It took me a long time to realise I was a feminist, mostly because I always thought being a feminist meant burning my bra, shaving my head and becoming a lesbian. I used to quickly defend myself whenever I called out sexism and my guy friends called me a feminist. “I’m not like an actual feminist” I’d insist. God forbid, right?
One day, after I said this, a friend asked me “Why not, don’t you want equality for women?” I answered “Why, of course I do”. And then she said the most liberating thing to me. She said: “Then you are a feminist.”
See, the media always like to put up images of angry, negative, man-hating extremists that are nearly impossible to relate to, and then slap the “feminist” label on her. And even if women try to be feminists, an army of journalists are ready to pick her apart and point out all the ways she isn’t feminist enough: “Beyonce is too naked, too married, too pregnant, too sexy, to be a feminist.” Never mind the fact that she’s trying to sing about the unrealistic expectations of female bodies, look how short her skirt is! It’s no wonder girls have no idea what feminism even means anymore.
Feminists are depicted as “angry extremist” rather than “empowered woman”, women are picked apart and discouraged in feminist critiques, and girls like me are scared to call themselves ‘feminists’. We need to bring it back to basics.
I want to remind girls that being a feminist is easy and important and a positive thing. I do want girls to be feminists, and I would love for girls to be more informed about inequalities in our society and to actively pursue ways to change this. But above all, I want girls to support other girls, all girls, even if they aren’t feminists. I want to perpetuate this new kind of feminism that is inclusive, approachable and relateable. Because feminism is about supporting girls in whatever they choose to do. It’s about loving girls, and feeling proud of girls, and empowering girls, and being all “HEY YEAH, GIRLS RULE”. That’s it. That’s literally what this whole damn thing is about.
Here are three quick and easy steps on how to forgo all of the definitions and expectations of mediated feminism and be a feminist in its purest, new-age sense.
1. Say “I am a Feminist”
In my experience, finally admitting to being a feminist is the first and most important step to becoming a feminist. My girl friends always ask me “Why is it so important to you that I admit I am a feminist? Why do I have to wear that label?”. To which I always answer “If you wear the label, you help redefine the label”. I think girls need to be proud of being a feminist, and by wearing that feminist badge loud and proud they send a message to society that young women are still engaged in the feminist agenda, and feminism is still very relevant, and most importantly, feminism has changed. It’s no longer about being independent and radical and masculine. Girls who are feminine and straight and wear skirts and read gossip magazines are just as feminist as girls who go to protests and cut their hair to challenge gender constructions. Everyone is a feminist, because they declare themselves so, and there is much power in that.
2. Eliminate inequalities for women
Tell people about music and films and books and political leaders and celebrities who communicate sexist ideas, and then tell them how it’s wrong. Call out misogyny! Read Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters, and then read about all the great things women have written about these great women. And then look up other great, modern feminists like Judith Butler and Tavi Gevinson and Tina Fey and Lena Dunham and Beyonce! Send your daughters to school and tell her she can do anything a man can do, and find ways to help send other people’s daughters to school. Educate yourself on the disparities between men and women in other countries, and then find projects that seek to eradicate this. Support these projects. Basically, commit yourself to the continual elimination of inequalities for women around the world, and you’ll be a fab feminist.
3. Support and respect and love ALL girls (even if they don’t do step 1 or 2)
This above all, be kind to girls. Be kind to the girls who don’t know much about feminism. Be supportive to the girls trying to figure out what kind of girl they want to be. Be loving to the girls who listen to Robin Thicke, and respecting of the girls who like showing off their bodies and be understanding to girls who enjoy being sexually free. You can inform girls and bring attention to how their behavior might be reproducing gender inequalities, but for the love of God, please please please don’t yell at them and make them feel inadequate and inferior. It took us so damn long to empower girls, don’t you dare tear them down.