by Rebecca Clemmons*
*This piece was originally published in the Odyssey and can be found here.
A few days ago, I read an article that made me quite angry.
It was titled “X number of things girls want guys to know” …or something like that. It angered me because of how much the author generalized both genders, how heteronormative and utterly un-feminist the article was. I started to type a scathing response to her article, and quickly determined that I had no use for what I wrote. I could never post something that mean.
However, what I had written ended up serving two purposes: it gave me an outlet for my anger, and direction for this piece.
This past decade has been one of the most progressive in history in many different ways — we are really starting to see some change being enacted in legislation and in social practice for women’s rights especially. However, that doesn’t mean we can let up. And sometimes, remembering this can be hard. So, here are some not-too-simple but important things you can and should do every day to be a stronger, more informed feminist.
1. Don’t be afraid to call yourself one — regardless of your gender.
One of the most harmful things to the feminist movement overall is the ambivalence to identify with it in the first place. Don’t be afraid of the people who’ll call you “feminazi” or “bra burner.” Anyone who is willing to compare a woman wanting equal rights and treatment (a movement that also has many beneficial aspects for men) to a literal mass genocide is either deeply ignorant or deeply hateful. And obviously, we don’t burn bras. That shit’s expensive. And to men who are fighting for us too, call yourself a feminist! Sadly, it’s so much more impactful when a man identifies as one than a woman. Explain it to your bros. Convince them. Show them that your manliness does not magically disappear when you support women.
2. Try your hardest to move away from old norms.
It’s 2018 — guys shouldn’t be expected to always pay for dates. Personally, I think whoever asks the other out should pay for the first date, but anything after that really is up to the couple. Let’s be real — everyone is broke in college and high school. Don’t expect one person to pay all the time. Similarly, if you want to ask a guy out or text him first, GO FOR IT. If you don’t, that’s cool too. Just don’t expect men to do it solely because they’re men.
3. Equality isn’t conditional.
We have to be able to admit and identify that sexism does have some benefits for women. Many girls in college don’t have any trouble getting into frat parties, but often, guys have to pay unless they’re in a frat. Women can often use their charm and their looks to try and get things for free. Oh, and there’s the whole “women and children first” thing. If we want true equality, we must try not to take advantage or perpetuate these benefits and work to break them, too.
4. Women can be chivalrous too.
Open doors for everyone, whether you’re a man or a woman. It’s nice.
5. Educate yourself, share what you know, and listen.
This is so easy. Do the research, memorize statistics, and learn how to have a conversation instead of an argument. While real feminism is not man-hating or female-supremacy, there are radical feminists who believe in these things. They are misled. The people who believe that these radical feminists represent the entire movement are also misled. Seek them out, talk to them, and reason with them. Really, anyone can be reached through a calm, well-intended conversation.
People are afraid of what they don’t know, so let them know. But perhaps even more importantly, LISTEN to the person you disagree with. They hold their beliefs for a reason (even if it does seem like a hollow one) and you are more likely to get them to understand your perspective if they feel respected, not attacked. Keep your emotions in check and try to understand why they feel the way they do. This being said, some people are simply fuckin idiots. When you realize you have encountered one of these people, thank them for sharing their perspective and walk away before you become the raging, hateful feminist they think you are. Don’t waste your time on lost causes, you have better things to do.
##6. Don’t sacrifice your comfort or safety in fear for someone’s feelings.
Girls, if a guy is annoying you or making you feel unsafe in any way, tell him to stop or leave you alone and tell him firmly. You don’t have to be nice. If someone is pushing your boundaries, they lose the privilege of kindness from you. Don’t be afraid to be terse, block them, or really, just tell them to fuck off. You don’t owe anyone anything.
7. Don’t generalize.
It’s such a meme now (which is sad) but don’t assume someone’s gender, sexuality, or orientation — and yes, those are all different things. This also intertwines with educating yourself. Just because you’re straight doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make an effort to understand someone who isn’t, even if you think it’s too complicated or unnecessary.
8. Be patient and remember we are always still learning
The feminist movement is a movement made up of humans; so, just like humans, it is flawed. There are large divisions within this movement that are often times frustrating (white feminism I’m looking at you), but try to keep in mind that FAR more often than not, ignorance doesn’t come from a hostile place. If you notice some problematic actions from someone who calls themselves a feminist, kindly inform them of why their actions are actually hurting the movement and maybe suggest what they can do instead. Be open to admitting your own faults and learning from them. We all make mistakes.
9. Don’t be afraid to have a social media presence.
If people give you backlash for being too much of a social-media-social-justice-warrior, kindly remind them that social media is one of the strongest forms of information, vocalization, and peaceful protest. And if they still are giving you shit, remind them where the unfollow button is. That being said, make sure the things you post/repost/share are accurate and credible.
10. Don’t stand for ignorant or harmful jokes!!
It’s just a joke, but really, it isn’t. Stop using the word “pussy” to describe weakness (first of all, because it’s perpetuating that female = weakness, and second, cuz damn, vaginas are strong. I mean, they push fucking fetuses out of them. If you wanna call someone weak, call them a ballsack. Those can’t take shit). And if the joke really is that funny, go ahead and laugh, but then say, “in all seriousness though, not cool.”
11. Don’t support companies, brands, or media that don’t support you.
I know that “Blurred Lines” is catchy as hell, but the lyrics promote catcalling, rape culture, and misogyny. And I know “All About That Bass” seems empowering, but body-shaming skinny girls is just as bad as body-shaming thick (or thicc) girls. So stop streaming them. Similarly, google “sexist ads” and see what comes up — take note of the companies with advertisements that objectify women (there are quite literally millions).
12. As a movement striving for equality, we must support other movements with the same goal.
Feminism fights for women of ALL races, sexualities, economic classes, shapes, and religions. Intersectionality is essential. Fighting for women’s rights without also fighting for movements trying to end the discrimination of our sisters is problematic and divisive. Racism, homophobia, religious persecution, and all things alike will only divide us further. We must understand our sibling movements out of respect for the women by our sides who the endure discrimination those movements are trying to end.
13. DEAR GOD, STOP BASHING OTHER WOMEN.
Stop body shaming — that goes for shaming fat, skinny, or any body type. Stop shitting on girls for wearing “too much makeup,” and stop shitting on girls for not wearing any. Stop making fun of girls with big tits, stop making fun of girls with small tits (in case you forgot, we literally cannot control that). Stop saying that girls who only hang out with guys are snakes, and stop saying that girls who avoid guys are boring. Stop saying that girls who have casual sex are whores, and stop saying that girls who want to wait until marriage are prudes. Stop saying that girls who talk loudly and often are bossy, and stop saying that girls who won’t speak are spineless. We are literally enforcing these double standards upon ourselves. In the wise words of Tina Fey’s Mean Girls character, “you all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it okay for guys to call you sluts and whores.”
14. Hold yourself and each other accountable.
Because we are flawed, help each other be better. When a fellow feminist strays from true practice, help her get back on track. We are all working towards the same goal, and we have to look out for one another.
Daily feminism is just as important, if not more, than huge protesting or movements to change legislation. We must hold ourselves to the highest standard of equality and tolerance if we want anything to improve. We do, and we will.