I’m confident that I’m a “good” feminist.
I’ve spent years fighting an intersectional fight for women’s rights. I’ve marched, blogged, and crafted campaigns to advance equality for marginalized people around the world. And I’m committed to growing and expanding my idea of feminism into one that’s more inclusive, radical, and far-reaching.
But I am not every shade of feminism. And I am not perfect.
I’ve made mistakes, found myself at odds with the mainstream feminist movement, and done work that doesn’t always align with what people think of when they think of “good feminists.”
We’re feminists, but we’re not all the same. And we sure as hell aren’t always going to fit what the ideal of a “good feminist” is.
We’re going to make mistakes. We’re going to veer from the mainstream. And we’re going to take our own pathways to educating ourselves, organizing and rallying, and immersing ourselves in the movement.
And that’s okay.
A lot of times, the feminist movement and media at large seem really interested in “good feminism.”
You’ve probably seen it yourself: Is Miley Cyrus a good feminist? Does liking a certain musician or movie make you a bad feminist? Is it possible to be a feminist and also like xyz?
And what these questions do – what they’re really saying and what they make us believe – is that there is only one way to a feminist, and especially to be a good one.
But that isn’t true.
If any of these five statements apply to you, someone may have accused you of being a “bad feminist.” And that’s bullshit.
1. I Fucked Up in My Feminism
I was raised by a feminist, but feminism has come really far since the 60s and 70s – and I went into my activism with a pretty retro way of looking at gender, society, and women’s empowerment.
And as such, I’ve fucked up in my feminism.
I’ve hosted events in spaces that weren’t accessible. I’ve said problematic things. I’ve been called out for the content I posted online. I’ve supported movements I later realized were exclusionary, or outdated, or out-of-touch.
And not only have I learned a lot from that, but it’s also made me better at advocating for women’s rights.
Because of those spaces, I’m more mindful of accessibility needs and how important they can be in our movement. Because I’ve been called out, I learned a little more about power and privilege and how important our everyday actions are in our movement. Because I’ve been disappointed by activism before, I know now a little more about what a successful – and inclusive – movement looks like.
Nobody becomes a feminist and leaves this world a feminist without making a mistake.
In a movement that’s always changing and evolving, it’s inevitable that we’ll slip up.
What matters is that we’re constantly trying to improve and do better, not that we came in doing everything right.
A huge part – if not the biggest part – of feminist activism and advocacy is the idea that people (and our society) can unlearn dangerous ideas, become more aware of social issues, and change.
And it’s not fair for us to expect that everyone in the movement will come in without having learned any dangerous ideas, said any problematic stuff, or changed as people over time.
You’re going to make mistakes.
You’re going to fuck up in your feminism.
And that’s okay – as long as you’re learning from it (and doing better) in the long-term.
2. I Learned My Feminism from the Internet
I’ve done a lot of my feminist work online.
In fact, it’s how I started my movement-building: through online campaigns, digital movements, blogging and designing feminist work for the web. I’ve got a special place in my heart for the women and girls who use the Internet as a consciousness-raising space, a storytelling space, and a feminist network.
But lots of feminists have told me that the work of digitally based feminists like me isn’t valid or isn’t important.
I’ve been reminded countless times that virtual activism could never replace good ol’ on-the-ground work, and I’ve heard feminists of all ages dismiss the work people like me do on the Internet because they’re more concerned with who is publishing books, holding marches, and hosting fundraising galas.
The feminist movement is big enough for all sorts of activism – and digital activism is important to sustaining and expanding the movement.
But not everyone agrees, and not everyone sees the value of online organizing or the unique ways in which it engages people in this movement across identities.
A lot of feminists have beef with “Tumblr Feminism” – a term they use to describe the sort of activism that goes down on social media. But they’re not always right to dismiss or diss it.
Feminist conversations online are incredibly valuable – and often, they include a lot of back-and-forth debate that expands people’s ways of thinking of the world by really breaking down complex arguments.
A lot of times, feminist discourse online turns inaccessible academic theories into bite-size pieces of information, which brings a lot of people closer to the heart of the movement.
And sometimes, feminist communities online are a refuge for folks who come from families and communities where social justice ideas aren’t commonplace or even acceptable.
So if you learned about feminism online, that’s okay!
There are a lot of awesome feminists in cyberspace, and they have a lot of stories to tell and things to teach us.
Don’t let anyone tell you that learning about this movement on a computer – as opposed to in a classroom, face-to-face, or at a protest – makes your contributions to feminism less valuable.
3. I Don’t Agree with Feminist Discourse
College was when I became a hell-raiser, and sometimes I found myself raising my fist at the feminist movement I had just joined in full force.
I was passionate about women’s issues, but I was also wary of the feminisms of the past – and the ways in which they were missing the mark on how we could build an intersectional, inclusive movement.
I was frequently frustrated, as a queer person and a women of color, by how discussions in my women’s studies courses glossed over the differences that I felt defined me in stark opposition to wealthy, straight, white women.
I hated how expensive feminist conferences could be, and how those price tags left people like me out. As someone who came into feminism through a largely pro-sex and sex-worker-supportive lens, I was often shocked and dismayed by how the mainstream feminist movement treated sex work.
I haven’t always been fully at peace with the larger feminist movement. And sometimes, I think speaking up and out about why helped spark some tiny changes along the way.
Right now, some feminist discourse would have you believing that trans women’s rights shouldn’t be pivotal in the feminist movement, or that trans women don’t exist at all. And that’s bullshit.
Way back when, feminist discourse would have you believe that queer attraction was a disgrace to the movement, and that more marginalized members of society needed to wait in line for their full equality. And that was bullshit.
The feminist movement has been evolving for centuries. And the only reason it’s gotten to where it is today is because feminists who recognized how the movement was problematic took the time to rise up and demand that it do better.
It was women of color who forced the mainstream feminist movement in the 60s and 70s to acknowledge race and stand in solidarity with the fight for racial justice. It was queer women who challenged the feminist movement to embrace them as their sisters.
The feminist movement hasn’t always been perfect, and it still isn’t. But the only way to improve it is to do the work to make it better – and that work begins with being unafraid to disagree with the movement we love.
So it’s okay to disagree with dominant feminist discourse – or even super famous feminists.
I’m not happy that Gloria Steinem opposed Amnesty International’s policy that declared sex workers’ rights human rights. I don’t think it’s okay that Lena Dunham refuses to make space for diverse representations of women in her work. And I’m really tired of feminists getting up in arms about Nicki Minaj’s work, personal life, and body politics.
Sometimes, speaking out against dominant feminist discourse is the only way to advance our movement. And sometimes, it takes being willing to be unpopular to make real social change – even among your allies.
Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean every time you disagree with a feminist perspective, you’ll be right.
There are a lot of queer feminists who perpetuate biphobia. There are a lot of women who think being called “cis” is a slur. And there’s still a lot of conversation among (white) women about whether or not Muslim women need to be “liberated” from a culture they love or deeply respect.
When you disagree with dominant feminist discourse, it doesn’t mean you’re a “bad feminist.” Instead, it’s an opportunity to think critically about that discourse and what about it makes you uncomfortable.
The definition of a “good feminist” varies broadly and individually, so ultimately the only person who can decide if your ideas – dominant or not – are okay is you (and your feminist moral compass).
My advice? Just make sure you’re always striving to be as inclusive, respectful, and humane as possible.
4. I Haven’t Consumed X Piece of Media by Y Person
There can be a lot of finger pointing in social justice communities about hallmark celebrities, creators, and artists.
Maybe you’ve heard it in the form of “How can you not like Beyoncé? She’s the best – and she’s such a feminist!” or “Wait, you’ve never even listened to Ani DiFranco? I don’t even know if you’re gay anymore” or even “I can’t believe you don’t read Bitch! That’s, like, what all feminists read.”
This stuff is commonplace, and I’m really tired of it.
And maybe you are, too – especially if you’re the person getting a finger pointed at during a casual conversation about books, music, art, or media.
You do not have to read Judith Butler to be a feminist. You don’t even have to read Sylvia Plath, or Emily Dickinson, The Handmaid’s Tale, Yes Means Yes! (though I deeply recommend that book, forever), Manifesta, or even Cunt.
You don’t have to be able to quote bell hooks or Audre Lorde or a recent article from Bust. There is no right way to fit feminism into your bookshelf.
You do not have to like Beyoncé to be a feminist. You do not have to like Taylor Swift’s squad or Miley Cyrus’ activism. You do not have to listen to female-driven folk rock or riot grrl mixtapes from the 90s. There is no right way to put feminism into your ears. You don’t have to live feminism through your Spotify library.
You can be a “good” feminist without liking someone else’s favorite feminist song, or feminist book, or feminist magazine, or feminist comedian, or feminist whatever.
We’re all feminists, but we’re also all people, and we all have different interests, styles, tastes, and likes and dislikes.
Some people like to read light books at the beach, not deep and philosophical texts about the state of sexism in the world. Some folks like to listen to male artists, or vapid pop music, or dirty rap.
That’s okay. And it doesn’t say anything about that person’s feminism.
5. I Don’t Understand Feminist Academia
I was a Women’s Studies major, so I learned a lot of my feminism in a classroom. But I’ve also learned incredible things outside of those classrooms, and from people who have never read Judith Butler or The Declaration of Sentiments.
When I landed my first feminist internship ever, I came at the project from an extremely academic lens.
I wanted to end rape culture and utilize theory to change discourse and behavior around sex! But my boss – and now, longtime mentor – just wanted to teach college kids about consent and help them define sexual assault.
Together, we did really important work – mostly because the ultimate approach to building the campaign was based not in the ivory tower, but in people’s everyday lives.
And learning to think that way, and approach my work that way, changed everything.
It made my work more accessible. It made my work more impactful. And it probably changed a lot more lives than I would have by lecturing to people about how our social structures support a rape culture.
Academia is an incredible field. Feminist scholars and thinkers have recrafted the ways we talk and think about gender, sex, and women’s lives. Their work has impacted our culture and, in some ways, our lives.
But being a feminist academic, or learning from them, isn’t the only way to be a “good” feminist.
A lot of people come to feminism from outside the classroom. And you might be one of them! Maybe you learned about feminism by facing discrimination, suffering through gender-based violence, or finding yourself limited by social norms.
Maybe you learned about feminism through your community, your family, or your friends. Maybe you learned about it online, or in magazines. Maybe you just didn’t want to read about feminist and gender theory for five hours a week in your dorm room.
That doesn’t make your intentions to end sexism or fight the patriarchy less important.
It doesn’t render your beliefs or views or arguments invalid. And it certainly doesn’t make you a “bad feminist.”
In fact, a common criticism of academic feminism is that it’s too based in the “ivory tower” – that instead of digging into the real problems women face around the world, it’s concerned with philosophies and theories that often don’t serve to improve women’s lives.
And for a lot of people, academia is a world in which they are rendered invisible, or unimportant, or victims, and that rightfully turns them off.
In this way, the perspectives of feminists who hail from outside that ivory tower is actually an asset.
Whether you love to read about feminist history and theory or simply prefer living your activism, the feminism that fits you is the right feminism for you.
I don’t like to think that there are any “bad feminists.”
As long as folks are doing good work that changes lives or seeks to change the world, they’re okay with me – and we should all welcome their contributions, however varied or different from our own, into this movement.
Feminism is about making the world a more equitable place for women and all people. It’s about building cultures where people of all genders and sexualities are safe and recognized and validated. It’s about building societies free from harmful stereotypes and dangerous myths.
And it’s about standing up against societal forms of power and privilege to balance the scales in favor of those who are most marginalized.
As long as that’s your fight, you’re a “good feminist.”
No matter what your activism, or your background, looks like.
Carmen Rios is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. She splits her time disparately between feminist rabble-rousing, writing, public speaking, and flower-picking. A professional feminist by day and overemotional writer by night, Carmen is currently Communications Coordinator at the Feminist Majority Foundation and the Feminism and Community Editor at Autostraddle. You can follow her on Twitter @carmenriosss and Tumblr to learn more about her feelings.