bring it in for a "Team Feminist" huddle
On a recent sunny Saturday, I sat in crowded, hip Brooklyn restaurant next to a table of women with one empty seat. There was a joiner to their party that half the women didn’t know. The two that already knew the joiner set to filling the others in on the mystery friend.
“Well, she’s… I mean. You know Allison. She just kind of does what she wants.”
“Remember that time in Mexico?”
Those that don’t know Allison perk up at the pregnant pause. The two friends of Allison nod knowingly.
“It’s a long story but she just went a little crazy. She took someone home and when we confronted her about it she acted like she didn’t care. She just does whatever she wants.”
“Was it a guy or a girl? I mean, I don’t care. Good for her, you know. But...”
After they spent five more minutes talking shit about their friend, these women went on to talk about primary elections, their busy jobs, the immigration crisis. These were smart women. All of them, I’d guess, would gladly claim feminism. But this tone they were using, the same tone we sometimes talk about other women, has a flavor of disapproval, disdain even, that smacks of misogyny.
Here’s the thing. We all are coded to believe the lies society tells us about gender, sex, race, etc. We (should) work consciously to seek the truth about these issues. But the undoing of indoctrinated damage requires fine tuning and a lot of practice.
In recent years, labelling someone a “bad feminist” seemed to do more harm than good. (Why nitpick those who claim to be on our team while the enemy remains at large?) But these women at the restaurant were being bad feminists. Sometimes I’m a bad feminist. And not in the Roxane Gay kind of bad feminist who falls short of the impossible expectations of feminist culture. But a destructive or misinformed kind of practice of feminism. It’s worth an attempt at outlining what we still get wrong so we can get more right. Consider this a quick practice for team feminism.
Alright, team, let's HER BODY HER CHOICE on three. One. Two. Three. HER BODY HER CHOICE!
Now let's get to it.
You might be a bad feminist…
….if you disapprove when a women doing something different/doing whatever she wants.
Despite our best efforts to create and understand different life paths, we love shitting on women who take an alternative one or take many different ones within a lifetime. This comes from a desire to have our own life path affirmed in its normality and rightness, but so often we step on others to justify ourselves. Can women make stupid life choices? Of course. Can we judge these? Sure, I guess. But there is a difference between disapproving of the choice itself and disapproving of a person’s ability to make a choice. Women are rarely allowed to be the authority on their own lives. Don’t assign value to another person’s decisions. Chances are, they know more about their life than you do.
If you think you could live another woman’s life better than she can, you’re in bad feminist territory.
…if you have beef because your friend’s gender presentation or sexual orientation has changed since you’ve known them and you just can’t keep up.
We’re not being good friends if we can’t keep up with things that are central to our friends’ identities. We remember if a friend changed their last name. We remember their birthday. We remember all their exes and warn them when they are going to be somewhere. A reluctance to accept a change in gender performance or preference is a snag in the fabric of a friendship and practice of feminism. When people publicly change their markers it often comes after years of experience, thought, emotion.
It’s not that complicated to be clear on someone’s current identity.
…if you’re annoyed someone always makes it about race.
If I’ve learned one thing from this Dumpster Fire Era(™) it’s that it is almost always about race. To be good friends, we need to empathize, especially when a story isn’t similar to ours. Considering how race plays into marginalization based on gender is key to good feminism. Fellow white women, we’ve got to work to make our feminism intersectional and thank our friends of color for sharing with (and educating) us.
It’s not their responsibility to make us woke.
…if you wish someone was less ~HiGh mAiNtEnAnCe~
It doesn’t matter for who or why they are presenting themselves a certain way. It does matter that we accept the expression. We’re not empowering* anyone by telling them how to look even if we feel we are righteously freeing them from an enslavement to the male gaze. We can’t use the same logic of oppression (there is a right way and wrong way to look like a woman) and expect change. Also, it’s a function of privilege to be accepted in society with low maintenance. Let ‘em Kardashian kontor, extend their eyelashes, boost their booty. You can’t tell a feminist by her makeup.
If you find yourself telling someone how they must look to be a feminist, you’re doing it wrong.
Alright. Good practice team. We’re passing the ball, we’re making good use of playing time, we’re working as a unit. Now, when we go up against Cis-Straight-White-Dude High next week, we will BURN THEM TO THE GROUND.
*I have an issue with “empowerment.” Empowerment is the kid sister to power. I’m tired of being happy for society ~empowering~ women. Why don’t we give women actual power? (Register to vote here.)