As a feminist, there are days when I question whether my actions fall in line with the basic principles of feminism. And I have to wonder if other feminists do the same.
Years ago, while an undergraduate, one of the greatest compliments was when someone, particularly a man, would say, “You’re such a feminist,” and expect me to be offended. There were those women who cringed at the thought of being associated with feminism, or didn’t understand what feminism was, so they avoided it all together. I embraced it with open arms and dared someone to question me.
There are no prerequisites, classes taught, or certificates awarded for becoming a feminist. It would be even harder to define what a feminist is, or embodies, because of the myriad of theories created by renowned feminists. First wave feminists and third wave feminists would most likely have different philosophies in regards to the equality of women because of the generation gap. In her book, Feminism is for Everybody, bell hooks defines feminism as:
Simply put, feminism is a movement to end sexism exploitation and oppression. Practically, it is a definition, which implies that all sexist thinking and action is the problem, whether those who perpetuate it are female or male, child or adult. It is also broad enough to include an understanding of systemic institutionalized sexism. As a definition it is open-ended. To understand feminism it implies one has to necessarily understand sexism.
Most importantly she wrote:
Feminists are made, not born. One does not become an advocate of feminist politics simply by having the privilege of having been born female. Like all political positions one becomes a believer in feminist politics through choice and action.
Hooks’ words, “through choice and action” hit home for me. At its core I believe in everything feminism stands for, and try to act accordingly. But as an imperfect woman conditioned in a patriarchal and sexist society, I slip up.
In past weeks I have noticed the vitriol that some women hurl at other women. I don’t believe the stereotype that women are all catty and like crabs in a barrel. Sure it happens, but I don’t believe it is the standard. I pay close attention to the actions and words of those who yell from the rooftop that they are feminists, write numerous blog posts on the topic, and battle any man who dares threaten their movement to liberate women from male oppression.
How can an outsider be expected to take feminism seriously when this is how a self-proclaimed feminist is behaving toward another woman?
I know readers of CLUTCH hate when Kat Stacks is brought into the equation. We are all so perfect and believe her to be the lowest of the low, undeserving of respect because she doesn’t respect herself. Personally, I disagree. Kat Stacks is not molded to fit our idealistic definition of a woman so she is deserving of the disgust people have for her? Yet Lauryn Hill is revered because she’s a deep soul sister, despite the several children she’s had with a married man.
But any time Kat Stacks is mentioned, women rush at the chance to tear her down. And, again, it’s when I see the degrading, hateful, and ridiculous comments of the feminists that I shake my head.
If we, as women and “feminists,” participate in the degradation of other women, how can we then condemn systematic oppression by men?
This is where we, as women, fail. We’re all about women empowerment until there’s a woman who doesn’t fit our mode of what a woman should be. Feminism is already laughed at, misunderstood, and criticized by most. So when those of us who claim to be feminists do the very things we decry, we are doing feminism a huge disservice.
It’s not that as women we cannot constructively criticize or disagree with one another openly. It’s the manner in which our disagreements are displayed that makes the difference. Simply calling a woman a bitch doesn’t make one any less of a feminist. However, continuously contributing to the belittling of women should cause a sense of self-reflection. Something as important as feminism cannot only be worn during the season when it benefits you most and placed in the closet whenever the title isn’t convenient for your stance.
I’m not standing on a pulpit preaching to the congregation. I have many days when a “stupid bitch” rolls off my tongue when I see a woman I don’t care for do something that is, well . . . stupid.
So, for now, I’m going to retire the proud title of feminist and focus more on what feminism stands for—ensuring my actions represent those goals. Calling yourself a feminist is one thing, but actually being one is another.