Be Your Own Feminist Role Model: My Feminist New Year's Resolution
by Erin Bagwell Director of Dream, Girl Founder of Feminist Wednesday
I have been hearing a lot about the “future” of feminism in our culture these days. I watched a discussion about it featuring Gloria Steinem and bell hooks yesterday, and read an article in the New Republic about it this morning. There are a couple of overlapping ideas and thoughts based on these two bodies of work, one of which centers around the debate of the “Internet Feminist”. The “Internet Feminist” is someone who shares their feminist thoughts, comments, and ideas on feminism as a blogger or social media user. The main question about the mostly-millennial-internet-feminist is: Are these women adding to the dialogue, or are they too preoccupied online to engage in “real” activism?
This idea that the internet perhaps is hindering activists is one, as a feminist blogger, I am obviously interested in. I see the value of spreading ideas, sharing stories, and engaging in a meaningful dialogue around gender equality online. However, I also see the clusters of confusion about which issues to focus on, and whose ideas or perspectives are more “important” in the feminist space. This becomes somewhat of a mental masterbation of critiquing with one feminist sharing ideas or opinions on another feminists thoughts, where it seems the sole purpose of accuser is to say I’m more “feminist” or thoughtful than the other person. This thought that one feminist’s voice, perspective, or issue is more or less important than another is the one that irks me the most. Now don’t get me wrong- we need lots of diverse perspectives and critical lenses to have a meaningful dialogue. But we don’t need to tear each other down in the process.
When I see this online feminist critique that is more destructive than constructive, I feel its disorganizing effect on the feminist movement. I can almost see “the man” laughing out of the corner of my eye as we all scramble to have the “correct” feminist opinion on an issue. We need to be fighting for and supporting each other and the issues instead of deciding who’s perspective is most valid. I’ll give you a couple of specific examples.
The internet exploded a little while back with Emma Watson’s #heforshe campaign. She was poised, heartfelt and direct about men needing to get involved in women’s equality. Could the message have been more polished? Yes. Could we rephrase and regroup some of the ways for men involved in feminism? Yes. Should we throw away the entire campaign and write it off as “not for me!” because some of the details aren’t totally right? Absolutely not. We need to support one another in these discussions and allow for them to be expansive but not all encompassing. The best part of feminism is that its not an individual act or belief that fits all- it is an empowering perspective that allows you to make those choices for yourself. So ask yourself. What is the big picture? What is the main message of the content, and is it a positive one?
We need to stop looking to women like Emma Watson, Beyonce, Lena Dunham or Sheryl Sandberg to have all the answers. Guess what... they don’t! And honestly we shouldn’t expect them to. They are all individuals with totally unique experiences and perspectives. Maybe to Beyonce grinding on a chaise lounge is what empowers her. Wonderful- but it doesn’t have to empower you. You get to make that decision for yourself. You get to put the lens of feminism on and choose how you want to filter that message. These women shouldn’t be your feminist role models- you should be your feminist role model! Let’s not slow down the momentum we have in the movement by dismissing their opinions all together. Let’s look at the the big picture. Millions of women and girls who love pop music are discovering and learning something about feminism, and that’s amazing!
My Feminist New Year’s resolution is that instead of dissecting each other’s differences we celebrate them and support each other’s work to expand the feminist movement. There are so many forces working against us, we don’t need to work against each other. Let’s use that feminist fire to take care of an issue or problem outside of our own camp.
“Any woman who chooses to behave like a full human being should be warned that the armies of the status quo will treat her as something of a dirty joke . . . She will need her sisterhood.” - Gloria Steinem