What is a feminist?

“No, she is not a feminist because…” is a sentence I hear more and more today as feminism is entering the mainstream with artists like Beyoncé or Taylor Swift. The columnists working for the Guardian (God knows I love and admire that paper), well many columnists seem to like dismissing her, her and her or her because she “pretends” to be feminist “when in fact she is not and here why I can prove she is a fraud who has not understood a thing.”

They are not the only ones who do that – far from it. I am just very disappointed when they do because I expect some much from the Guardian, and using irrelevant arguments to dismiss people’s commitment is what I expect for the people who think patriarchy is the way forward.

Here are a few of the countless reasons I hear (not just in the Guardian) as to why such or such woman is not a feminist after all when in fact, she is.

She is not a feminist because she is a housewife.
She is not a feminist because she is married.
She is not a feminist because she gave up her job to follow her man.
She is not a feminist because she gave up her job to raise her kids.
She is not a feminist because she does things for her man.
She is not a feminist because she likes pleasing men.
She is not a feminist because she is a stripper.
She is not a feminist because she works in porn.
She is not a feminist because she enjoys watching porn.
She is not a feminist because she wears bikinis on the beach.
She is not a feminist because she shows some skin in her video clip.
She is not a feminist because she wears skirts.
She is not a feminist because she wears high heels.
She is not a feminist because she wears make-up.
She is not a feminist because she likes to be pretty.
She is not a feminist because she reads women’s magazines.
She is not a feminist because she is Catholic.
She is not a feminist because she is Jewish.
She is not a feminist because she is Muslim.
She is not a feminist because she is religious.
She is not a feminist because she is black.
She is not a feminist because she is African.
She is not a feminist because she wears the veil.
She is not a feminist because he is a man…

When you listen to people and the reasons why so and so are not feminists, you end up with the following definition of a feminist:

“A white, European, childless woman who is not married, resents all men and will do anything to keep them at bay, therefore has short hair and never wears make-up, any kind of clothes, never shows any physical attributes and never has any attitudes men would consider attractive; hates and conjures sex in all its form; is an atheist because it is essential to have no master; and is never making any compromise on any aspect of her life to the point of associability.”

Clear; isn’t it? Well that’s what the aforementioned statements about feminists translate to and of course they do. They are the views our societies have been making, having and happily spreading of feminism since the Suffragettes in late 19th century. We have this view of women who don’t want to be women because men have defined femininity as an inferior, humiliating state. So we like to see feminists as wanna-be men who have not been able to invent a different way of being, rather are trying to conform to the objectivist idea of the modern male to finally take over his dominance. Even if it means turning into the stereotype he created of himself: heartless, careless, ruthless, strict, aggressive, driven by gain, free of all masters, never hesitating to walk on bodies on his way to economic fulfilment.

Sure you will meet women like this. I have and it’s actually quite interesting, because it’s meeting people who are extreme, who are on the fringes and whose violence in words and being is forcing you to reflect upon your own views. We need these people to define the boundaries and see where the argument stops being sensible and becomes ridiculous, but they are not more nor less feminist than the others.

The definition of a feminist is very simple as given by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – not Beyoncé, you daft gits! – in her lecture at TEDxEuston.

“Feminist: a person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.”

That is it! Nothing more. That’s what a feminist is. A feminist can be anyone, of any shape, any religion, any colour, any nationality, any age, any gender, any marital status, any job, any fashion sense, any sexuality who believes that men and women should be equal socially, politically and economically.

As I said, for some, it means becoming the man but as the spectrum is widening and we are listening to less extreme views of feminism, it’s mainly about believing in choice because equality is mostly about being able to make a choice, it is to be free of all hindrances whether they are economic or social. The big difference today is that men have the choice to be, think, do, believe, become, achieve anything they want whereas women are still under a lot of pressure from everywhere (society, family, friend, education…) to be a certain way. A way that is not the one they choose to choose but a chosen way that is somehow dictated by someone or something else.

You can refer to Adichie’s lecture on Youtube where she addresses these pressures and requirements very well.

The truth is, you can be happily married with children and a housewife and be a feminist. Because feminism is not about forbidding women to be housewives, it’s about making sure that it’s a choice they make because they wanted to do it, not because they were told again and again and again that a woman belongs at home or a woman was born and can only find solace in caring for her children.

You can be a Muslim and wear the veil and be a feminist, like hundreds of thousands maybe millions of women are around the world. Feminism is not about forcing women to dress like a Western man. It’s a battle we fought in Europe but it’s not always a battle people want to fight, it’s about ensuring that women who follow Islam, and therefore wear the veil, have chosen to do it themselves, not because they were told it was the only way. It’s the same for all religions. Feminism is about ensuring that religion was not forced upon you in any way peaceful or harmful rather it’s a deliberate, educated choice you made.

You can be feminist and want to be pretty, sexy, attractive and wear whatever you want, you can want to attract men because feminism is not about rejecting men or fashion. It’s about making sure that the women are doing what they do for themselves, the way men are. I know many feminists who will put on a skirt, high heels, spend 15 to 30 minutes doing their hair and eye-liner in the morning not even thinking about men for a second but about themselves. Unlike what men and the society in general seem to be believing, women’s life do not revolve solely around men. Women will use make-up and try clothes until what they see in the mirror puts a smile on their face and inflates their heart with confidence, not until they think of themselves as “fuckable”. My mother’s like this and she is not doing it for the men, who, by the way, are absolutely clueless about women’s fashion.

Saying that women dress sexy only for men is to agree with the presupposition that men, attracting men, finding a man is at the centre of their life. Feminism is about making sure they wear what they wear because they want to, not because they feel like they have to. It’s making sure that if they dress sexy for men it’s because they want to, not because they were told that, as a woman, the most important thing in her life, before any other kind of accomplishment, is to find a man of her own, marry him and spawn him a dynasty.

You can love a man, be ready to give up everything for a man and actually do it and still be feminist because feminism is not about teaching women to become utterly selfish and stubborn in relationships. Again, feminism is not about trying to turn women into the outdated stereotype of the man in a relationship. It’s about ensuring that women and men can be passionate, dedicated and committed without being ridiculed and called submissive. It’s about teaching men and women that there are no predistinctive, gender-based attitudes towards love, that there are not just two ways to love: one masculine way, one feminine way, one dominant, one submissive. It’s about showing people that all kinds of love are valid, dignified and respectable. It’s about teaching men and women that compromise, agreements and sacrifices are a noble and necessary part of the relationship and that both should be ready and okay to do some of it with a full conscience. Not just the woman because she was told that it was her job as a supporting wife and girlfriend, which is still mostly the case.

You can be feminist and like sex, love sex, do sex, enjoy sex and want more sex because feminism is about accepting that women are sexual beings, not just baby factories for whom sex is solely a matter of human survival. It’s making sure that the way you express your sexuality doesn’t reduce you to being either a frigid nun or a shameful slut which is, for instance, is what for many Beyoncé has unfortunately become after her last album. Two, maybe three songs, were more or less openly dealing with sex (with her husband) out of the whole album so suddenly, she is a low-life slag who lost all dignity. Really? All dignity?

There is the idea that a woman who likes sex is therefore addicted to men, thus submissive to them (because the “woman” role is only passive obviously) and can therefore never be a feminist. You can be a porn actress and be a feminist, you can be a stripper and be a feminist, you can be a prostitute and be a feminist, you can have orgies and gangbangs and be a feminist. Not a “fake feminist” but a real one because feminism is about what you believe in your head, not what you do with your body. Otherwise you may as well dismiss the Suffragettes on the basis that they conformed to the dress code of their time.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said in another interview that “you can shake your booty as long as you make sure that it’s your choice, that you do it for yourself first”. Like Missy Elliott puts it “Ain’t no shame and do our thing, just make sure you’re ahead of the game”. It’s about women having full control of their life, not feeling forced to conform to someone else’s idea of sexual value.

Feminism must not be reduced to the usual shallowness of our male-dominated society where everything is dismissed at the first blink of an eye. Feminism and being a feminist is not about what you look like or in which box your various social, political and economic status put you in. It’s about what you believe. If you believe that women should be men’s equals, not copycats or clones (once again, feminism is not about turning women into men), but equals in the way they should have the complete freedom and peace of mind to choose what they want to be, become, think, do, believe and achieve, then Miss, Mrs, Mister and everything in between of which ever religion, nationality and colour, you are a feminist.

You don’t even have to agree with all the above. You might think that a housewife can never be a feminist but if you believe that women should be able to wear and look like whatever they want without any pressure from anyone else, whether it’s wearing or not wearing the veil, make-up, or trousers, then you are a feminist. You are not less of a feminist than somebody else, just different. You will fight for that aspect of feminism whereas others will focus on something else and you will bring a different view to the debate which is always necessary for feminism to move forward and be more inclusive.

“Feminist: a person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.” If only people were given some time to think about it, most of us would be open feminists.

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2 thoughts on “What is a feminist?

  1. Jamie Carter

    It is refreshing to see a post that doesn’t equate feminism with being evil … I see so many posts like “I do not believe in feminism, but I believe in equality between men and women.” So often, such posts rail against the extreme personification of feminism. I really enjoyed this post, it said what I believe; Feminism is the choice to do what you want, how you want, and when you want. It is about demolishing double standards and living as equals.

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  2. Marisol Flores

    Thank you for this! I was just working on a similar post and working through some of my own views on feminism, and some of my own cultural attitudes. I too came to the same conclusion. Too much crazyness out there making feminists seems like they have to be angry, unattractive bitches. There’s a lot of variety in the feminist spectrum. This is normal. This is fine. We really should focus on closing the gender gap in pay, and ensuring women have agency in their lives. The bickering on the small stuff is distracting and frankly, stupid.

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