“That’s just, like, the rules of feminism”- Gretchen Weiner
For anyone learning the ropes of feminism, it can be beneficial to embrace a set of principles, or an “honor code”, so to speak. Maybe a simple piece of wisdom you keep in the back of your mind, only to retrieve when you need it most. Or a tough decision that shakes your skull in doubt. Whatever the cause is, having a set of rules to follow can help you form your own perspective, and in this case, guide you on the journey of being a feminist.
Years ago, I felt confused in my search of how to be a “good” woman. How should I treat others? What do I say when someone attacks my beliefs? How should I dress? All these questions and more boggled my adolescent brain. I’ve since been able to learn so many things from the women around me- my mother, friends, and role models.
Over the years, I’ve been able to learn tiny things that have helped me become a stronger woman, and handle difficulties that come my way. I wanted to spread some of that to other women struggling to find strength in their lives, so that anyone can become a warrior.
Love the imperfections that make you perfect.
A few months ago, I sat quietly in my philosophy class at a time when I should have been asleep. The morning air fogged up my hearing of my teacher’s rambling, but I could feel the energy grow inside me when he said something remarkable. “Every single one of you are perfect. That doesn’t mean that you are flawless, but it does mean that your imperfections and quirks are all supposed to be here right now in the universe. So if you feel insecure about yourself, remember that every single thing about you or affecting you is meant to be there, so you are perfect.” He expressed this with a wide smile as he looked across the room for answers. I had always heard the cliche, “you’re perfect” being thrown around like a basketball, but never in this light. It made me realize that if I wanted to be a feminist, I needed to learn how to love myself the right way. Just a few months before I learned this, I was struggling to lose weight to impress others. I felt fine with what I had been reading on the scale, however, I felt a need to lose weight in order to be “attractive”.
I placed this piece of wisdom first because I consider it the most important. If you don’t love yourself and appreciate who you are, it will be extremely difficult to find the beauty in others. Also, being able to appreciate the tiny things about you that you can’t change, like cellulite or a strange laugh, makes it easier to admire those same (or different…) features in others.
2. Acknowledge the experiences of other women as well as your own.
The beauty of feminism is that it is made up of billions of individual stories. There’s no single definition of what it is, because it means something different to everyone. However, this may blur your understanding of feminism, because your story could be completely different from another woman’s experience. I came to understand this morewhen I got to high school. Having grown up in a mostly white middle school, I was never exposed to a lot of diversity, and my mind subsequently adapted to this. But when I got to high school, suddenly I was exposed to a much more diverse pool of individuals, and learned so much about how other women suffer in their own individual ways. So learn about other people’s struggles, read up on the lives of other iconic women with individual stories you didn’t even think you’d be able to comprehend. It will shape your definition of feminism, and make the whole world look different.
3. Educate Yourself.
Speaking about learning about diverse perspectives, here’s another great way to amp up your feminist journey. Just like you go to school to learn about science or math, educating yourself in the feminist realm is incredibly important. Learn from the iconic people that stood their ground in the midst of patriarchy. People like Frida Kahlo, Audre Lorde, or even Sojourner Truth all have vastly different stories that make them feminists to learn from. Truth be told, teaching feminism in school is equally as important for students as learning psychology is for a psych major. Women, for thousands of years, have been marginalized,which has changed the history of our gender. Learning about feminism, in school or otherwise, helps women understand their own worth in society, and can provide much-needed pride for girls who may feel like they aren’t worthy enough.
4. Find a mentor to help support you on your journey.
Mentorship is something that is so heavily underrated, but can be a blessing for personal growth. This is true for women of all ages as we can all use someone that understands our struggle and can help us find strength in ourselves. You can find mentorship in any field you’re interested in, and from people as varied as your colleagues, teachers, or even your own mother. Speaking from personal experience, I’ve realized the impact that my mother has had on me as a feminist. She raised me to be fearless, and take my struggles with a grain of salt. She raised me as a single mom with a low-paying job, but nevertheless she remains brave. I’ve seen this bravery over the years, and applied it to my own life. And that’s what a mentor is. From her strength and advice, I’ve been able to learn how to be a stronger woman. My advice is: find the women that you can learn from, and go from there. You’ll be surprised what you discover about that woman—and more importantly, about yourself.
5. Accept the vulnerability that all humans possess.
One thing to understand about feminism is that it doesn’t only affect women-- social implications that hurt them can also negatively impact men. The traditional patriarchal structure sets unrealistic expectations for boys as well. Growing up, I’ve heard the phrase, “boys don’t cry.” It’s important to welcome the vulnerability that people of all genders naturally have, since emotions have no gender bias. Many of the gendered standards used to discriminate against men also have traces of feminine stereotypes-- such as wearing pink or showing emotion. n order to welcome men’s vulnerability, we must first break the negative connotations that come with being a woman. So yes, both men and women cry. And that’s okay. Accept the emotion that all humans possess, and break the negative stereotypes in society that hurt men and women alike.
6. Develop a support system of positive women around you.
The greatest ideas stem from collaboration, and having your own support system is essential to growing as a woman. Being able to have people around you that both relate to you and can help you in your endeavors is essential, mainly because this is how you can develop your own ideas about what society is. A support system is another word for people that take your worries away, help you when you need it the most, and bounce off the crazy ideas that go on inside your head. It’s important to have people around you that can relate to your experience, because many times this kind of support makes us feel understood and not alone. So my message is to go out and find your support system. Don’t have one? You can always find opportunity in the strangest of places. An old mentor once told me, “You’ll never find your wolf pack if you don’t howl.”
7. Fight back against the system.
In times where women stand on the front lines of justice, it’s important to fight the issues that you’re rightfully passionate about. It wasn’t until about a century ago that women could vote, and society still has a long way to go before we can consider ourselves equal in society. In the past, change didn’t come from moping, it came from action. So if you haven’t already, find out what pisses you off the most. Become an advocate for that cause in ways that are tangible to you, such as starting petition for issues that bother you or even just wearing the clothes you want to. Either way, be yourself in a system that judges you, because that is truly what makes you resilient.
8. Remember that your body belongs to you.
In today’s world, it may seem like our bodies belong to the people who judge it. Boys who say your breast aren’t big enough. Parents who force you to cover your body around other family members. It can sometimes feel like your body revolves around the desires of others, but never around your own. However, art displayed inside a canvas belongs only to the artist, not the spectator watching it on display. That’s why it’s important to remember to decorate your body with the things that make you feel happy.
I remember a few years ago when I started experimenting with makeup and was warned by so many of my family members not to do so. “Oh no, you need to look natural,” “Heidi, you need to do this with your face, not that.” I felt angered by their judgement. The truth was, I was severely insecure about my own body and appearance. And it took years of strength to finally conquer my own desires, not the ones of others. To this day, I can’t forget that newfound feeling of beauty as I stared at my own red lipstick. Mind you, I was a newbie who could barely put on a stick of eyeliner, but I actually felt beautiful. It was a strange feeling, and something I had never truly felt before. Wearing makeup helped me regain control of my body and solidified a sense of confidence within myself.
The point I’m trying to make is that my family wanted me to adhere to a specific standard of beauty exclusive to them, but conforming to this was making me miserable. It wasn’t until I decided to take matters into my own hands and lather cheap, red lipstick onto my lips that I could feel beautiful. So, make your body a piece of art and don’t let anyone hold the paintbrush but you. Either way, you’re the only person who can feel beauty within yourself.
9. Know where you come from, and make it shine from the inside out.
I’ve struggled with my identity for well over a decade, and continue to do so on a daily basis. As someone with a confusingly mixed background, it can be hard for people to see me the way I see myself. Having to constantly prove any semblance of your own identity can be annoying at times, but at the end of the day that truth lies within your own blood and values. I come from a half-Nicaraguan and Cuban household, yet many people never even believe I’m Hispanic at all. On top of this, my name is a Germanic one that my family has taken the liberty to edit in a way that no one truly understands. Basically, I always felt I need to prove my Hispanic heritage to people. People are usually caught by their own whimsical ignorance by my heritage that it makes me question my own blood as well. It wasn’t until I was fed up with the nonsense, and decided to throw out the negative energy out the damn window.
However, let this be a lesson to any feminist that is questioning their place in the world. Know where you come from, and make sure you let it be known with zero hesitation. If you understands your own roots, you can carry yourself better in the world. Have more confidence. Feel the libertating pride that comes with your unique background. That way, you’ll not only feel free, but be it as well.
10. Lastly, happiness comes first.
Above everything else, always make you’re doing things for the right reasons. This means advocating for causes you love because it feels good to make a difference, not because everyone else is doing it. When being a feminist, it is important to always find happiness in the things you love.