As millennials (those of us born from around 1982-2002), we have long rebuffed the term feminist. We thought it was a term for those who came before us.
Bra burners. Women who hated men. Angry women. We thought our generation had moved beyond such things and we were more evolved. We were grateful for their efforts and yet felt superior in that we could believe in gender equality without having to make it a part of our identity. A 2015 survey from PRRI found that only 35% of millennials identify as feminist, giving us a quantified representation of where we stand as a generation.
That time is gone. We have seen that moment of naiveté set aflame before us whilst hearing the words of men come crashing down around us trying to push us back down from that ceiling we assumed we’d crash through any day now. Now… now we’re at war. Politicians are actively seeking to overturn Roe v. Wade, a settled law passed by the Supreme Court almost 44 years ago. Judges are all but pardoning rape and assault cases, arguing for the best interests of the attacker rather than the victim. The President-Elect has multiple sexual assault accusers along with a recording of him proudly admitting to and encouraging the behavior. Now is our time to learn and fight. We can and must own our feminism proudly – but we can also improve upon what was there before.
First, go back to the beginning.
Talk to the women around you of older generations and learn about the sexism they have grown up with and fought against for decades before we were born. Listen to their stories. Learn from their methods of protest. Give them your respect. They deserve it. Read everything you can get your hands on in the way of feminist literature, essays, and articles. We have to know our history. Know what battles decades worth of women have fought against so that you can give informed and eloquent arguments to those who disagree with you. Merely screaming will change nothing. I’m certainly not innocent in this and have been working to take on a lot of this reading as well after realizing how woefully under read I was. Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Simone de Beauvoir, Maxing Hong Kingston, Nawal El Saadawi, Virginia Woolf, everything bell hooks has ever touched. There’s so much out there to read I could write a page of suggestions but just know that these texts are out there waiting to teach you so many lessons.
“If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree.” – Michael Crighton
Next, own who you are. Take an honest inventory of who you are. Recognize the privilege you have or haven’t been born with. I am a straight white woman who grew up in a lower middle class home in the south. Racism and sexism were and are both very real parts of my hometown. I know that I have had an easier life than a person with the same background except for a different color of skin. I know that I have had a harder time than my male counterparts. I know that I have been exposed to things that boys and men around me have no concept or understanding of, just like I know that women and men of color have had experiences that I have no frame of reference for as a white woman. I know that as straight woman there is a host of injustice that I have never been exposed to. I know that the few times that I was exposed to even a small dose of it changed my entire worldview. I know that there is an entire world of hate and vitriol that I will never personally experience because in many ways I fit the acceptable version of existence in our country. And I hate that. I hate that this is a part of my story. It is because of those things, however, that I will never stop working to help those who have a harder time than I do.
Be honest with yourself and accept those things “We the Privileged” like to gloss over. Then turn to those who need you to stand with them and ask what you can do to help. Talk to members of minority communities, the LGBTQ community, the marginalized. Talk to them and gain their perspective. Join their fight. Feminism is fighting for equal rights between all genders. Acceptance of and protection for all genders, sexual orientations, and races are factors in that that we must include in our battle cry. We have to move beyond continually ascribing another group as the Other group. Intersectional Feminism is part of how we have already been moving to make the new Feminism. Include research on that in your reading and you’ll have a good place to start.
Also, please, let’s work together and finally stop qualifying who is a better feminist. Wear pink. Glitter it up. Be as butch as you want. Work after having kids. Be a stay at home mom. Do what you want. Be who you are. Unabashedly. My affinity for rocking a mohawk and tattoos does not make me less feminine. I love the shit out of some Gilmore Girls. I can be basic and be informed and a part of the civil rights fight. I can like a damn Pumpkin Spice Latte. I can be whatever damned size makes me feel happy inside. If that means I work out like a crazy person to attain a goal which will make me happier and healthier – sweet. If that means I become a spokeswoman for being curvy and proud – rock that shit out. We are different. And that is our strength.
Our differences encourage us to widen our perspectives.
It fosters more love. It nurtures kindness. It raises stronger women in future generations. It means that one day maybe we won’t have to teach our daughters how to respect and love other women rather than attack them. We have enough to fight against without tearing one another apart! We are strong, tough, and brilliant on the exact day we decide we are. Toni Morrison (who I ardently adore) once said, “Definitions belong to the definers, not the defined.” Let’s change that. Let’s make Feminism what we want it to be. Not what men tell us it is. Don’t let our strength be defined by those trying to quash it.
Lastly, it’s time for those of us with privilege to put it to work. It’s time for us to stop pushing the responsibility of bringing about change on the those who already have enough on their plate. It is not the job of the marginalized to end racism, sexism, and bigotry. It’s our job. It’s our job to get loud and start confronting the ignorance that is running wild in this country. Personally, I know I spent a lot of time thinking that I was doing enough by merely supporting the persecuted. By posting Facebook statuses or sharing videos. It’s not enough. Writing a rant on social media doesn’t change the minds of the people perpetuating this sickness forward into new generations. It doesn’t engage them in a discussion and help them understand why they’re standing on the wrong side of history. It doesn’t teach them how they’re being hateful and discriminatory. We have to do more. We should be using our privilege as leverage to help change their views rather than waiting on those who are too busy defending their very existence to take on something that should be our responsibility. “Slacktivism” has been our default for far too long and we have to do better moving forward. We have to show up for the ones who need us.
Write your Congressional representatives and make your voice heard. Join protests and activist groups. Challenge those who say ignorant things with well-worded arguments. Note that part well-worded. Simply telling someone they’re ignorant changes nothing. It certainly won’t open their mind. This is where we come full circle with the reminder that you have to know the principles upon which you stand in order to help bring about change. That racist and bigoted uncle or sexist co-worker isn’t going to alter their opinion if you just open up with insults. Engage them in a truly open conversation. Challenge (with kindness) their opinion with logic and discussion. Help them consider perspectives outside their own. You have to show them love to help them feel love for others.
Living in an echo chamber is easy, revolution is harder.
“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Photo Source: Eddy Lackmann, Unsplash
Rebecca Ryan lives in Denver, Colorado. She is a twenty-nine year old stay at home mom to three boys, aging from 1 to 5 years old and holds a BA in English Literature.
In her spare time she works on her Etsy business, Blessed Bookworm Designs, reads anything she can get her hands on, and tries to write whenever possible. Follow her on Instagram at @blessedbookworm or check out her website at Blessed Bookworm.