Over the years, and even over the last few months of active feminism that I have been involved in, the question has been raised – what should a feminist really believe? What should a feminist do? How do you let the world know, or not know, that you’re a feminist?
Firstly, I must again return to my favourite topic… Why are we afraid of the word feminism? Over the past few months I have had numerous conversations with people who completely agree with everything that feminism stands for, yet refuse to call themselves feminists because feminism has such a bad name. These people are what I like to call closet feminists; much like how the term “in the closet” is used to describe homosexual people when they have not openly announced that they are homosexual (or bisexual, or any other type of minority sexual orientation) I use it as an umbrella term for people who do not identify as feminists for a number of specific reasons. The majority of people I use this term for are:
- Girls who believe that calling themselves feminist will turn boys off them and therefore don’t call themselves one even though they know they want equal rights
- People who completely agree with everything feminism stands for, but refuse to call themselves feminist because they think a ‘feminist’ is an angry lesbian who never shaves arguing with boys on Twitter (which is just ridiculous)
- People who think being a feminist is something bad, or undesirable, but would still consider themselves egalitarians
Feminism, I repeat for the twentieth time, is the fight for social, political and economical equality of the sexes. You should never be afraid to call yourself something just because you feel unimportant people will judge you for your beliefs. You, ladies, should never be afraid to do something just because you worry it will impact your standing with a man. People who agree with the principles and values of feminism are feminists, and calling yourself something else (a humanist, an egalitarian) does not make that any less true.
Back to my initial point, what should a feminist be? Should a feminist be someone who hates all men on the basis that they have oppressed women for eons, or someone who understands that not all men are misogynistic or have misogynistic tendencies and that, in fact, men suffer from the patriarchy just like women and are valuable allies and partners in the fight for equality?
In reality, a feminist should just be someone who does whatever they can to help the fight for equality gain traction. Whether that means joining a local feminist group and helping out with whatever they do there (for those of you who know about StokEquality or want to know more about it, feel free to comment and ask or find me in person) or going on protests, demonstrations and marches, anything you do makes a difference. Not only does it shove feminism into people’s faces, forcing them to take notice of the movement and crucial feminist issues, it also helps us gain an understanding of how far we have come and how much further there is to go.
Feminists should be intersectional. We should understand that it is not just being a woman, but it is being a white woman, a black woman, an Asian woman, a Hispanic woman. We must understand that ethnicity has a massive part to play in female oppression, and that actually even within oppression of women there is still a gradient of degrees of oppression which even more deeply highlights the socioracial discrimination that is so ingrained into our world society. We must understand that if we are white women, like I am, we have never been oppressed like women of colour have been over the centuries. We must understand that yes, we have been oppressed, but because we are white we have “white privilege” even in our oppression as women.
Feminists should be aware of the effects of the patriarchy on men. Hypermasculinity, emotional stunting, demonisation of effeminacy are also crippling men and boys throughout the world because society is catering to the idea of men as invulnerable heroes; men who are more afraid of their emotions then a cold-blooded murderer. Feminism is not just about white women, or even women at all. It is about equality.
So no, you don’t have to attend feminist lectures or make placards for protests, or even read this blog to be a feminist. You just have to be one, and stand by your beliefs because they are a fundamental part of who you are.