Monday, October 8, 2012

What Does a Feminist Look Like?

There's a catchphrase in modern feminism, strewn all over t-shirts and cute dresses worn by confident, pretty young woman and girls, meant to be said boldly and flatly to a snarky public: "This is what a feminist looks like."

It was comforting, when I first began identifying as a feminist, to see the girls in these shirts and dresses, all looking young and hip and happy. They weren't the butch or hairy feminists from movies and TV, the kind of feminist I was so afraid of being lumped with.

But why was I so concerned about defying a stereotype? Why was I worried about how people (i.e. non-feminists) would think of me if those were the type people I was supposed to be railing against?

Let's look into the phrase. "This is what a feminist looks like." As opposed to what? As opposed to hairy butch angry lesbians, of course! Okay, but why is it bad to be a hairy butch angry lesbian? Because it gives people the wrong impression. What people? People who feel threatened by feminism. 

We as feminists should never have change our beliefs or any part of ourselves to be more palatable; it's a different way of conforming to the status quo. I suppose the logic behind this is that they're showing people not to give cliches to much credence because straight white girls can be feminists, too.

Here's the flip-side: women and girls are a marginalized group, but straight/white women/girls are the least marginalized out of that group. The catchphrase is an attempt to redefine the image of feminism BUT it is trying to define it, and the face it shows is almost always that of a pretty white straight girl.

I'm not saying that straight white girls are can't be feminists or are less feminist than anyone else or are wholly to blame here but I will point fingers at feminists who cut out entire sections of the community (POCs, LGBTs, etc.) so brazenly. It's the glaring hypocrisy of this and this kind of stuff that I find maddening.

Look, I'm a straight, white, middle-class feminist, okay? That's the experience I understand best. But I think everyone who decides to call themselves a feminist and take up a movement meant to represent around 50% of the entire world's population has a certain responsibility; to try and understand other experiences, perspectives, to be conscious of the meaning of what we say out loud, to be actively inclusive in our actions. And to do all of this without being condescending and patronizing.

Yeah, it's a lot of work, but no one ever said revolutions were easy.


  1. Woah. This is sooooooo true!! You are extremely elequent. I'm so happy i read this! Rock on!


  2. Nice job! I get really weirded out when people try to define feminism like 'ew we aren't all hairy and fat and lesbian'. I mean what is that even saying, other than that the person clearly has a host of their own phobias and judgements that they need to get over. It's nice to read something so passionate and articulate!

  3. This is amazing! I've been thinking about this so much, and how "this is what a feminist looks like" always has the connotation or directly says: WE'RE NOT LESBIANS! WE'RE NOT FAT! WE'RE NOT UGLY! WE'RE NOT BUTCH! It's trying to tell people EW, HAIRY BUTCH LESBIANS ARE NOT WHAT FEMINISTS ARE! No, WE'RE STRAIGHT, WHITE, PASSIVE, CUTE, CIS AND CONVENTIONALLY ATTRACTIVE!and that fucking sucks. It always feels very exclusionary to me. Like, I'm fat and therefore I'm "not what a feminist looks like"? It seems like people are always try to define feminism by a "look", instead of the ideas and patriarchy smashing.
    Again, wonderful post!

  4. You perfectly worded this. When one person says she is a feminist she is stereotyped as ugly, fat, hairy, or a man hater. People don't realize that there are many different feminists!