5 Things Women Do When They Aren't Serious About Feminism
I haven’t always been completely comfortable with calling myself a feminist. It’s not that I don’t believe women should have the same rights that men do in politics and the work world among other places. I know that women are objectified and violated to the point that some call our society a rape culture, and I know that women are shamed for some of the same behaviors that men seem to be praised for. I also know that the mission statement of feminism and related philosophies is focused on illuminating gender disparities, eliminating sexist discrimination, and creating a more equitable and harmonious world for us all.
I think that, at its core, this is what feminism is. According to this bare bones definition, I’d say that technically, I am a feminist, and more specifically I identify with womanism.
However, identifying as a feminist is not that simple, especially if you are a millennial. I don’t think that feminism has ever been a neatly defined proper little pink box, but with each wave of feminism (we’re up to the 4th), it has become more fluid and harder to define. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as this opens up an opportunity for each woman to define feminism for herself. Ironically, this same autonomy that allows women to find their own custom fit within feminism can also alienate women from each other.
The reaction to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s recent comments about feminism and where she and Beyoncé differ on the topic illustrate this.
She recently spoke with deVolkskrant, a Dutch newspaper, about her annoyance with the flood of interview requests she received after a snippet from her TED Talk entitled “We Should All Be Feminists” appeared on “****Flawless”, a song from Beyoncé’s 2013 self-titled album. As a writer, I can definitely understand why Adichie, a Johns Hopkins and Yale educated, award winning author, would be perturbed by the assertion that, despite her three novels and scores of published short stories and essays, being featured on Beyoncé’s album was the big break that brought her the notoriety that she enjoys today. Of course, even though Adichie still expressed admiration for Beyoncé, the Beyhive took Adichie to task for these comments and her conclusion that Beyoncé’s brand of feminism is not her own:
“Still, her type of feminism is not mine, as it is the kind that, at the same time, gives quite a lot of space to the necessity of men. I think men are lovely, but I don't think that women should relate everything they do to men: did he hurt me, do I forgive him, did he put a ring on my finger?” –Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie via Essence.com
In the comments of most of the articles that detailed the conversation between Adichie and the Dutch newspaper, Adichie was called a “hater”, “feminist with a chip on her shoulder”, and “salty that Beyoncé is successful”. She was accused of tearing down another woman and being the reason why black women can’t get ahead even though she spoke highly of Beyoncé.
This is the type of alienation that happens when women don’t respect other women’s personal definitions of feminism. Adichie isn’t wrong, but neither is Beyoncé. Both women have developed their own relationship with feminism based off their respective unique experiences with the world around them. In 2016, we should be advanced enough in our thinking that we can accept and respect these nuances and their effect on a woman’s interpretation of feminism.
This is the type of thing that made me hesitate to fully embrace the label of “feminist”, but I now know that wasn’t quite fair to feminism.
When I see fallout like this, I start to think that there are many women who claim to be feminists who really aren’t feminists at all. There’s probably more, but here’s five things that women do when they really aren’t that serious about feminism:
They only rally for women who think like them, look like them, come from where they come from
The reaction to Adichie’s comments doesn’t surprise me. Millennials have a hard time dealing disagreement. Honestly, as much as we like to believe that we are much more progressive than our parents’ generation, many of us have a hard time dealing with differences among people in general. We love to talk about “living our truth”, but some of the same people who expect their truth to be respected will tear down others simply for having a difference of opinion or a different experience. Look in the comment section of any article or think piece on a controversial topic and you will see plenty of folks who take things to a personal level pretty quickly when they stumble upon someone who doesn’t quite see things the way they do.
I see this problem seep into feminism when I see women discount the experiences of other women because they have experiences that they don’t relate to. Educated women sometimes dismiss the experiences and contributions to feminism of poorer women who don’t have the privilege of access to higher education. Women who are suspicious of formal education can be just as dismissive of the experiences of women in academia. Older women knock the contributions of younger women and vice versa. And within black women specifically, sometimes it seems that there is a set experience of black womanhood that excludes black women who live an alternative set of experiences.
As I stated earlier in this piece, the beauty of modern feminism is that women can now relate to the movement through the context of their own lives. My feminism will not be your feminism, and yours will not be mine, but that’s ok. All of our collective voices and contributions push us closer to a world that is more respectful, fair, safe, and positive toward women and girls.
If you can’t stand for the right of a woman to live her truth,you’re probably not serious about feminism.
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If you can’t stand for the right of a woman to live her truth in spite of the fact that you either don’t relate to it or agree with it, you’re probably not that serious about feminism.
They use feminism or womanism as a branding or marketing tool
It may have started as a grassroots movement, but over the years, feminism has become somewhat mainstream, and at this particular moment, it’s what a lot of the cool kids are into. We can all think of celebrities and pseudo-celebrities who suddenly found the feminist light once it became the marketing slant of choice.
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Feminism isn’t a branding strategy, it’s not a gimmick to be used to grow social media followers, and it shouldn’t be used as bait to lure people who are sincere about the movement to whatever you’re selling. Feminism sometimes means doing the hard work that others opt out of or being unpopular because you believe that contributing to the creation of a world where a woman doesn’t have to worry about being shot for rejecting the interest of a man is more important than gaining a few thousand followers.
They try to manipulate, dominate, or disregard a woman through or because of a man
This is for any woman who thinks “stealing” another woman’s man is the perfect way to take her down a notch. This is for the woman who justifies an affair with a married or committed man by using the same misogynistic excuses that men do to blame the woman on the other side of this man for his and her behavior. It’s also for the wife that lashes out at the other woman before holding her husband accountable for betraying her. And this is definitely for women who chide other women with chauvinist talking points to get approval from men. You are not serious about feminism if you use men and the opinions of men as weapons against other women.
You are not serious about feminism if you use men and the opinions of men as weapons against other women
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They find motivation from “stunting” on other women
I feel sorry for people who find inspiration and motivation from the idea that their progress makes their so-called haters angry or puts them in some higher rank above other people. It’s doubly disappointing to see women adopt that attitude toward each other.
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If your favorite part of achieving a personal or professional goal is outdoing or getting under the skin of other women, you are holding yourself back by creating your own glass ceiling. You will never reach your full potential because you insist on basing your goals around the presumed destruction and discomfort of others. In the end, you only stunt yourself.
They say that they can’t get along with other women/only have male friends because of (insert misogynistic stereotype here)
I’ve never been able to understand how a woman can’t find common ground with other women. There are women whose friends are predominantly men who don’t have any ill will toward women. However, women who say that they deliberately don’t pursue friendships with women are either insecure around other women, going through some sort of superiority complex (which is just another form of insecurity), or exiled from the groups of women they used to be friends with because of their treacherous ways. Pretending like they are one of the boys is also a way for some women to gain cool points with men in an attempt to escape misogynistic attacks themselves. Rather than supporting other women and non-chauvinist men in the effort to change how society views and treats women as a whole, these types of women selfishly try to preserve themselves by trying to “blend in” with men and adopting harmful patriarchal views. One day they will be reminded by these very same male friends that they, too, are women.
How do you know when someone is serious about feminism?