I grew up in a small town — one of those secretly racist for no apparent reason, refuse to change the traditional way of thinking, we-won’t-leave-this-place-until-we-die-because-we-run-this-town kind of places. Needless to say, I find myself holding my tongue whenever I return home — it’s easier than getting into an ideological debate every five minutes.
Constantly hearing the townies make fun of girls in bars wearing oversized, made-in-the-USA sweaters (similar to the ones that I leave in my Pittsburgh closet over breaks), exude little knowledge about what is happening more than two counties away and preoccupy themselves with the fascination of simply getting through life to have kids and raise a family has sadly taught me it is much easier to keep quiet about my strong opinions.
A particularly funny moment occurred over one of my last breaks at home, during which I was referred to as a feminist.
My initial thought was “Oof, I’m so glad no actual feminists from school heard that.” Sure, I’ve enrolled in some women’s studies classes over the past few semesters — learning about the male gaze, envy of a certain organ, the hilarious ways that philosophers differentiated men from women (the ancient ones basically thought that our possession of wombs should keep us inside) — but I’m definitely no expert on the subject. Hearing that description automatically made me self-conscious, and not for the reason you may think.
I was sure there is someone much more familiar with feminism that would point out a factor — something about how relatively traditional I am or that I own a few yoga pants from Victoria’s Secret — that would automatically strip me from my rights to be a feminist. I like certain men, hate others. I like certain women, yet hate others. I saw the Disney movie “Frozen,” and I was incredibly happy that the resolution of the conflict had nothing to do with a prince. But the harsh attitude that surrounds the word feminist prevented me from ever formally adopting the title.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that there really shouldn’t be a set guideline to considering oneself a feminist. While the expertise of the subject is certainly valuable and a vehicle by which we can further develop theories and place them into action, it would be a bit hypocritical to the progress-seeking agenda to limit the title to a group with very distinct ideals. If we hope to remove a primitive stigma of the role of a woman in society, whether this be in her familial stance, her independence, her placement into the workforce or her subjection to patriarchy, shouldn’t this simple desire and acknowledgement be enough?
Furthermore, as a female growing up in the 21st century, where the media explodes with women representing attempting to bring different approaches to their stance in the world, it becomes impossible to poinpoint a distinct authority figure on the subject — one that could adequately reach the mainstream with the broad perspective that the subject demands, and this only furthers the need to accept individualistic understandings of feminism.
For example, Beyoncé, while being hailed as a feminist overall (from her fantastic work on the album “4” to her early Destiny’s Child days) doesn’t exactly make the cut in representing an ideal feminist in her most recent album.
Lyrics vividly describing “limousine sex,” as the Rolling Stone review accurately stated, and revolving around a relationship, no matter how much authority she has in the relationship or how strong she is, act as yet another failure to depart from the male conception of a woman — that is, her equalization as an asset to her existence in the music/media world. Lady Gaga, who is also closely associated with feminism, also comes with complications of inconsistencies.
The passion in her voice as she sings about her desire to depart from the approval of an authority figure in songs such as “Scheiße” and “Telephone” exude the frustration of many women held back by feminism. However, her words describing the topic in interviews generated far less applause.
And in terms of TV representation, I can’t seem to find an actress-writer that perfectly fits what I find a feminist to represent either; I could barely go through an episode of “The Mindy Project” or “Girls” without hearing either Mindy Kaling or Lena Dunham mention how proud they are of their weight — as if it’s necessary for a woman to explain that she’s proud of her figure to prove that she’s a stable person or that a good figure is the result of pleasing men. Oh, and the fact that both of those prominent figures still rely on men as vital catalysts to their plotlines makes me wonder if they’re actually voicing anything that young female minds should hear.
These figures, while certainly presenting something that departs from the former way of thinking, all exemplify, in at least one way, the imperfection that comes with the hefty duty of representing feminism.
What these figures have done in an applaudable way, however, is help to bring different feminist ideals into the mainstream (CNN nicely stated this in a recent article celebrating Gloria Steinem’s birthday). From the release of the previously mentioned film, “Frozen,” to the lighthearted integration of comedy (Louis C.K.’s opening monologue from the last Saturday Night Live episode was wonderful), the fact that the word is slowly losing the cloud of antagonism around it gives us hope that we’ll approach discussion of this complex ideology with, well, less antagonism.
If we expect others to have the open-mindedness that feminism requires, feminists should be open-minded, as well.
Write to Sophia at [email protected]