So, the tumblr feed #WomenAgainstFeminism has been “a thing” for a little while now, and there have been some really good and really bad responses. (Here is one that I thought was one of the better ones, manyhorizons.com.) I personally do not have a problem with people who don’t agree with feminists, as long as they know which ones they disagree with and why. Feminism is such a huge conversation/movement with so many different views and arguments; to suggest you don’t need it because you “are happy in the kitchen” or “love your male relatives” is clearly a misunderstanding.I do have to give credit to those that posted they didn’t need a particular type of feminism for knowing who they actually disagree with. But once you are lumped together with people who are significantly less specific and therefore make significantly less sense, it is hard for a viewer to see your comment as anything different from the others.
I am, apparently, according to the reactions I get outside of school, a pretty intense feminist. Perhaps that is because I believe that every woman should be allowed to dress and act however “feminine” or “masculine”* she so desires. I see western society’s beauty standard and gender roles as a real problem for women who do not desire to have a traditional life. While I know that, technically, any woman can dress or act however they want, the problem is that many women who do not fit our society’s standards are overlooked and dismissed. Therefore, in reality, those women do not actually have the freedom I desire, not only for myself, but also for others. This freedom means that if you want to wear tons of make-up and cook all day with babies at your feet, you are not penalized in any way by society. But this freedom also means that if you want to stop shaving your legs and study all day with only a cat for company, you are not penalized either.
What ends up happening when things like #WomenAgainstFeminism gain momentum and legitimacy within our western soceity is that those women who want the freedom to dress and act non-traditionally are seen as irrational and inappropriate. They may have to provide stupid excuses for the reasons they are not complying, so that those around them don’t think they actually want to dress or act that way. There is also the regular explanation used to legitimize one’s feminist perspective, “I’m a feminist, but I am not one of those bra burners or anything…” These silly reactions to non-feminists are sometimes necessary in order to preserve one’s legitimacy and social standing.
And this brings me to another feed, this time on twitter, that came to my attention the same night I finally took a moment to read #WomenAgainstFeminism, and that is #FreeTheNipple. #FreeTheNipple started off focusing on the hateful reactions against women who breastfeed in public and then turned into a discussion on society’s taboo of women’s nipples. (If you decide to check it out be prepared for some potentially “sexy” boob photos.)
Overall, I found this feed to be body-positive. It got me thinking, and I have come to the conclusion that as a society, we have made women’s nipples a sexual body part. This then means that society has claimed another aspect of women’s bodies to judge and define for them. While I find bras helpful in particular situations – like during exercise, and perhaps for women who have large breasts – I do not think nipples are inherently sexual, and therefore do not think their coverage should be any stricter than other body parts, like one’s belly button. Perhaps, if we stopped letting society define women’s bodies, there would be more acceptance of bodies that do not fit the western beauty standard.
But now, I have become one of those “crazy bra-burning feminists.” And this is my point! It is because of people, sometime women, who express “negative” caricatures of feminists – as though these caricatures are pillars of some non-existent institutionalized feminist dogma – that actual feminists can’t have free and open conversations. The more complex and nuanced feminism I know and love will never fully reach the public as long as there are enough people ready to shame and delegitimize feminists who are thinking through and experimenting with what it means to be a feminist. It is about time we make space in our communities for conversations as important as defining rape culture and as seemingly insignificant as bras.
*I explained in my last post, Men Who Like Flowers, that the terms “feminine” and “masculine” are simply standards set up by society and used for the purpose of judging how well one fits into the standards assigned them. Because of the subjective nature of these terms I put them in quotes.