“Feminists.” When you hear the word, most people think of a set few types of people. Some recall a woman who insists upon women’s rights without appearing particularly supportive of her views in her own practice. Some think of boyfriends who have been “whipped” into participating in their girlfriends’ interests, or female philosophers who propose that the vagina means more than what we think it means.
Most jump to an image of the extremely proactive, single-minded woman constantly attending events and arguing about anything from civil rights to universally present social stigmas to evolutionary theories of gender and sexuality. It’s a narrow set of roles we’ve allowed feminists to occupy, but it begs the question, are these the only valid types of feminists?
Recently, due to more media coverage of feminism and self-proclaimed feminist celebrities, we have ironically forgotten what it means to be a feminist. More specifically, we’re uncertain what it means to be a “good” feminist.
Feminism in its most basic form means to support the idea that men and women should be allowed political, economic and social equality in rights and opportunities. Within this definition, there are no contractual obligations to be the loudest supporter of feminism or to be an active rally-goer; there are no lifestyle ties to feminism other than believing that feminism is the way that societies should operate.
That isn’t to say that anyone who does more for feminism’s cause is a “bad” feminist or not a feminist at all; certain people are driven to spread feminist values and to educate those who refuse or fail to understand what feminism entails. However, by working towards feminist values in everyday life, while less involved, is just as valid.
But what ideals of feminism should one work towards if one wishes to be a “good” feminist?
It’s an important question, but one which most people have to figure out themselves. For some, the ideals you should work towards depend on what wave of feminism you most agree with or from a mix of ideals from different waves, different philosophies, different feminist academics from whom you can cherry-pick.
As of right now, most of the world experiencing feminism is seeing the oncoming of fourth wave feminism. Fourth wave feminism is all about accepting one’s body, embracing sexuality and demonstrating one’s prowess in knowledge of oneself, making efforts to be all-inclusive to all other minorities (race, disability, LGBTQ+, etc.) and empowering women to see differences, but learning to overcome them. This is in stark contrast to second wave feminism, which still wanted to empower women, but only focused on improving lives of more socially conservative cis-white women who were above working class and carried hefty prejudices towards women in the sex industry.
For others, the previous method sounds far too in-depth for most everyday people, or at least people who are less invested in feminism’s history. In that case, the feminist ideals that you should work towards are also ones you recognize as important from your own experiences.
Personally, I remember as a preschooler climbing to the top of a playground set in the schoolyard where all the boys in my class would go during recess and block any girls from entering. Being the person I was I decided to change the standard the boys set in place by forcing my way into the playset. I might have pushed some boys out of the way a bit too aggressively, but when I reached the top of the playset I recall yelling, “Girls can play here too.”
As cheesy as my five-year old self was, it was important to me that the boys share the playset with the girls because it was nonsensical to bar one half of the class from playing in a certain area because of a preconceived notion about how little kids should act around the opposite gender. And let’s be real, they didn’t own the playset.
Historically speaking, that wasn’t the only incident where a group of people set up a standard that I didn’t agree with. I guarantee that other people have experienced similar things. Maybe they were small things, things that you could overlook at the time, but nevertheless discomforted you.
Those things, those behaviors that you see as unfair or unjust are worth paying attention to. They allow you to set up a system for yourself to improve how you interact with others and employing others on how to interact with you.
As for what makes one a “good” feminist, the best answer I can provide is simply that a “good” feminist is one who is open-minded and has feminist ideals that they make the best attempts to live by. Granted, everyone does something they are against; we are all hypocrites at one point or another.
But those feminists who recognize their hypocrisy and humbly work to diminish it are the better feminists. They will also recognize that feminism is an ever-evolving movement: It comes in many forms and increasingly changes, making feminism all about reevaluation and striving to be better, more fair to each other.
Those who recognize this are the “good” feminists.
Kate Rasberry is a second-year student.