I love to watch the faces cringe when I enter the feminist’s club meeting. I try to arrive on time, usually in a skirt and sandals, with my hair up and makeup on. I smile and introduce myself, but it becomes clear early on that many of the other people just don’t take me seriously. “Maybe she’s here for a class assignment,” I can almost hear them thinking, or “Maybe she doesn’t realize she’s in the wrong room”. No, I am a feminist, actually. I believe women should be free to do whatever they want to do, whether that is an educator or dentist or lawyer or mother. And part of that means being able to wear whatever we want, whether that is androgynous jeans or short hair or short skirts. It can be startling how often this part of feminism and the quest for gender equality gets forgotten.
The words “feminism” and “femininity” are only a few letters away from the same. Some people, however, force these two words to live in feuding worlds, as if someone cannot be feminine and a feminist, a person who truly believes in gender equality. This is, first of all, completely untrue, and second of all, the fact that so many people insist that the concepts of femininity and feminism need to be spread apart is actually a lingering sexist view in today’s society.
This idea comes from society’s desire for homogeneity; we fear anything different from ourselves. If women act differently than men, they must be weaker- this is the same tactic that says if gay people act differently than straight people, they should be treated as less than equals. And as women have gained more rights and more equality throughout the decades, a new kind of sexism has permeated. Now, rather than saying all women deserve the same respect as men, there seems to be a different- but almost as detrimental- type of sexist thinking: women that flaunt their femininity are not trying to act like men, and therefore do not care about their equality.
This is a horrible assumption, and one that undermines the work of women to fight for the right to both don a skirt and heels while simultaneously educating themselves and making money. We are not one-trick ponies; we can look good and be intelligent at the same time. To treat us otherwise is a crime against our womanhood. And to try to fit women into the same mold as men, as if the male mold is the “better” one, is just as sexist as telling women to stay in the kitchen.
What is especially sad about this truth is that the people who are truly trying to make a difference in the fight for gender equality often spew this sexist belief with the intention of lessening gender inequality, not promoting it. These people mean well, I have no doubt. But when you fault a woman for wearing a push-up bra or flaunting her feminine sexuality, and furthermore, when you claim that this bra-wearing sexual woman can not possibly be actively striving for gender equality in the workplace and everywhere, you are only continuing the sexist propaganda of the 1950s which required women to give up their autonomy in favor of domestic duties.
Society is a vastly different place than it was in the 1950s and ‘60s. Women now enter four-year universities in higher quantities than men, and almost no straight man with a goal of marriage in his future would expect his future wife to wait at home for him to poor his drink and hang his jacket. We have moved beyond the expectations of the 1950s, no doubt. But we must now move beyond the important work of the 1960s feminist movement as well. This is not a critique of that decade in any form; the platform those people set for the women and all people of today is deserving of utmost respect. But if we rely on their hard work and not bother to adapt those principles of equality to today’s society, we are disrespecting the people who worked so hard to give women like myself a voice. We need to continue to evaluate the opportunities we have and burdens we face as women, and act accordingly.
It is no longer a fight against men, or against bras. It is a fight to live as we want, whether that be as a mother or a doctor or both, whether that be as a prude or a slut or anywhere in between. We should not be fighting with each other, however, about which way is the right way; that makes us no better than the government officials who tried to stifle our rights decades ago. Femininity is not a weakness in the quest for gender equality, just as masculinity is not either. Diversity is our strength, and we must not assume that those different appearing than us are fighting a different fight.