What makes a "good feminist"? Do you have your "This Is What A Feminist Looks Like" t-shirt, copy of the Feminine Mystique, Bikini Kill record, and Upset Facial Expression? Guess what: you don't need any of them to qualify. What's more, there are a lot of things that may not look like feminist acts or beliefs to the uninitiated, but are actually feminist as hell once you scrape the surface.
I am a prototypical feminist: I'm combative, yell about abortion rights, can't be bothered to shave my legs or armpits, and stomp around in boots a lot. (I'm also white, which is an issue I'll address in the list.) But there are many other ways to be a feminist beyond the media-friendly stereotype. You can be a mom, love pink, be a fan of chivalry, enjoy being submissive in bed, and not view gender as the be-all and end-all of your existence and still be a perfectly cool feminist fighting for equal rights in the world.
Here are seven things that may not seem feminist, but absolutely are. We welcome you!
1. Wanting To Be A Stay-At-Home Mom
You want to stay at home, raise kids, revel in being a mother (whether it's of humans or cats), and trust a partner or family to support you? Great! The thing about feminism is that it wants to give women choices and not let anything sexist (like restrictions, stereotypes, gender roles, or devaluing female work) get in their way. If it's what you want to do with your life, go do it, and don't let anybody tell you to do otherwise. The fact is that you have the choice, not that you need to take one route to qualify as "more" feminist by default.
2. Liking It When Dudes Open Doors
I like manners. I also like being given flowers, having my shoe tied by my husband when I have my arms full of a struggling feline at the vet, and generally being treated well. The difference between chivalry and gender inequality comes when these things are not done out of pure kindness but out of a belief in female inability ("oh, you're not possibly able to open that big door by yourself, let me help you!") or irrationality ("got to give those females flowers to keep 'em happy"). It should also be part of a general spectrum of being kind to people, regardless of their gender — women can enjoy opening doors for men as well. Being treated well is the right of every woman, as is being treated with respect. Both those things are awesomely feminist.
3. Loving Grooming & Femininity
No, you do not need to have underarm hair, leg hair, an allergy to sexy underwear to qualify as a feminist. It is perfectly possible to be feminist while also shaving, wearing make-up, loving short shorts, liking pink, or never owning a pair of Doc Martens. Feminists can be perfectly aware of the long-standing structural forces behind "femininity" and "girliness" and make their own choices, for their own bodies, for their own reasons. Gloria Steinem is one of the most elegant and well-groomed women in America, and I don't think anybody could question her feminist credentials.
4. Believing There Are Differences Between The Sexes
Yes, "different and equal" is a thing. It's no good for anybody to deny that there are serious structural differences between the male and female body (there are; it's why it's such a big deal that tests for new drugs are often only done on dudes). Feminists aren't blind. But it's a massive leap to believe that the two genders don't deserve equal rights or opportunities because of these differences. And some stereotypes about sexual differences, particularly in the brain, are actually nonsense: according to a study published in TIME in 2014, girls have been beating boys in high school testing for a century across all subjects, including math and science.
5. Being Submissive In Bed
I got this one a lot when I worked as a sex columnist, and I understand it: wanting to give over control to a partner (particularly a male one) in bed can seem singularly inconsistent for feminists. But it isn't, for several reasons.
One is that the sexual space is distinct from the space of real life; it's where fantasies and desire can be played out in safety. Another is that both the dominant and the submissive in a functional BDSM situation have given full consent, and that the submissive actually has a lot of say in what happens, including when it stops. It's artificially constructed helplessness for the sake of pleasure, not actual helplessness. And commanding your own sexual pleasure as a woman is a seriously feminist thing to do.
6. Liking Pornography
This is an interesting one. There are certain subsections of radical feminism that definitely believe pornography is unfeminist, because the industry seems to work so much for the male gaze and positions it as focused (almost) entirely on male wish-fulfillment. Objectification, and what it means for somebody to be objectified, is debated a lot in feminist philosophy, and exploring your sexual desires without encountering women who've been sexually objectified in images or on film can be pretty hard, even if they've done it willingly.
However, the rise of feminist porn, made for and by women, gives women uneasy about the mainstream industry and its messages a product tailored specifically for their own erotic needs. As for more standard male-oriented pornography, it's just not really created for us; if it arouses us, it's likely more by accident than by design. And frankly, female arousal is such a comparatively new thing in Western history that I'm mostly loath to tell any woman what turns her on is wrong.
7. Believing Other Parts Of Your Identity Are More Important Than Your Gender
Intersectionality is a strong part of modern feminism (and frankly we need to talk about it more): the idea that people have many different facets of their identity and can experience oppression over multiple, often interrelated fronts, including race and class. It's not even vaguely anti-feminist to acknowledge this and realize that women don't all encounter stuff in the same way.
This idea also stretches to the concept of identity. It's not anti-feminist to believe that your gender is less important in your personal identity than, say, your job, your racial background, your sexuality, or your social attitudes. It's perfectly possible to put other stuff first in your life and still be able to see and acknowledge that being female is, and has been, a seriously disenfranchising thing to be. There's no contradiction in that.
Images: albinwonderland/Etsy, Giphy