Am I a Bad Feminist?

By Lily Foss Feminist Columnist

Is This Feminist?

There's this Tumblr I really love called “Is This Feminist?”  The author takes stock photos of women, describes what they are doing, and asks the question, “IS THIS FEMINIST?”  Spoiler alert: the answer is almost always a satirical no.  For example, the caption for this picture reads, “This woman is apologizing for using an offensive word in her youth. IS THIS FEMINIST?  Absolutely not. Real feminists come out of the womb quoting bell hooks [sic—look her up], and come complete with a force field that keeps them from absorbing negative cultural ideas.”  And that is why I'm a bad feminist.

I try to be a feminist, I really do.  I have a “This Is What a Feminist Looks Like” t-shirt that I like to wear in public spaces to see if anyone rolls their eyes at me. I've also been trying to work up the courage to wear my Nana Florence's rosary ring around my neck upside-down so it makes a female symbol, except I'm worried that might be offensive to religious people.  See, that's my problem.  I sometimes don't realize that things are offensive until I've already said or done them.  My force field is broken!

Like the woman in the picture, I have said my fair share of accidentally offensive things.  When I was a senior in high school, I claimed that the women's liberation movement had “done nothing for me,” since my favorite things to do were knit and bake.  Obviously that was ill-informed, since I also enjoy having an opinion and a job.  I've been trying to atone for that comment for four years.  But the dumb stuff didn't stop at age eighteen.  Last year as an RA, I impulsively sent out what I thought was a cute email that I later realized took religion a little too lightly.  I apologized, of course, but I'm still worried that people think I'm some anti-religious zealot.

A real feminist would never say these things.  A real feminist knows exactly how to approach her white/middle-class/hetero/cis/etc. privilege without seeming condescending or patronizing.  A real feminist is born knowing her place in the cycle of oppression. Right?

But as I said, I'm trying.  I'm trying really hard to be a good feminist.  It isn't always easy—sometimes I still say stupid, ill-informed things.  But when those come to my attention, I try to learn from them.  And I think that's part of what feminism's all about: learning about yourself and your place in an unfair, messed-up society, growing from that knowledge, and then helping others to learn and grow too.  We all say some offensive things sometimes.  We're only human.  And while it's important to feel remorse when you say something that hurts someone, it would be even worse to apologize without trying to understand why that person was hurt.  Because feminists aren't born, no matter how many “This Is What a Feminist Looks Like” onesies I plan to put on my future kids.  Feminists are made from experience, mistakes, wisdom, and passion.  THIS is what a feminist's column looks like.