Flawless: What It Really Means To Be A Feminist

We teach girls to shrink themselves
To make themselves smaller
We say to girls
‘You can have ambition
But not too much
You should aim to be successful
But not too successful
Otherwise you will threaten the man’”
-Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “***Flawless”

Ever since feminism went mainstream after Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan publicly declared their support for it in the 60s, there have been many different interpretations- some positive, some negative- of what it really means to be a feminist. A feminist is defined as “a person who believes in the social, political, and economical equality of the sexes.” Simple, right? Wrong. Many non-white and transgender females, as well as others, have felt excluded from “white feminism”, and the derogatory term “femi-nazi” is also used as a put-down, along with the mocking word “meninist”.

It is a real fact that the wage gap still exists, but the wage gap most “white feminists” refer to is the 78 cents that white, cisgender (non-transgender), straight, able women make to a white, cisgender, straight, able man’s dollar. However, trans men and women and people of color make even less than the average white woman. This is what the term “white feminism” refers to- it is not a term used against feminists who happen to be white.

“Femi-nazi” is a sexist, derogatory term that people- men and women- use against women who are strong believers in feminism. Basically, the term compares people that are activists for equal rights to one of the most horrific, brutal tragedies that the world has ever seen. This is an insulting, unfair, and ignorant comparison.

And last, and least, meninism. “Meninism” is basically men arguing that since women have the feminist movement, then what about men? A post on Twitter sets up a good analogy; “Picture meninism like this- a boy and a girl are playing with toys. The girl has 1 toy, the boy has 3. An adult comes and tries to give the girl 2 toys to make it equal. The boy begins crying and saying ‘If you give her 2 toys, I want 2 toys also! It’s not fair!’”

There is a considerable resistance to the feminism movement, a lot of it coming from men but some from women. Their arguments seem to be centered around stereotypically depicting the feminist as an angry, lonely middle aged woman who likes to demonize men and considers men dirty pigs. And by the way, men can be feminists too!

And there is also the issue of female celebrities, and females in general, and their sexual images. In particular, there is one artist who is both provocative and a strong believer in feminism, even devoting a whole song to it. Yup, you guessed it; Beyonce. The queen of the charts has been hit with a lot of criticism concerning her extremely sexy image and her public support of a “taboo” cause. Politicians are no exception; Mike Huckabee, a likely Republican presidential contender, has taken aim at Beyonce and her husband Jay-Z, saying that “Beyonce was a huge, breakout star before going X-rated. She proved she doesn’t need to lower herself to this type of crude exploitation to be a megastar.”

Wait a minute; crude exploitation? Last time I checked, exploitation was taking advantage of someone or something; how is “Drunk in Love” taking advantage of something? Sure, Beyonce is provocative, but it seems as if some people consider it inappropriate for her to show off what she feels comfortable with and what is her body and her decision. Offended? Go listen to gospel music and don’t watch her videos. This applies to so many issues that surround feminism, including abortion and breastfeeding in public.

When Neil Patrick Harris is wearing nothing but a top hat over his private parts on Rolling Stone, people talk about the contents of his (admittedly very good) article and interview. But when Kim Kardashian poses nude in Paper magazine, everyone is talking about either how sexy the shoot was or how inappropriate it was. Not a single mention of her actual reason for doing so (“As a role model I’m not saying anyone else should do that, but for me it was an art project and it taught me to do what you want to do,”) which I found quite admirable, to be honest. She has an opinion, she is her own woman and I admire that. If I were North West, Kardashian’s young daughter, I would not be embarrassed if I stumbled upon the cover at an older age; I would actually be proud that my mom pushed boundaries like that and was proud of her body, which is a problem for a lot of women.

A lot of people don’t understand the idea of a double standard. A double standard is exactly that; one standard for men and one for women. An example could be Justin Bieber. He’s been shirtless more times than I can count, and nobody calls him a bad role model. I can recall one instance where he simply walked around shirtless in London.  But when Scout Willis goes topless in New York to make a statement for a cause, it’s scandalous and over-reported.

Many women and girls are too scared to wear the feminist label and actually speak up about their experiences because of the dreaded knowing smile and “OK, sweetie” that is often people’s first reaction when feminism is mentioned. But popular culture is slowly-slowly– accepting feminism.

The goal of feminism is not to demonize men. The goal is pure and simple, and can be summarized in one word: equality.