“There is no such thing as a perfect feminist.”
Last year, in our Sociology of Gender class, our professor reminded us of this on more than on occasion. In a gender class, feminism is an inevitable core of the discussion, and for better or for worse, feminism is often expected to be an all-or-nothing identity.
There is a often a calling out and questioning of women and men who claim to be feminists. “How can you be a feminist and ______________?” “If you’re a feminist then you can’t _________.” This is why many feminists fight inner turmoil when they can’t or simply don’t want to break outside of certain norms that feel close to them. While yes, some of the larger tenants of feminism are harder to allow flexibility on, and yes, everything is important. But if wanting to wear make up is holding some women back from embracing the empowerment of feminism, maybe we should take a step back and see what we can do.
I believe strongly that in order for us to move forward we need to embrace the idea that anybody who is trying to live out feminist ideals – any feminist ideals – we should support, welcome, and embrace. Feminism as a worldview is extremely complicated and looks very different for different people. For some it’s marches and rallies, and for others it’s being a role model in their every day life. I believe the all-or-nothing connotation that is left over from a time when it was necessary and vital for the movement, and has been used (by resistors) as a way to keep people out of the women’s movement – but it’s time for an emphasis on an every-little-bit-counts version of feminism. This means that anyone that believes in and advocates for gender equality in one aspect of life, but doesn’t uphold it in another, is welcomed as a part of the conversation. Yes, it’s important to have critical discussion on the implications of perpetuating gender equality in certain ways, but I believe that can be discussed in a way that does not discount the well-intentioned nature of the person.
Because it’s better for people to be here, listening, and trying to live progress one aspect of feminism than for them to not be here at all, right?
I believe that this every-little-bit-counts attitude has contributed to the success of the environmental movement. In theory, an all-or-nothing approach to environmental living would be the extreme approach of selling your car, moving off the grid and your life entirely free of environmental impact. If the only way to contribute to environmental justice was to let go of all the practices you held close to you but were harmful for the environment, people would have thrown their hands up in the air and stayed out of it. But the environmental movement framed an every-little-bit-counts! mentality that led to recycling bins on most college campuses, conservation of resources, and social pressure to use as little paper as possible and recycle whenever you can.
This every-little-bit counts mentality will do a world of good for the feminist movement. You believe in gender equality but you want to be a stay-at-home mom with your husband at work? Great! Talk about feminism at the dinner table and why you made the choice to stay home. Beyonce identifies feminist and also dances provocatively in her music videos. Okay! Let’s talk about that and what it means for the representation of girls and women in the media, but let’s also talk about the fact that a prominent role model for young girls is putting the idea of gender equality and female empowerment into public discourse.
I truly believe that more compassionate engagement with and about individuals who are at the very least trying to promote gender equality will allow for a more open discussion with a range of people who are not sure where to begin on their journey with feminism. If we open up a movement where you are not held up to a near-perfect standard of discourse, but instead welcomed into a we’re-so-glad-you’re-here mentality we can address the issues we care about in an open-hearted and welcoming way.
Has anyone had an experience when they felt that one aspect of their lives wasn’t 100% in line with the ideals of feminism? Or feeling like doing a certain thing or living a certain way meant that you couldn’t identify as a feminist? How do you all make sense of it? I’m sure we’ve all had our moments, and coming together about them can remind us why it’s better to move forward imperfectly than to not move forward at all.