For a lot of us, we are just beginning our journey with feminism. I personally didn’t learn the fancy terminology that comes with the movement until my first semester of college. This was also around the time that I started getting involved in feminist activism. When you start realizing that the world isn’t as perfect and safe as you once thought it was, you start to see everything (and everyone) as potentially “problematic.” The hard thing about realizing that everything is problematic is understanding that you, the brand new baby feminist, are also part of everything.
As a new feminist, it can be quite hard to attempt to unlearn everything that you’ve been taught in your lifetime. So many harmful messages fill the air and come at you from all different directions; it’s difficult to separate yourself from that kind of negativity. Not to mention that sometimes you flat-out enjoy problematic things. However, actively critiquing elements of pop culture, politics, academia and other things you enjoy is a thing all feminists should practice. No one is saying you can’t watch a show that you really like, but it’s also important to look at why you like that show and why its message is harmful to certain individuals. Does it stereotype? Is it racist? Is it transphobic?
Recently, author Roxane Gay wrote an article for BuzzFeed called “Why I am a Bad Feminist” (it was essentially the intro to her new book of essays Bad Feminist). In it, she tells us why she is not a perfect feminist:
I resisted feminism in my late teens and my twenties because I worried that feminism wouldn't allow me to be the mess of a woman I knew myself to be. But then I began to learn more about feminism. I learned to separate feminism from Feminism or Feminists or the idea of an Essential Feminism — one true feminism to dominate all of womankind. It was easy to embrace feminism when I realized it was advocating for gender equality in all realms, while also making the effort to be intersectional, to consider all the other factors that influence who we are and how we move through the world.
Feminism is not something that every person – or even every woman – has to support. It is not a mandate, but I want everyone to know that the feminism I believe in supports everyone out there. It’s taken me so long to love myself, and feminism has been such a big part in that. I won’t let other people go through what I went through. I’m here to fight for everyone, especially young girls out there who don’t feel like they deserve a chance in life.
Working with people for change is hard, critiquing who you are is hard, and fighting for human rights when people dismiss the existence of very real issues is perhaps the hardest of them all. As a queer woman of color, I often find myself angry at feminism for never acknowledging my existence, for focusing more on a skinny white girl’s hairy legs than the rigid euro-centric beauty standards that I must fit into, and for the fact that “women” means white cis women, and everyone else has to hyphenate. I often think, “How is this any different than a world without feminism?” But despite my anger and frustrations, I know I can’t give up on it.
Feminism will better succeed with collective effort, but feminist success can also rise out of personal conduct. I hear many young women say they can’t find well-known feminists with whom they identify. That can be disheartening, but I say, let us (try to) become the feminists we would like to see moving through the world.
As activist Angela Davis said, “You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.”
It can be difficult to practice feminism every day in a way that perfectly strives to help all other marginalized groups. Our behavior can be problematic, too. However, that’s no excuse for not trying. We all have different ways of combating the system, but we must work to have the same end goal to end oppression. A more perfect feminism is one that makes you constantly challenge your own way of thinking and helps you grow.
Photo via roxanegay.com.