What is the Perfect Feminist? A Trope. (A Response of Sorts)

The perfect feminist doesn't exist. I reached this conclusion after reading countless articles and books pertaining to or about feminist topics. To think about it makes my head spin with contradictions when discussing basic ideals. To be a perfect feminist one can eschew pink or embrace it. I shouldn't shave my legs (or should I). I should keep my last name when I get married (or I can choose to change it). A perfect feminist should be working against all forms of patriarchy, no matter how small. To me, this screams of nitpicking, and of missing the greater issues in favor of the smaller ones.

As I wrote in my post on Monday, I believe that feminism is primarily about equality, but also about choice. We can choose to shave our legs, wear pink, change our last names if we get married, or we can choose to do none of these things. Making the decision to change my last name when I get married doesn't make me any less of a supporter of women's equality than a woman who keeps her last name, no more than making the decision to shave my legs does. However, as I read through more articles and non-fiction tomes every day, I can't help but notice how many people who identify as feminists are being picked apart by other feminists over choices such as these.

One article I read that made me stop and pause and think about what feminism means to me is one from xoJane, where the author states that she judges her friends and other women who take their husband's name upon marriage. Now, I can agree up to a point that feminism isn't all about choice, or even only about choice, but part of being equal as people means we can have the ability to make those choices for ourselves. I think that as much as taking my fiancé's last name when we get married harkens back to a time when it represented that I was his property, it also represents a choice that I am offered – it’s not a decision I am making lightly. Of course, I do think that it’s sad that men aren’t afforded the same opportunity to change their name upon marriage,

I struggle when I see criticisms like this one, because I feel like as enlightened women and men (if I can use that term), shouldn't be having these arguments in the twenty-first century. It feels like rehashing the same things over and over again and running ourselves in circles, and it's a dialogue that I feel is very out of place in our age. I think that judging a decision that is as small and as big as what last name a person has is completely missing the point and hurting the greater feminist movement.

In another article written for XOJane. Jessica Wakefield is also making the point that the perfect feminist doesn't exist, in light of a feminist blogger coming out as having an eating disorder and the fear that blogger expressed regarding being criticized. Wakefield, in her article, calls bullshit and points out how nitpicking and picking apart women who enjoy wearing makeup, take their husband's last names, stay home with their kids (or to take care of the house) or work outside of the home hurts the movement. Her article, which, along with the prior one, inspired me to put my thoughts to paper (or in this case, the blog), as she summarizes the disparities in the feminist movement very nicely.

She says:

Adding all these other litmus test items -- works outside of the home after having kids! keeps last name upon marriage! Loves how she looks without makeup on! pays for herself on every date! -- are just things that the folks who claim to be the arbiters of Capital F Feminism created which actually do more harm than good because they make women like Chloe feel like shit.

Life is really not that black and white for most of us. Some things are gray and we need to accept the grayness -- whether it’s the “public feminist” with the eating disorder or the woman who marries and takes her husband’s name -- because divided we fall.

With this I one hundred percent agree. Divided, we do fall. Expecting every woman who identifies as a feminist to be perfect hurts the movement as much as nitpicking every little thing a feminist does hurts the movement. Nitpicking these choices to me is like seeing the green tree at the edge of a forest, admiring it, and completely missing that there's a forest fire just behind it, about to take it out. Rather than admiring the tree, we need to look at the forest and tackle the big issues: inequality in women's pay, women's healthcare access, and marriage equality. Looking solely at the smaller issues, like changing your name after marriage, and ignoring the good that women who have and will continue to take their husbands' names is detrimental. It divides us up into a dichotomy of Us v. Them, which is a battle nobody can win.

Rather than striving to be a perfect feminist, or criticizing feminists who make decisions that aren't what you or I would make, we need to work together. Lift each other up. Focus on the bigger movements and put out the big fires. We need to eliminate the trope of the perfect feminist and focus on making a difference by pushing for the bigger issues, for equality for all, and to stop nitpicking the details. Really, isn’t equality mostly what it’s about? Let’s stop worrying about the little things and try to change our world. Divided, our voices may not make much difference, but together, we can succeed.