My generation has a feminism problem. A lot of people have said this, and most of those people are the kind we shouldn’t be listening to — pick-up artists, alt-right activists, Republican congressmen. They think our feminism problem is that we have feminism at all. But I’m not concerned about those people. I’m concerned about the people who think that all that’s needed to become a feminist is to say that you are one. I’m concerned about people who claim that any choice a woman makes, no matter how damaging it may be to herself or others, is a feminist choice simply because it’s a choice made by a woman. It’s like "Incredibles" supervillain Syndrome says about what happens when everyone is super — if everything is described as feminist, how do we determine what’s feminist and what isn’t?
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about how to express my convictions about feminism without directly attacking the idea that all choices are feminist ones, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not possible. In order for feminism that accomplishes things to exist, choice feminism has to die, and we have to be the ones to kill it. We have to stop blindly accepting declarations of “I’m a feminist” from politicians, celebrities, family members, and friends. Instead, we have to judge them by their actions. A politician who doesn’t strive to protect women’s rights and speak up when those rights are threatened isn’t feminist, no matter what their campaign material says. A celebrity who refuses to even recognize the negative impact their work has on girls and women isn’t feminist, even if they claim to be. And family members and friends, no matter how loving and supportive they may be, aren’t feminist when they criticize your appearance, your career choices, or your way of speaking on the basis of your gender.
If we stop uncritically accepting other people’s assertions of feminism when they aren’t backed up by their actions, we also have to stop uncritically accepting our own anti-feminist behaviors. Nobody’s innocent of this. I’m certainly not. When I was younger, I judged other girls and women by their appearances because I was afraid that’s what they were doing to me. And maybe they were, but that doesn’t excuse what I said and did. If my goal is to be a true feminist, I have to support other women and girls, even if I disagree with their choices.
But in return for my unconditional support, I’m going to ask my fellow feminists a favor. Think critically about your own decisions. Ask yourselves why you’re doing something, and don’t believe people who tell you that all it takes to be a feminist is to say that you are one. Support your fellow women and girls, because you can’t expect them to have your back if you don’t have theirs. Expect to be treated well, and speak up when you aren’t being treated well. Stand up for each other. And don’t be afraid to admit you’ve made mistakes.
Thinking critically means realizing you’re not perfect and striving to get better. And that’s what being a real feminist is all about.