5 Things That Aren't Anti-Feminist — And Why They Can Actually Be Feminist
Lately, more awareness has been brought to the sexism behind the things we do on a daily basis but don't think about, and that's a good thing. But this has had an unintended consequence: Feminists now feel guilty for doing things with sexist histories — even things that aren't inherently anti-feminist and can actually be feminist if you redefine them on your own terms. Feminism should serve to give women more choices, not make them feel guilty about the ones they make, so it's time we stop judging women for their decisions and start blaming the system that constrains these decisions in the first place.
In the book Bad Feminist , author Roxane Gay points out that many feminists beat themselves up for liking pop music that contains misogynistic lyrics, playing stereotypically feminine gender roles, and other things that can be done as a result of sexism but are not necessarily sexist. But here's the thing about this "bad feminist" label: it holds women accountable for their own oppression. It's not our fault that a lot of the music we hear has misogyny in it or that we were socialized to like "feminine" things, so we shouldn't be made to feel bad about it. Sometimes, instead of rejecting things with sexist traditions (which, in case you missed the memo, is basically everything) altogether, it's more fun to twist them on their heads.
So, here are some things you might think are anti-feminist that can actually be reframed as feminist acts.
1. Being "Girly"
Don't get me wrong: the expectation that women act feminine and men act masculine is anti-feminist, since it fosters assumptions and constrains people based on gender roles. But that doesn't mean a woman can't choose to be feminine. In fact, being emotional, wearing a lot of pink, and doing other feminine things can be a rebellion against a society that says masculinity is better than femininity. When we are unabashedly feminine, we open the door for people of all genders to act this way without being mocked or devalued.
2. Using Your Body For Personal Gain
Sex workers, celebrities who pose nude, and other women who use their bodies for financial or personal gain are sometimes looked down upon by feminists as setting women back. But this type of activity would not be considered "setting women back" if people didn't shame women for it. While it would be great if this weren't the case, the reality is that women are valued disproportionately based on their looks, and while railing against this system is a noble cause, it's not our responsibility. Sometimes, instead of changing the world they live in, women choose to manipulate it to their advantage. Using the means available to you in order to gain money, social status, and influence can be a feminist act. It may not be smashing the patriarchy, but it's milking the patriarchy for all its worth.
3. Getting Married
All sorts of marriage traditions, from changing your last name to being given away by your father, have sexist roots. But that doesn't mean you're furthering sexism by engaging in them. These are personal decisions that don't have to mean the same thing to you that they meant when they first arose. In fact, if you are doing things for empowering reasons (for example, one women changed her name after she got married to her husband's mom's maiden name for the sake of equality), marriage traditions can be rewritten as feminist.
4. Forgoing Clothing
Nudity is often seen as something that objectifies women, but objectification is in the eye of the beholder. A particular look is only objectifying if somebody sees a woman sporting that look and decides to objectify her because of it. Lately, women have used nudity (e.g. as part of the "free the nipple" movement) as a way to say that they refuse to be objectified, no matter how little they are wearing. And that's a feminist message.
5. Loving Men
While feminists aim to challenge the notion that women should depend on men and many feminists are frustrated with certain men who fail to acknowledge their privilege and be feminist allies, the stereotype of feminists as man-hating is wrong, wrong, wrong. Many feminists are in relationships with men or are devoted to male friends and family members. This can be feminist because in a society that gives disproportionate visibility to men who are attracted to women, having a man as an object of your affections — particularly as a sexual object (which is not the same as objectifying someone) — is still taboo, especially if you're a man yourself but also if you're a woman. For a woman to be in a relationship with a man where she is a subject and not just an object is a step forward for equality.