There’s a good chance that in your early days of identifying as a feminist, you came across a sentence like ‘a feminist is someone who believes in equality of the sexes’ or any of its variations. But it’s not quite that simple, is it?
Because apart from the obvious goal of legal equality, feminist thinking will likely include heaps of meta-analysis of our society. Everything you once saw as innocuous is actually a patriarchal power play, it seems. Back in the day there was already plenty of discussion about how to best achieve voting rights for women, but nowadays every choice you make can be the subject of feminist scrutiny. People will argue about whether something you wear or say is feminist or not, and you may find yourself asking questions too: how exactly do we test if something qualifies as feminist?
The problem is that we can’t. Sure, to some extent you can hold everything against the light of the aforementioned dictionary definition, but a definition this broad can only be expected to give some amount of trouble to the people trying to work with it. Yet, as many discussions as feminism can prompt, there seems to usually be some consensus about what’s ‘feminist’ and ‘unfeminist’, or we can eat least easily distinguish between two camps with a different consensus. For example, I feel like nowadays an important ‘camp’ of feminism is one that holds a woman’s free choice above everything else, even when that free choice doesn’t look (traditionally) feminist at all. This often involves the way women present themselves and can lead to heated debates about how ‘free’ a free choice is in our society. (Take a look at my article on makeup and feminism for my opinion on a similar subject), but you could think of various examples. And the ‘camps’ can be quite aggressive in pushing their point, asking you how you can call yourself a feminist when you don’t see that X is obviously the better point of view to be taking. Sometimes you might feel like you just *need* to take a certain place in a discussion, even if it’s not necessarily something you 100% support. I know I do: sometimes, for example, a certain storyline is introduced on a show or movie that causes some feminist outrage. I usually see where it’s coming from, but sometimes I don’t feel personally offended, and yet the experience is kinda soured for me and I feel like I’m being not quite as ideologically pure as I should be. (Another question this raises is, of course, if anyone can ever be expected to be ideologically pure. Possibly not.)
Growing up, one of the things my classmates and I had to hear over and over again was that you always have to specify whether you’re voicing your own opinion or a general fact. When someone said ‘broccoli is gross!’ we’d all yell ‘no, you *think* broccoli is gross!’ Maybe I’ve accidentally been stuck in elementary school thinking when everyone else has moved on, but I think that specifying your opinion might be a good habit. Not everyone follows the definition of ‘feminism’ down to the same conclusion, and unless someone’s feminist point of view is explicitly offensive, based on factual errors or something of the kind, we might be better off with more open discussions instead of heated debates and/or ideological peer pressure. And look, I know I’m a huge pushover without extremely intense opinions about most things, so I’m sure there are heaps of people who don’t feel ‘ideological peer pressure’ the way I do. Yet, one thing I do feel strongly about is the futility of dividing yourself in camps and making it sound like your point of view is the only one. Having an opinion that you’re passionate about is great, but keep in mind that none of us can perfectly see how to best achieve social change. We’re not feminists because we have all the answers; we are feminists because we want to look for them.