By Brooke LaMantia
Every feminist has a different view of feminism. That’s why feminism is so intriguing, confusing and important—why it originally caught my eye. Once I become attached to things, the infatuation that I hold only continues to grow with time. If a topic catches my eye, I learn everything there is about it. So when I decided to explore “feminism,” knowing I wanted to be one, but unsure of how, I picked up a book and started to read. The list of books driven by themes of feminism I’ve read goes on and on; classics like The Handmaid’s Tale, cultural feminist novels like Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution, and poetry like Milk & Honey. In more common works of art than expected, feminism drives the plot, narrative and voices of women all over the world. One of the best ways to find your own voice is by listening to others’ first. These authors provide insight into what feminism looks like and how it can be carried out in different ways. For me, hearing other woman’s stories made me realize that mine was also important and valid.
After reading Roxanne Gay’s book Bad Feminist, I realized I didn’t have to fit into any mold of what people thought a “feminist” was. In fact, the idea that labels had to define me at all was completely demolished. I related entirely to Gay’s essays. I understood where she came from when she said she found herself to be a “bad feminist” in terms of what society thought, when she affirmed that she did not fit the “mold.” That is the beauty of feminism—there is no right way to be one. Gay writes about how she often finds herself humming along to misogynistic, sexist lyrics simply because they’re catchy. There have been so many circumstances after reading Gay’s essays where I catch myself in the car, singing along to sexist words. These instances reveal that culture and media so deeply influence us. I will always fall short of what I think a perfect feminist is, because feminists are humans too, and expectations are, as well, a part of the issue of sexism. When walking with my friends, I will say sexist things like “man, I wish I had the balls to do that,” only to shake my head and realize what just came out of my mouth. No matter how hard I try, I am and will always be a bad feminist; each day I will fall short of what an ideal “feminist” would look like, but the important thing is that I try. Feminism isn’t about perfection, it’s about change. Everyone will always be a bad feminist in a world of non-existent good ones.
Like Bad Feminist, each book, memoir, poem, etc. that I have encountered with the label of “feminism” has taught me something new. In Rebecca Solnit’s book, Men Explain Things to Me, she discusses “mansplaining:” when a man tries to explain something to a woman that she already knows, refusing to listen to her try to explain it herself. It’s a complicated idea, but it’s one all women have likely gone through. Once I read this, I burst out laughing because it hit so close to home. Every time I tried to explain something to my dad, he would respond by explaining what I had just explained to him. I remember that I came home from college one weekend, eager to tell my dad about a cinema lecture I had the previous week, only to be continually interrupted when explaining it. “Oh, yeah, that’s when the Germans…” he interjected. I stomped away mid-sentence. It’s a frustrating conversation to have and I often think it arises without notice. In Jessica Valenti’s memoir, Sex Object, readers dive into her life and the effects of sexism on it. This book made me understand the sheer importance of vulnerability, the power it can have, and how being honest can impact those around us. Valenti holds nothing back. That is what makes her memoir so impactful. In Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s essay, We Should All Be Feminists, she calls herself a happy feminist after receiving backlash from males due to the representation of women in her first novel. Then she declared herself a happy, African feminist, a happy African feminist who does not hate men, and so on. Adichie asserts that calling oneself a feminist comes with too much baggage, and she right.
Each feminist should have the right to determine what feminism means for them. Each feminist has a different reason, different motivation, different vulnerability. Each feminist has their own voice and should be able to use it. That’s why feminist literature is so important. To be able to hear other’s stories, voices, declarations of what feminism means to them, is what keeps feminism relevant and important; it’s what allows us to connect and learn. It’s what pushes us to find our own voice.
- Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution by Mona Elthaway
- Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay
- Sex Object by Jessica Valenti
- Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit
- We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
- The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
- Milk & Honey by Rupi Kaur
- The Awakening by Kate Chopin
- The Color Purple by Alice Walker
- New American Best Friend by Olivia Gatwood
- Rad Women Worldwide by Kate Schatz, Miriam Klein Stahl