“This conversation and almost every conversation on here makes me confused about feminism. From what I’m hearing, I’m pretty sure I hate modern-day feminists, especially if they question my polka dots. Will someone please write what modern-day feminism means to them?”
I’ve been putting off responding to that comment, partly because I chafed at the phrase “hate modern-day feminists,” but mostly because I’ve been having trouble coming up with a way to define my very complicated, nuanced, and sometimes fraught relationship with “feminism,” its definition(s), and its role in my life. Five or six years ago, I don’t think I would have called myself a feminist, partly because I thought that would impress boys (believe me, you do not want to be dating the kinds of boys who’d be impressed by that statement) and partly because feminism seemed like a lot of hollering about injustices that I didn’t see, or really feel part of.
College, my early twenties, and generally living life in the wider world changed me drastically, and among other things, brought me around to perhaps a more modern, less bra-burning brand of feminism, with which I now feel aligned. But how to define that? There are so many things I could say about what feminism means to me. In part, it’s about something I might, if pressed and at some kind of camp, call “sisterhood” – that is, the value of supporting, and of deeply loving, other women and celebrating rather than cutting them down. It is the rejection of the notion that women need to hurt or step on other women to get ahead in a “man’s world,” and the assertion that instead of trying to beat each other at a game someone else invented for us, we need to work together to forge a world in which there aren’t just one or two slots into which all of us are meant to fit.
It’s also about allowing for, and indeed embracing, all types of womanhood, from, yes, a love of polka dots to a penchant for short hair and cargo shorts. It’s about not letting ourselves be told that either of those modes are wrong, or don’t represent womanhood in the appropriate or most flattering way. It’s about our right to be represented in debates about our bodies and our health care, and (at least for me) about our right to make safe choices about our bodies without undue and ridiculous measures being put in place to hinder those choices.
As I was struggling to articulate all this (I still am struggling, and I know my meagre definitions don’t even scratch the surface of what feminism can do and mean for women), I came across the video above. It’s a little longer than your average YouTube clip, but seriously, watch it, especially if you’re trying to formulate a definition for modern feminism.
Because, at its core, it’s about women talking to women. And as the video, and the Bechdel Test on which it’s based, point out, that’s simply not happening enough. Not in our pop culture (though TV blows film out of the water when it comes to passing the test), not in our politics, and maybe not even in our daily lives. Although the Bechdel Test is not necessarily the only, or even the best way to gauge the overall feminist slant or success of a piece of art or culture, for me, it’s a really good place to start. Women sharing with women about issues in their lives other than men is perhaps the most important, the most basic and grassroots, and the most alive way of sharing “feminism,” whatever that means for you or your best friend or your mom or grandma or professor or sister or hairdresser or accountant or any of the other women you interact with.
So I guess what I’m trying to say to that commenter, who wanted to know why we hated her polka dots (we don’t — they’re adorable) and what we thought a feminist looked like is simply this: Ask. Talk to the women you love about what they’re about and what they’re trying to accomplish in the world, and you’ll get a pretty good sense of what feminism means today.