. And that’s definitely not feminist.
1By the way, I believe the same for the rest of the human population.