In 2014, Roxane Gay released a collection of essays called Bad Feminist. These essays encompassed a feeling of guilt felt by everyday feminists, involving a series of contradictions, complexities, and confusions that make our approaches to feminism imperfect. It is a comforting read for young women such as myself, who struggle to align their feminist opinions with their actions. Reading Gay’s confessions felt like receiving a supportive pat-on-the-back in the face of moral failure. What we, as feminists, get wrong lies in this unattainable desire to be perfect. We forget how convoluted feminist debate can be and that sometimes, we do get it wrong.
I remember the exact moment when I became a feminist. I was 14 years old and walking to school with my socially aware friend when I described a girl I didn’t know as a ‘slut’. Thankfully, my friend called me out on my slut-shaming and argued her reasoning to the point where I stopped altogether. For years after this event, I was the typical millennial feminist, the epitome of the fourth-wave. This involved stapling my feminist stance all over social media — liking, sharing, debating. I even made a Facebook status arguing the case of self-respect being an individual choice that is not to be judged by others. The confidence I held in my beliefs of women’s rights was stable and unswayed, fuelled by passion and pride.
Recently, my opinions have been changing like waves and currents. They no longer fit the textbook, internet age feminist rules. Instead, I find myself enjoying the things that may not always be pro-feminism or pro-women: films that fail the Bechdel test, songs with offensive lyrics, shaving my legs. These small ‘betrayals’ only scratch the surface. It seems like I’m a hypocritical mess, nervous about stepping out of line with my loyal 15-year-old self. How can I speak out against Page 3 when I will happily listen to music with lyrics that sexualize women? Can I encourage other women to love the way their bodies look when my own fills me with disgust? Expressing my views only results in a series of contradictions.
My earlier mention of social media is an important component in how I perceive my own feminism. Being a 21st-century kid, I had worshipped the online feminist communities of Twitter and Tumblr, learning the majority of such social issues from it. The problem is, my opinions were solely a manufactured product of those who I idolised on these platforms. It wasn’t always a case of ‘is this my definition of feminism?’ but rather the definitive ‘this is the definition of feminism.’ After all, I was reading the content of perfect feminists with perfect, politically correct thoughts — or that was how I saw it.
What has begun to change is my reliance on external sources to structure my definition of feminism. Tweets that would have once made their way into my belief system are now viewed holistically. I have managed to adopt a critical approach to subjective statements, weighing up and considering alternatives. Guilt remains at the forefront of my mind, but my awareness of such flaws helps me to analyse my feminist self. This analysis is something we, as feminists, should all do when faced with contradictions and imperfections. I, too, am quick to judge myself (and others) when things don’t match up with my feminist ideals. However, acknowledging the mistakes we make and learning things from them only makes us better at being inclusive, non-judgemental feminists.
So — Hi, my name is Faye and I like offensive lyrics and I put myself down from time to time. I am aware of the problematic nature of these and work with them to understand my own views. I am also a worthy feminist.