“You don’t look like a feminist”
“You don’t look like an activist”
These are phrases I have heard quite often, more so in the last year when I began working more seriously in women’s rights and social justice.
In my first year of university, a few friends and I were sitting in our Meal Hall and chatting about our beliefs relating to religion and Atheism. I mentioned that I believe in a higher power, but don’t consider myself religious (despite attending church at the time). The conversation shifted from philosophy to sciences and back to religion. I made some comment to which a male student at our table responded, “You wouldn’t understand cause you believe in God and are really girly, like you wear a lot of flower patterns.” I don’t remember what I said in response, but it wasn’t much because I was so shocked. What did my personal faith have to do with my ability to understand? Even worse, when did floral clothing become an indicator for lack of intelligence?
Despite my apparent stupidity and love of floral dresses, I continued my education (You can pause reading to congratulate me on my perseverance). Over the next few years, I heard much of the same: I was too pretty to be a feminist, I was too into fashion to care about social justice issues, and I was too girly to be smart.
If you’re still with me and haven’t zoned out due to my gender or reported appearance, please listen to why all of those claims are complete bullshit.
“You’re too pretty to be a feminist.”
This statement has absolutely no merit. First of all, there is not required level of unattractiveness to be a feminist. Secondly, the assumption that attractiveness is limited to certain features is archaic and rooted in patriarchal, hetero-normative values – something that feminism aims to deconstruct.
As misogynist/TV personality/all-around asshole Pat Robinson said in 1992,
“The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.”
Well, Pat, I give you credit for zeroing in on our agenda, but you misspoke on a couple of things: Feminists will only leave their husbands if they are assholes like you. And no one “becomes a lesbian.” Being a lesbian is not like becoming a member of Costco.
I’m sure if pressed Pat, and his modern-day counterparts like Men’s Rights Activist and advocator of all things terrible, Paul Elam and rape advocate and “Pick-up artist” Roosh V, would all tell you how ugly and gross feminist are. It must be very disconcerting when women who are considered conventionally attractive by millions of people, like Beyoncé, Emma Watson, Nikki Minaj and Taylor Swift all call themselves feminist.
You see, dear readers, feminism is not based upon how you look, because it’s a human rights movement, not a fucking modeling agency.
I have been a feminist my whole life. I was raised by a feminist (my mother, who by the way has never tried to kill any children and is not a lesbian or a witch – not that there’s anything wrong with either), and at least by some people, I’m considered attractive. My looks and being a feminist are not related at all. I could not shower for three months or I could spend 2 hours on my hair every morning; I could never wear a bra or spend half my paycheck at Victoria’s Secret, and I would still be a feminist.
One of the many wonderful things about feminism is that you don’t have to look a certain way, hold a certain job, be a particular age or gender or race. Feminism is for everyone.
It seems like no matter how a woman dress, she will be criticized. Are you wearing a cute dress? You’re probably a bimbo. Baggy jeans? You’re a slob. Crop top? A slut. All covered up? You’re a prude.
So what do we do when it seems like no matter what we can’t please anyone? Wear whatever the fuck you want. Your clothing choices can express part of who you are, but they don’t accurately reflect beliefs, intelligence, or personality.
At various times in my life, people have not taken my seriously, whether due to my gender or race. This used to upset me a lot when I was younger. I tried to change my dress, the way I spoke and at one point even tried to bleach my skin or wear makeup to appear more “white”. As I got older and became more educated, I realized I would never please everyone and the only person who I have to please is myself. I know that I have worked hard to get where I am, I know I’m intelligent. I know I will always have to work harder than my white, cis-male counterparts, but that’s not going to stop me. If someone thinks I’m stupid because of how I dress or my gender, that’s their problem. I will not change how I look to please someone else, and neither should anyone else.
I was running some errands a few weeks ago and was wearing a crop top. An older woman look at my and made some kind of noise in disgust while looking at me. Even last year, this would have made me want to run home and change. Now I can laugh about it. If you are so upset by how another person is dressed, you are the one that needs to change, not them. My midriff caused this woman emotional distress, so I must be pretty fucking powerful if I can do that with two inches of stomach. Imagine if I was wearing a bikini, she probably would have had an anger-induced aneurysm right there.
My point with this whole post is that people suck and will judge. BUT there is a silver lining: when you stop giving a fuck what other people think of you, you can accomplish more and are generally a happier person. The more you speak out, the more judgment you will notice, but you will also notice that you feel more free and authentic. When you are an activist and a feminist, you are going to encounter opposition and judgment, but try to meet that hate with love. You certainly don’t have to love homophobic, sexist assholes, but love yourself, love your world, love what you do, and you will surpass all those fuckboys who ever made you feel insecure.