Top Ten Ways to be a Feminist in 2010

We at the Ms. Blog were charmed and inspired by Amy Klein’s heartfelt post on how to be a feminist, and she graciously agreed to let us reprint it. What would you add to the list?

1. Stop making rape jokes. These jokes are becoming really popular right now and they are not funny. The other day, I heard a really famous musician say, “This is my rape face!” while narrowing his eyes and wrinkling up his nose. Another man sitting nearby replied, “Every face is a rape face!” and laughed. Why is it considered socially acceptable for people to act this way? How can we stop rape if people think it is a joke?

2. Recognize white privilege, straight privilege, class privilege, and other forms of privilege that make being one kind of woman pretty different from being another kind of woman. Then, do what you can to level the playing field for all women. That means fighting racism, heterosexism, and class-ism wherever you see them. Remember that sexism is entangled in all of those forms of discrimination.

3. Support other women around you, and support women you don’t even know! In the world we live in right now, with its endless stream of reality shows, we think of our lives as games to be won, and we love to laugh when others fail. Don’t let jealousy or the competitive instinct keep you from supporting other women. Recognize that the world wants you to criticize Ms. X, and then actively decide to say something really positive about Ms. X. instead.

4. Recognize that “woman” now means a lot of different things. Doing what’s good for women always means supporting transpeople, and people who don’t identify with any little gendered boxes. In the end, we all have the same interests, which are: Dismantling those little boxes, dismantling the power structures of the patriarchy, helping everyone live the way they really want to.

5. If you have been hurt by sexual violence, domestic or relationship abuse, remember that that is not your fault. Consider this: that you are not a victim. Instead, you are a survivor. Survivors are strong.

6. Find your own path in life. Sometimes being a radical is as simple as following your heart. If you’re a girl or a woman, trying to do what you want to do can be a path fraught with many social, emotional, and psychological obstacles. Find out what being free means to you, and then try your best to live that way. If you want to wear makeup and shave your legs, that’s cool. Do it. But make sure you’re doing it because you want to, and not because you feel you have to. If you don’t want to wear makeup or shave your legs, that’s cool! Whatever! Do it your way. Make your choices freely. Mentally, you’ve got to be free yourself before you can free anyone else.

7. Read read read! To be a feminist, you’ve got to know the history of the women who came before you. There are so many great books on the women’s movement of the 70’s, and there are lots of great books on the early suffragettes, and there are books by bell hooks and Angela Davis, and there are books by Adrienne Rich and Audre Lorde, and now there’s even a great book about the history of riot grrrls! Reading can give you powerful ideas, and can inspire you to create your own ideas too. If you don’t know what to read, then ask a friend! She probably has a recommendation.

8. Stop referring to women as bitches. I am really tired of hearing the b- word used so often, and casually, as if it doesn’t have any meaning at all. Right now, many young, self-described political liberals, who do not use the f- word to refer to queer men because that word is offensive, still use the b- word regularly as a way to refer to the ladies. Why is the word bitch now classified as a slang term, and not as a serious insult? I’m not sure what the real cause is, and there are probably a lot of contributing factors. One factor that I can think of right now is the way we’ve all been raised on a diet of crappy top 40 radio “rap”-dance crossover hits made by copycat “artists” with not much to say. (I’m putting “rap” and “artists” in quotation marks here because I think that real rap artists have a lot of important things to say, but, for the most part, these things haven’t made it onto the radio in the past decade.) In the songs we do hear on the radio, women are always the b- word, if they’re given any identity at all besides series of oddly de-constructed, almost autopsied body parts (butt, thighs, etc.) So, let’s talk about what the word bitch actually means: 1. “a woman,” 2. “a woman who gets angry or disagrees with you,” and 3. “a man who is weak, (like we expect a woman to be.)” In case you hadn’t noticed, the word’s dual, and yes, contradictory meaning functions to criticize men and women alike. Anyone who dares to cross over into enemy territory gets branded with an insulting label, discouraging her or him from ever visiting that territory again. Perhaps this is why people love to use this word so much. Like a particularly good police officer, Officer B does twice the work of any other officer on the streets. Officer B effectively enforces the boundaries between the neighborhoods of men and women. And, if you ever talk back to Officer B, if you ever challenge the authority of that word, that’s the easiest way to get labeled a bitch yourself! To me, the worst part of people’s constant use of the b- word is that it actually makes women fear they’re going to be labeled the b- word for doing anything outside the norm. This includes, but is not limited to: Women standing up for themselves, women fighting back at the social construction of gender, women getting angry about anything in general, and women asserting themselves. Ultimately, the b-word demonstrates the way in which we are constantly using language to build those infamous little boxes for men and women to live in. Let’s not forget that our language is a tool that creates meaning in the world. We don’t just describe the world when we talk—we invent that which we talk about. We make it real.

9. Get involved in an organization that helps women. This can be any kind of organization you want. It should just be a cause that you feel strongly about. If you see a need in your community for a certain kind of organization that does not exist, then start your own organization. Remember that you have power, and a voice, and that you can help change the bad things that you see around you.

10. Start a blog! (Hey, that’s what I’m doing.) So many of the world’s stories, from the ones on TV to the ones in pop songs, to the ones in the history books, are told by men. Isn’t that unfair? It means that the stories we take as The Truth often have a male perspective embedded in them. But now our generation has a secret weapon: the internet. The ability to use the internet is a real privilege that previous generations of girls and women didn’t have. So let’s take advantage of that privilege, and tell our own stories in our own voices. Self-publishing is radical, and fun! Let’s all do it!

Photo from Flickr user WeNews under Creative Commons 2.0.

Reprinted with permission from Amy Klein. Read her blog, Amy Andronicus.

Comments

  1. antiintellect says:

    I love this list, and I have happily retweeted it and shared it on my Facebook (with credits). These are all things I strive towards as a feminist in the 21st century and particularly one in 2010.

  2. This post had a lot of good ideas, but I wish she had said "police officer" or "law enforcement officer," instead of "policeman." It's not right to say "policeman," "fireman," "mailman," etc., anymore. Let's use the gender neutral wording of "police officer," "firefighter," "mail carrier," to make sure everyone's included. The new terms are also more descriptive of the actual jobs! :)

  3. Love it! Thanks for reposting.

  4. The article is good, but it keeps referring to feminists as "she" or "women". Feminism is not only a movement for women, it's necessary that men realizes they are also objects of sexism and they can fight against it, for the feminism to achieve a new level in the fight for gender equity.

  5. Love this. Thanks for the plug for reading. Self-knowledge is powerful

  6. I would add:
    Support men engaging in stereotypically feminine activities. This could include anything from becoming a nurse to staying home with the kids. Also, men are held to very strict standards of dress… metro is only semi ok even today. Men's tastes are often curtailed to things that make loud noises, go fast, or fight. As long as men are confined to these narrow boundaries all things outside of this will be considered less than, feminine, and other.

  7. Great advice about knowing women's history – and I recommend expanding that knowledge by learning about the history of women all over the world. There are a lot of books and resources about women in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Europe, so don't just stick to North American feminists when you are reading.

  8. Though I agree with the ideas behind the Ways, I do want to expand the conversation on the word "bitch". I have a what one might call a "different relationship" with the word…. It doesn't offend me the way I think it's supposed to.

    I can thank my college roommate for that. It was freshman year (1991) and she informed me that she WANTED people to see her as a bitch. For her, the word means a powerful woman in a sexy and assertive way. She said, with pride – and love for me as her friend, "We are BOTH bitches!" That word has never been the same for me since.

    Of course, I also use the word to mean something neither lofty nor desirable – as in Klein's second definition: a person “who gets angry or disagrees with you”. But this I apply to males and females indiscriminately – and always as a term of endearment (friends, siblings, boyfriend get called this in mock viciousness [when I am not actually upset with them, thought they ARE angry or disagreeing with me...]).

    And when I AM angry? Usually, I resort to gender-neutral words (after all, everyone has a sphincter!). Sometimes, however, I use the male anatomy; but though no-one I know takes offense at this, I do believe its gender-specificity renders it unfair and inappropriate (meaning I need to start phasing it out…).
    As for those I deem "weak" or "timid"… They DEFINITELY get gender-neutral words. I will NOT perpetuate my gender's (inaccurate, yet pervasive) association with weakness and timidity!!!

    Anyway, I post all this (and I do apologize for the length!) because the section on banning the word "bitch" raised, for me, the following questions: Have I personally misappropriated the word? Or am I simply part of a greater shift in perception and attitudes…? And is this misappropriation/shift helpful or unhelpful to the "cause"?

  9. This is really helpful and motivating especially now, we live in a society where women are being brought down and support/advice like this is always a great way to start the day.

  10. great link dear,thanx for sharing.very useful

  11. Let’s get rid of the word co-ed! When I first heard it as a child many decades ago, I couldn’t understand why “co-ed” didn’t apply to both men and women. After all, if it’s co-education, it should be co-equal and co-llaborative, right? Were guys who integrated Vassar co-eds? After all these years and societal changes, I still hear and see this silly and trivializing word used.

  12. This list was incredible and will be sharing it with my women's center friends on my university campus. And by the way, whether she says policeman or police officer, the point is taken. And the message is strong and she be spread around the world to girls everywhere. Number 3 says support women. Those are her words verbatim and I will repeat her words verbatim because there are strength in her words, correct grammar or not, politically correct or not. I support the woman and the message. Not the language!

  13. Check out my interview with Amy Klein on my online zine, Grrrl Beat!

    http://grrrlbeat.com/2011/07/23/a-conversation-wi

  14. I am so behind #8, I’ve been looking up words in the dictionary since middle school (I was always fascinated by language, because I see the power in words.) and it’s depressing once you realize how sexist language itself is. How are we suppose to be a fair an ‘equal oppurtunity’ society when the very language/communication in which we build our reality from, doesn’t represent that?

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