It's great to believe in feminism as an abstract ideal, but holding feminist values does not cause you to automatically practice them. Advocating gender equality in everyday life requires conscious effort to unlearn the behaviors you've been taught and adopt new ones. That's why even feminists of all genders sometimes mess up in their communication with women, and that's okay, as long as we talk about it and try to do better next time.
Most women can probably tell you what it's like to be spoken over, have their intelligence doubted, and hear comments about their body. After a while, we internalize these words and start saying them to ourselves. "Nobody cares." "You don't know enough about that." "You're too fat." "You're too thin." Then, we stop speaking up for ourselves, let others interrupt us, and obsess over our own appearances, and the cycle continues. This makes teaching women the opposite of what they've been told their whole lives harder but all the more important.
The guidelines below don't just describe how you should communicate with women; they describe how you should communicate with everyone. But since women often do not receive these courtesies, it's worth keeping them in mind around women and other marginalized groups to break the cycle of silencing and objectification so many of us experience.
1. Feminists Ask Women For Their Opinions
Since men tend to dominate discussions, it's important to go out of your way to ask women (or anyone who has trouble speaking up) what they think. Women may not consider themselves qualified to have an opinion on a lot of subjects when they actually know more about them than the more talkative members of the group. Asking women what they think helps them challenge that assumption. This habit is especially helpful for becoming a feminist boss who weighs all employees' input equally.
2. Feminists Keep Discussions Of Appearance To A Minimum
A feminist can still dole out the occasional appearance-related compliment, but they don't treat anyone like her appearance is their favorite thing about her. They also don't give objectifying compliments like "your father/male friend/boyfriend will have to watch out for you!" or "you'd better keep your distance or I'll lose control of myself!" And they absolutely do not criticize anyone's appearance — or give compliments that could be misinterpreted as criticism (i.e. "you look great for your age!" or "you've lost a ton of weight!"). Speaking of which...
3. Feminists Are Body-Positive
Feminists do not praise someone for losing weight or tell them that an outfit is "flattering" (which usually means "slimming" or some other variation of "making your body fit conventional beauty standards more than it naturally does"). They also don't say triggering things about their own diets and weight-loss regimes.
4. Feminists Use Inclusive Language
Inclusive language includes but is not limited to gender-neutral pronouns like "they" when you don't know the gender of a person (i.e. not referring to a woman's romantic partner or a CEO as "he" unless you know they are a man), "women" as an adjective instead of "female" (because not all women are female and not all females are women), and "people with disabilities" instead of "the disabled." Feminists don't complain about political correctness because they understand other people's feelings are more important than their right to speak without thinking.
5. Feminists Do NOT Mansplain
If you're unsure whether you're mansplaining, consult the chart above. If you are not an expert on a subject, she did not ask to be educated on this subject, or she already knows what you are about to tell her, chances are you're mansplaining.
6. Feminists Do NOT Touch Anyone Without Consent
I'm not going to tell you where exactly to draw the line here — certain customs like handshakes are hard to avoid — but when in doubt about whether someone wants to be hugged, kissed, or otherwise touched, it's better to err on the side of caution and ask.
7. Feminists Do NOT Interrupt
It feels pretty lousy to try to make a point and feel like nobody cares. That's how interruptions make people feel. Women are more likely to be interrupted by both men and women, so often that they may get used to it and not even notice. Plus, it's awkward to confront someone for interrupting you. So, it's on us all to make sure that doesn't happen.
8. Feminists Do NOT Speak For Others
Unless you've agreed on it beforehand, ordering for your date at a restaurant will not impress her; it'll make her feel patronized. And answering a question directed toward her about herself may seem like a nice way to show how much you know about her, but it actually puts your version of who she is above her own. Speaking for a group can have the same effect: If a party host asks if they can put on Adele, don't say "Yup, we all like Adele"; say "fine by me."
9. Feminists Do NOT Offer Unnecessary Help
There's nothing wrong with helping someone out, but helping her with something she is absolutely capable of sends the message that she is not, in fact, capable. If she is already calculating how to split the check, don't offer to do the math for her. If she is struggling to open the pickle jar, ask if she could use a hand before grabbing it from her; maybe she's got it and just needs to give it one more twist.