If you know me, you’ll know that I’m a huge advocate for women’s rights. I believe in the political, economic, and social equality of men and women—i.e. the traditional definition of feminism.
When I first started becoming aware of the discrepancies between men’s and women’s rights—somewhere around year 9, I think—I loudly and proudly declared myself a feminist. I was always on the defence and was ready to argue with anyone at any time about anything that even remotely differed from my point of view. But slowly I realised how counterintuitive that was to the movement I support.
The first and second waves of feminism were all about moving toward concrete goals—women’s suffrage, property rights, the establishment of safe houses and shelters for domestic abuse/rape victims, and so on—usually politically or economically rooted. Third wave and fourth wave feminism also arguably work toward some concrete goals, but a big part of modern feminism is to make people aware of the smaller, maybe less obvious ways—usually socially—that women are discriminated against.
This includes cat-calling (and just generally being objectified), bodily expectations and beauty standards (for example: instead of just wearing no makeup, we’re expected to wear makeup in a way that makes us look like we’re wearing no makeup—yes, it is exactly as dumb as it sounds), etc. And don’t get me wrong—those are definitely things that need eliminating from societal norms.
But here’s where the trouble lies: whereas things like equal pay and the right to vote are objective and measurable, social inequalities are often a grey area—subjective and different between each person.
I fear that feminism has crossed the line into nitpicking and shaming. Instead of hearing out someone with a differing opinion, and then explaining where we are coming from, many feminists automatically resort to verbally abusing anyone (whether face-to-face or online) who even slightly disagrees with them. Many fall into the trap of taking offence at everything that they perceive to be different from what they believe. Small things that in the long run do not matter are suddenly magnified and blown out of proportion. Bluntly, this behaviour gives feminism a bad name and does not contribute constructively to the feminist narrative whatsoever.
I think it is a dangerous thing to assume that every person who identifies as a part of a certain ideology (in this case, feminism) should have exactly the same beliefs as the person next to him/her.
Feminism for me is first and foremost about choice and agency. Agency over your own body; the choice to work or to stay home with children; the choice to get married or not—and if you choose to be married, who you choose to marry. This should also include agency over your own beliefs. We can work together for equality between males and females without all believing the exact same things, down to the dots over the i’s and the crosses on the t’s.
No big social movement is ever perfect. And yes, I know that not all feminists do this. Obviously I know that. But those that don’t are unfortunately within the silent majority. And the longer we stay silent, the less that I, and many others, feel totally comfortable identifying as a feminist.