Back in 2013, my friend (and would-be lover, if not for our pesky current monogamous relationships) Jes Baker wrote an incredibly important blog post called “Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls… So I Will,” in which she details 14 affirming reminders for a group that is always torn down.
The piece was so wildly popular (and rightly so) that she turned the concept into a book – “a handbook for unapologetic living” – due out in October. (Psst. Pre-order it.)
And that got me thinking about feminists.
More specifically, it got me thinking about how often I receive messages from feminists around the world who are feeling despondent, downtrodden, and disheartened – because they live in a world that hates feminists, and they are so rarely validated in their quests for justice and struggles with the movement.
And because the world is so damn awful to feminists, and because I think we all need a little boost sometimes, and because I have a lot of love to spread around, I would like to give you 20 important things that no one will tell feminists.
1. You’re Brave
Let’s start here: Being a feminist in a world that so vehemently hates women (and—pshh—never mind feminists), in and of itself, is a brave act.
Every day that goes by that you apply the ultimate F-word to yourself, you’re staring the status quo in the face and saying, “Fuck you.”
And that’s amazing.
2. You’re Doing the Right Thing
To be honest, I think it’s problematic when people tell you, in the middle of your needing support because you’re being yelled at by strangers on Twitter, “You must be doing something right!”
Besides being unsupportive and implying that abuse comes with the territory, it’s dismissive as all hell.
So that’s not what I’m saying.
What I am saying is that despite all of the dudebros on your Facebook status wanting to play devil’s advocate, you are in the right.
You’re a champion of justice.
Like Sailor Moon.
And who wouldn’t want to be on her side?
3. Sometimes You’re Going to Mess Up
But here’s the thing: None of us is perfect. Not a single one.
All of us have screwed up.
All of us have said something oppressive, have sent that oh-so-analytical tweet without realizing the repercussions of its not being intersectional, have been reminded that we can do better.
And you will, too.
And that’s okay. Because making mistakes is how we learn.
Apologize (earnestly!), and vow to do better in the future.
And then allow yourself to move on.
4. You Can Only Do So Much
From the get-go, let’s set some realistic expectations.
You’re not going to be at every rally. You’re not going to participate in every hashtag. You’re not going to comment on every breaking news story. And you’re not going to write a think piece on every single move Beyoncé makes.
You’re a human being.
You need to eat, drink, sleep, work, go to school, take care of a family, find time to exercise, hang out with your friends, and remember to call your mom on her birthday.
Just like the rest of us.
And if you’re feeling like you’re not “enough” of a feminist because you’re not on top of every single call-to-action, then that’s the movement’s fault for making you feel that way – not yours.
Take a deep breath and remind yourself that there are only so many hours in a day.
5. Yes, It’s Hard Work
Hey, no one said that inciting a revolution would be easy! But—gah—does it always have to be so hard?
You’re right. There’s a lot to balance.
There’s a lot to learn, and there are so many issues to choose from to focus on. And you’re almost always going to unintentionally leave a group out of what you thought was a brilliant campaign – and there are going to be plenty of people to remind you of that.
Wanting your actions to align with your values – which I think is one of the reasons that we come to feminism as an ideology and a practice – takes a shit ton of work.
And it’s okay if sometimes you wish it were easier.
Because in the end, the hard work is worth it.
Striving toward being a better feminist isn’t easy, but it sure is necessary.
And at the end of the day, it’s a worthwhile endeavor.
When you can look back and say, “Damn! I sure am living my politics a lot more than I was a year ago,” you can thank the hard work that you put into it for it.
6. You Deserve a Break
I get it. Remembering to practice self-care is hard.
But it’s also necessary.
7. You Can Sign Off of Twitter
At the time of writing this, I’ve currently got a few people on the Internet really angry with me. Apparently, folks don’t like it when you tell them that street harassment is offensive. Go figure.
So my partner offered to log into my Twitter account for the weekend in order to ban all of the trolls for me so that I never have to see their comments. (I know. Swoon-worthy, right?)
But even if he didn’t offer to do damage control, it’s okay to take a break from the feminist blogosphere and social media world sometimes.
I’m always super proud of my social justice warrior friends when they throw up Facebook statuses like “ttyl” or turn off their Tumblr “ask” function for a little while.
I promise you that the movement isn’t going to fall apart (and the Internet isn’t going to disappear) if you leave it alone for a few days.
8. You Deserve Respect
The world hates feminists. You know that already, right? I mean, that’s exactly why I’m even writing this in the first place.
But the world shouldn’t treat you like shit just because it hates who you are.
And you shouldn’t have to stand by and not stand up for yourself when it happens.
People can disagree with you without being belittling, condescending, offensive, or vulgar. People can debate or argue with you while also respecting your opinion.
Some folks will tell you that by virtue of being a feminist, you get what’s coming to you in terms of being a punching bag for others’ (often faux) intellect.
So let me tell you this: By virtue of being a living, breathing being, you are always owed respect and humanity.
9. You’re Not Going to Change Everyone’s Mind
You’re not. Because not everyone has an open mind, and not everyone with an open mind is going to pick up what you’re putting down anyway.
Because folks are allowed to choose for themselves which social theories sit right with them.
And even if we know that we’re right (wink), we have to allow them that freedom.
And that isn’t to say that you can’t try. It’s to say that you’re allowed to save your breath for the folks who want to listen, who want to grow, who want to change.
Arguing with folks who just want to rile you up isn’t really a worthwhile endeavor. And it’s okay to pick your battles.
10. You’re Not Failing the Movement When You Give Up
Now, don’t give up give up.
Don’t throw in the towel like, “Fuck it! Feminism is too hard! I want to go back to being blissfully unaware!” (Although, okay, I think we all wish we could be ignorant again sometimes.)
But you can give up on certain people or in certain situations.
If you have that one uncle who is always going to say racist shit at Thanksgiving dinner, and you are always going to be told to respect your elders when you tell him to shove it (who, me? speaking from experience?), it’s okay to let it go.
The movement needs you to be emotionally healthy in order to put in work that actually has the ability to be life changing.
And if arguing with Uncle Jimmy isn’t going to be it, then put your energy elsewhere.
11. If You Affect One Person, You’ve Made a Difference
I love writing for Everyday Feminism.
And I love giving talks at universities.
I love reaching large audiences and interacting with the world on such a huge scale.
But you know what I love even more?
I love letting that one anonymous Tumblr user know that her sexual assault wasn’t her fault. I love validating to that woman I went to high school with that her boss really is sexist. I love helping my mom understand what rape culture is. I love that this one guy that I worked with for one summer will e-mail me to let me know how he sees sexism show up in his day-to-day life and to let me know that he learns a lot from my Facebook posts.
You don’t have to be a “career feminist” to make a difference. You just have to help one person stand in their truth a little steadier.
And that’s incredibly powerful.
12. You Might Lose Friends
Whenever I go home to my parents’ house, they always, without fail, ask me who I plan on hanging out with.
And my response, almost always, without fail is: “…From high school? I don’t talk to anyone from high school anymore.”
And why not?
Well, mostly because they’re not feminists.
And that doesn’t mean that I have some kind of weird rule where I refuse to engage with anyone who doesn’t identify as a feminist.
But to be honest, I have a hard time talking to anyone who doesn’t have a working definition of “oppression.”
And if you find yourself drifting away from relationships that used to be meaningful to you because you no longer relate on the same level, that’s okay.
Because I’m sorry, but I get enough oppressive, victim-blaming, sex-shaming, misogynist, transphobic, ableist, racist-as-all-hell bullshit from the world at large.
The last thing I need is to sit down with folks who pull me back into the Bizzaro World of My Former Self.
That doesn’t mean that you should forsake anyone from your past who doesn’t agree with your worldview, but you shouldn’t feel guilty for not wanting to hang out with folks who don’t nourish your growth.
13. And It’s Okay to Have Higher Dating Standards
Oh, if I had a nickel for every time someone wrote to me on Tumblr with a story that starts along the lines of “I really love my partner, but ever since I started becoming more socially aware, we’ve been arguing more and more…”
Not really. Try to work it out if you want to.
But if your partner isn’t down for the cause? Dump ‘em.
Your values are important. And once you start seeing the world through a feminist lens, it’s kind of hard to stop. And you deserve to be with someone who wants to fight the power with you – not someone who’s complacent in their power over you.
So go ahead and open your OKCupid profile with “I’m a feminist.” I promise it’ll weed out the prospects you don’t want real quick.
14. It’s Okay to Have Sexist Thoughts
Yes. We all want to eradicate them.
But isn’t that the exact point of doing the work that you do? Aren’t we feminists because we realized how messed up our socialization is, and we want to create a paradigm shift so that later generations are socialized differently?
You can’t shake off your own socialization just by being a feminist.
It’s not like you claim the label, and magically, you’re a perfectly non-oppressive human being.
What’s important is recognizing them, analyzing them, and then trying to do better moving forward.
15. It’s Okay to Like Sexist Media
You will not stop me from buying Taylor Swift’s next album. You won’t stop me from buying Kanye West’s next album either. And damn it, I really (weirdly) like Poison, okay?
Even Shakespeare was a misogynist sometimes. In Act III, Scene iii of Romeo and Juliet, Friar Lawrence calls Romeo “womanish” for crying, and tells him, in his own charming Elizabethan English kind of way – “Art thou a man?” – to man up.
But if you try to get me to stop watching the 1996 Baz Luhrmann version of Romeo + Juliet, I will fight you.
You can think critically about media without writing off what you love forever.
Media literacy is a thing for a reason: to help us dig deeper into what we consume – not necessarily to boycott everything that doesn’t perfectly align with our values.
So no more “guilty pleasures” nonsense, okay?
16. You Don’t Need to Feel Guilty for Being a Killjoy
I do a talk about media literacy where I make a joke about how I’m reeeeally fun to watch TV with.
“Can you believe how sexist that beer commercial was? And there was only one person of color!”
I also, in that talk, make the point that if the people in your company don’t want to critically engage with the world around them, that’s their issue.
They don’t have to make you feel bad for wanting a little bit of evolution in the media landscape.
You’re not a “killjoy” for pointing out what’s wrong with a rape joke. The person laughing is a killhumanity for finding oppression hilarious.
17. Sometimes the World Will Feel Like Too Much to Bear
Do you ever have one of those days where if you get one more piece of bad news, you think you might explode? Or at least cry?
Sometimes we all fall down that rabbit hole of “But then there’s this and this and this and this and ARE WE EVER GOING TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE, WHAT’S EVEN THE POINT OF ALL OF THIS?”
Those days will come. And those days will also go.
Take a deep breath. Maybe take a day off. And then remember why you started.
18. And Yes, The World Really Does Suck
I wish you were imagining it, but you’re not. I would love to be out of a job because we’ve reached glorious feminist utopia, but alas, I guess I have to stay employed by this fine organization.
Because the world really is horrible.
Feminism opens your eyes to all of that.
And you are not making this shit up.
19. But You Really Can Find Joy – Because Feminism Is Beautiful
Within feminism, we find the answers to most of what’s hurt us in our lives. We learn how to turn those experiences over in our minds and make sense of them. We learn how to forgive ourselves.
And we find sisterhood.
I’ve met all of my best friends through feminism (check out some of them here, talking about their friendship and their Latinadad – aren’t they so cute and smart?), and I don’t know what I would do without such a thoughtful, loving community of brilliant, badass babes.
Feminism, I often half-joke, was like a born-again religion for me.
Because when I found it, it was like the world finally made sense to me, and I found more purpose. And damn it, I needed to spread that gospel far and wide!
Feminism, for all of the ways that it can complicate our lives, gives us so much.
It’s life altering.
So hold onto that, friends.
When it gets rough, hold onto that.
20. Thank You
And definitely not feminists.
Between being demanded to educate on command and constantly being called a whole slew of misogynist slurs, it seems that folks have forgotten their manners.
So let me pick up their slack: Thank you.
Thank you for your tirelessness. Thank you for challenging both norms and minds. Thank you for redefining friendship, love, sex, and family. Thank you for solidarity, for support, and for patience.
Thank you for making me feel less alone.
Thank you for making the world a better place.
And thank you for never giving up.
Feminism isn’t easy, but feminism is fucking glorious.
And so are feminists.
And in world that tries to tear you down, build one another up. We’ve gotta stick together.
Melissa A. Fabello, Co-Managing Editor of Everyday Feminism, is a sexuality educator, eating disorder and body image activist, and media literacy vlogger based out of Philadelphia. She enjoys rainy days, Jurassic Park, and the occasional Taylor Swift song and can be found on YouTube and Tumblr. She holds a B.S. in English Education from Boston University and an M.Ed. in Human Sexuality from Widener University. She is currently working on her PhD. She can be reached on Twitter @fyeahmfabello.