March is a time for rebirth and renewal, but most notably for this column’s purposes, women’s history. While celebrating the success of feminism at-large and the women who’ve paved the way for the next generation of activists, it’s always beneficial to set new goals for the movement and oneself to better identify how to renew an age-old fight. Reflecting on my identity as a young feminist trying to undermine the constant, institutionalized sexism women face, is a reminder of what activists must sacrifice personally in order to project an image that the public feels comfortable accepting.
I won’t leave the house without makeup. I let guys pay on dates. I’m insecure about my body. Sometimes, in moments of complete anger, I use the b-word. I understand logically that these insecurities and traditions stem from a patriarchal culture meant to oppress and control me, but it can be hard to walk the tight-rope and keep your balance between being a feminist and being a female in a society where these ideas are so intrinsic to socialization and acceptance. Although the act of reflecting on whether you practice what you preach can be healthy, it can also exacerbate the insecurities created by a society discouraging this genre of activism.
It often seems that every time a young woman tries to test the limits of stringent feminism, or compromises her passion for social change for her desire to be accepted, there is a band of people waiting to point their finger and scream “hypocrite.” My generation seems to have lost the concept of sisterhood that was once the movement’s signature. I want us to celebrate each section of feminism, whether they fight for LBGT rights, race issues or bodily autonomy, as equal parts of a greater whole. I want us to stop punishing each other for feeling that pressure from society, and at times, succumbing to it. Without this sense of sisterhood and support, it’s impossible to embody the full feminist mantra.
As the flowers begin to bloom this spring, let me plant this seed in your head. A movement is only as strong as every single person in it. If women, feminist or not, continue tearing each other down, we’ll never overcome the oppression of those enforcing inequality. I’ve met some amazing feminist women who are much older and wiser than me. Seeing how open and excited they are about young millennial feminists inspires me to rekindle this idea of sisterhood and truly practice what we preach — strength in numbers.
Makers, a documentary on the woman who made America, recently aired on PBS as a tribute to feminism throughout the years and a look at the women who paved the way for us all. As the film focused mostly on history, it talked about the movement’s struggle to include women of all races, classes and sexual orientations. For many women who felt passionately, the movement was exclusive. For those happy with their role as a housewife, the movement was extreme.
I believe that the movement has become much more inclusive as it now spans many modern social and economic issues. However, the tone still exists that if you don’t live up to the highest standards of feminism and embrace all of the sub-sections it encompasses, you lose validity. In cities in the Northeast, where progressivism is common and social justice events are everywhere you turn, it’s easy to feel like you have to compete to earn your place in a sub-culture with such strict doctrine. I look to the history of the movement and see a community, rather than a competition for who can be the better activist.
I have female friends who think that my belief in reproductive rights is immoral and my lack of hesitance to talk about abortion rights crass. I’ve met female professionals who refer to the movement and organizations that fight for equality as the “women’s ghetto,” for anyone who works there too long faces a credibility problem in other fields. When I told my mother I might not want to procreate, she acted as if I’d put a dagger through her heart. When I was inspired by Caitlin Moran to reclaim the word “cunt,” many of my feminist friends told me not to be vulgar.
Criticizing other women, whether inside the movement or for the way they speak, is validating a culture in which any female who violates social norms should be oppressed and controlled. With all the work left to be done, those feminists who feel the need to judge others based on their view of dedication only hurts progress. This very concept plays into why our generation has so many reservations with calling themselves the “f” word. As I stated in my first column, there is an entire generation of young females who feel the connotation of being a feminist — despite believing and embodying the concept of gender equity — isn’t worth abandoning mainstream culture and being labeled undesirable, or feel the movement isn’t inclusive enough.
One of my sorority sisters, who’s arguably a feminist despite refusing to call herself one, approached me about feeling excluded from our group of friends because she didn’t associate with the movement. She asked me to teach her more about it so that she could better understand our generation’s connection to the cause. I decided to give her one of my books — Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future by Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards — to introduce her to the roots of the movement as it stands today and let her draw her own conclusions.
While we were hanging out this week, she told me that she’d never noticed that at her workplace, all of the owners and editors were male and all of the females were on the hierarchy’s lowest rungs. She talked about how quickly the recently hired male became an editor, but how many of the women bounced around from job to job in the same position. I recalled all of the times I’d scolded her and other friends that they were feminists and how important this movement was, only to be frustrated by responses about how they like being treated differently. Apparently, all I had to do was step back and let them realize how gender inequity played into their own lives.
A truly inclusive movement can be revived by remembering that to disregard society and subject oneself to unforgiving criticism is no easy feat. If you disagree with the method of change being used, you need to speak up rather than speak down to each other. Make it a conversation about what we should be projecting as women fighting for the same cause. Let’s find common ground instead of reinforcing the image that women are catty.
I plan to work on how I interact with strong, independent women in my life who’ve yet to find a connection to the movement. I find it hard not to be confused by women who are content with inequality, but I vow to have more honest conversations without judgment. Alienating strong, independent women, cannot be a victory for feminism at all. I will recreate that sense of sisterhood with our generation’s version of “consciousness raising” sessions — an organizing tool used by early feminists — to help the ladies I know discover how feminism can change their lives, or at least their paychecks.
This month, when we reignite the feelings of community and pride in a long-standing history of strong women, follow their example by celebrating the feminists in your life who inspire, challenge and support you.