"Can I tell you something?" my friend asked me once. We were at a bar, and after three cocktails each, were entering the period of the night where you shout slurred secrets at each other and spend a lot of time in the bathroom. She looked down at her drink, embarrassed, and I learned in, hoping for some good gossip, or a salacious sex story. Instead, she went in a different direction.
"I kind of want to be a stay-at-home-mom some day." Before I could answer, she said: "I know, I know. I should want some big career, but I just want to have kids, and a husband, and to take care of them, like my mom did." She sighed, "I'm such a bad feminist."
As far as Western society goes, there are few things more embarrassing than being a woman. If stereotypes were all we had to go on, we are basically crying, bleeding, baby ovens with no upper body strength or math skills. There are entire portions of the English language devoted to putting feminine individuals down. Feminine men are "sissies" and "wimps," feminine women are "girly girls" and "basic bitches." These phrases, usually deployed with a snort and a sneer, are a way of dismissing a person, of making them feel small, of saying: "Don't pay any attention to them, they're not worth taking seriously."
It's not just men who dismiss femininity in this way; women do too. I spent the majority of my childhood trying to be as un-feminine as possible. I wanted to be seen as tough, and cool, and respectable, and I didn't think I could do that if I was a "girly girl." As I got older, I embraced my femininity more, but it wasn't always easy. I still felt pangs of shame when I told friends I was dieting, or spent hours researching the best eye cream. My friend was ashamed to tell me that she wanted to pursue what is a traditionally feminine path. We have been trained to believe that participating in these practices makes us shallow and silly.
We can sometimes get so caught up in the performance of feminism, that we forget what feminism is — it's not how you live or how you look, it's choosing how you live and how you look. Most importantly, feminism is fighting so that everyone has the freedom to make those choices, regardless of their gender, race, sexuality, or economic situation.
Whether you're a girly girl or a tomboy, a sissy or a bro, or none of the above, doesn't make you a feminist. What makes you a feminist is taking action to dismantle a system that has told us being a woman means being less than. If you happen to do so in sky-high stilettos and a frilly dress, from the living room where you're making sure your kid doesn't eat paint, all the better.
Here are some of the things that definitely don't make you less of a feminist.
Wanting to get married and/or have kids.
Feminism, first and foremost, is about choice. Part of the reason the married-with-kids route has been criticized is because for most of history, marriage wasn't as much of a choice as it was a necessity. Women had to get married to be able to move out of their parents' house and start their own life. They had to get married to be taken seriously, because being a single woman came with a whole host of unfair stigmas.
As long as getting married and/or having kids is a real choice, and something you're entering into on your terms, great! That's what feminism's all about.
Wanting to be in a relationship.
For a long time, being an "independent woman" in movies meant being completely focused on your career, humorless, and cripplingly lonely but unwilling to admit it.
This is absurd for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it plays into a toxic narrative that suggests a woman must give up a part of herself to be in a relationship. But far from taking away your independence, a healthy, feminist relationship can give you the security and confidence to grow and challenge yourself.
I can't really believe this is still up for discussion. A woman's body is her own, so if she wants to grow her armpit hair out 'til she can braid it, or shave herself all over 'til she's as slick as a seal, that's up to her.
Enjoying fashion/makeup/heels, etc...
Fashion and beauty have long been considered shallow trivial, largely because they're generally feminine pursuits. But in reality, fashion has often been at the forefront of feminism, a way for women to challenge the expectations of them at the time. The emergence of the mini-skirt, for example, caused an uproar in the '60s, because people saw it as scandalous and inappropriate. But many young women saw it as a way to express their liberation.
As Deirdre Clemente, a historian of 20th century American fashion, told Bustle: "I always stress to my students that clothing trends aren't 'reflective' of change, but rather constitutive of change. So women didn't say 'Hey I'm sexually liberated, I need to go get a mini-skirt.' Rather in wearing the mini-skirt they live out the identity that they are. Clothing is not reactive but pro active."
Wanting to change your body.
The rise of body positivity has been a huge step forward for women. The message that you are worthy of love and respect just as you are right now, not at some societally-pressured "goal," is great! But body positivity has increasingly developed its own set of stringent rules.
Weight loss culture is problematic, in so many, many ways, and everyone certainly is worthy of love and respect just as they are right now, but everyone is also entitled to their own feelings and choices about their body. If cutting out carbs makes you feel better, go for it! If you want to stop dieting, but you're still struggling with deeply engrained attitudes that tell you to constantly be working to lose weight, take your time. It's OK if you're not suddenly in love with yourself.
As Little Bear Schwartz wrote in an essay for Ravishly: "While the quest to throw down all insecurities and become Suddenly, Perfect Confident Loud & Proud Woman is admirable, it’s more than a bit ableist. Confidence is a journey, with no 'right' or 'wrong' duration, route, or method."
Rom-coms can be problematic, sure. In a lot of them, it seems like a woman's sole purpose in life is to meet a cute stranger at a book store, have a brief falling out due to some sort of misunderstanding, and then marry them and live happily ever after. But a lot of them are legitimately good movies. When Harry Met Sally was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Screenplay, and Renee Zellwegger was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in Bridget Jones's Diary.
The reason rom-coms aren't taken seriously isn't that they're any more formulaic and predictable than say, a super hero movie; they're dismissed because they're a form of entertainment targeted primarily towards women, and that makes them, in society's eyes, less legitimate.
Wanting some chivalry.
In the age of unsolicited dick pics and 2 a.m. "u up?" texts, having someone open the door for you, or pull out your chair feels impossibly sophisticated and romantic. Wanting someone to pamper you once in a while doesn't make you any less of a feminist, the key is just to make sure you and they would be comfortable with you returning the chivalry.
As Emma Watson said in a Facebook Q & A, "I love having the door open for me. I love being taken to dinner. But I think the key is, would you mind if I open the door for you?”
Letting your partner pay for your date.
Like chivalry, this is absolutely fine, as long as both you and your date don't mind you picking up the check from time to time.
Following pop culture.
Although it's easy to dismiss someone for reading celebrity gossip rags, or keeping up with the Kardashians, following pop culture offers an important insight into societal norms. How we talk about Beyoncé's most recent Instagram, or Paris Hilton's new single, or the latest Real Housewives scandal reflects our culture's values and expectations.
Also, don't pretend like most sports journalism is any more elevated than Us! Magazine.
Doing or enjoying traditionally female chores.
At the end of the day, dishes need to be washed, laundry needs to be done, and car oil needs to be changed. If doing laundry is your thing, then do laundry. What matters (broadly, but also on a personal level) is that you and your partner make an effort to divide housework evenly, and you aren't stuck with all of the cleaning just because you have ovaries.
And while women still do the lion's share of the domestic work in the United States, this is slowly starting to shift as the average age of marriage rises, because everyone, regardless of their gender, ends up having to learn how to do all sorts of domestic chores.
Not being totally career-driven.
"I'm not very ambitious," a friend of mine once said. She said this after having run more than a dozen marathons, and a number of ultra-marathons. Conversely, I once ran a 5k in college, and I still occasionally refer to my "athletic drive."
"What are you talking about?!" I asked, incredulous.
"Well, I don't have huge career goals."
And it's true. "Ambition" and "drive" are associated almost exclusively with people's careers, mostly because work was the man's domain. But life is so much bigger, and there are so many other ways to learn and grow, whether it's through a sport, or art, or even traveling. You can still be a powerful, complex, ambitious person, even if your goals exist outside your professional sphere.