I can open my own door, but does it make me an asshole for wanting a gentleman to do it for me? Is chivalry an archaic paradigm designed to prevent women from setting the patriarchy on fire, as if it were a bra? Or is it simply an act of kindness? Look, I highly doubt our Egyptian queen, Cleopatra, felt weak or powerless having males slave over her, opening her damn door.
It is a difficult task being a woman, enjoying the life that yes, feminists made possible, while ensuring we don’t set the cause back by falling prey to toxic masculinity. I feel like a mess of contradictions: on one hand, equality is something I believe in and am always working towards. On the other hand, there are ways in which simply being a woman warps my perceptions of feminism. Thanks to the work of Roxane Gay and Deborah Francis-White, phrases like ‘bad feminist’ and ‘the guilty feminist’ are now well-known in feminist circles. After delving into their work, both women had me wondering: am I a bad feminist? Does being a bad feminist make me a bad woman?
I appreciate feminism for paving the way for me to have a career, but I resent that being a stay-at-home mother now comes with feelings of inordinate guilt. I resent how hard I have to work to receive even a fraction of the remittance that I might otherwise receive if it weren’t my vagina. I support having a bush but I don’t want one – I love my hairless body and refuse to be placed in a category of adhering to the patriarchal beauty standards for women. I love dresses, for years I pretended that I didn’t, thinking that they enforced gender binaries. I saw the dress as a straightjacket designed to force me into a gender role carefully crafted by the patriarchy. I even enjoy aspects of culture like Sex and the City and the song W.A.P, that depending on interpretation, aren’t necessarily empowering women.
So, sue me.
Why do we deem things like SATC and W.A.P our guilty pleasures? Why is there any guilt associated with them at all? For some, the series was a refreshing story of sexual freedom and the incredible bond between women. For others, it was an orgy of triviality and consumerism. It wasn’t exactly embraced by the feminist club, that is partly because, for a show about women, it displays a singular obsession with men. Upon its release, for me, SATC was refreshing – watching women explore sexual pleasure and objectify men, almost to the degree that men have done women throughout our culture since, well… always! I remember laughing furiously at Samantha’s bluntness, admiring Carrie’s exploration of female-centric issues and her wardrobe (of course), loving Miranda’s bold cynicism, and Charlotte’s overt prudence. I’m sure if I gave it a re-watch now, I would sit somewhere between amused disgust and complete shock. I’ve decided not to tarnish the memory by viewing through fresh ‘woke’ eyes.
Similarly, the song W.A.P (Wet A$$ Pu$$y) by Cardi B & Megan Thee Stallion, was considered an emancipating feminist masterpiece by some, while others believed it to be objectifying and degrading, only reinforcing misogynistic views of women. Considering society has historically suppressed and condemned women who embrace their sexuality, such criticism was hardly a surprise. Despite sexual liberation being a legitimate feminist endeavour, for some reason, when a woman expresses her desires and flexes control, she’s crossed a line. Too raunchy, too masculine and too damn nasty. For me, W.A.P is a beautiful gender reversal, full of delicious filth and a whole lot of booty poppin’ goodness. See: bad feminist.
I think it’s important to understand why a distinction between good feminists and bad feminists even exists – one that, unsurprisingly, is only given to women by other women. Evident throughout history and very much so today, women are held to an unreasonable standard, and feminists are no exception, often holding each other to that same level of perfection. It doesn’t help that the media has frequently vilified the feminist movement, portraying a bunch of masculine women – man-hating, militant and humourless. Many of us, at some point, have even bought into this grossly inaccurate characterisation. The rhetoric of ‘bad feminism’ has become an important way feminists can playfully critique the unreasonably high standards we are encouraged to meet, while also bringing forth the more surreptitious ways in which society pegs women against each other — often without us even knowing it.
Well, excuse my French but fuck that!
Ironically, in a movement created for the purpose of equality, we are judging each other’s ability to be upstanding members of the club. I appreciate the label for creating space for us to shamelessly embrace our flaws as humans, but we shouldn’t need to label ourselves as bad to do so. In this way, we push against diversity and ask for uniformity, and if you don’t adhere, you can walk your badass all the way over there and sit with the actual misogynists that have suppressed women throughout history. Forget the fact that we are supposed to be a uniting force against an issue that affects each and every one of us – even our men, who came from a woman, may be the brother of a woman, or even may one day be the father of a woman. Welcome to the cause, lads. These judgements of ourselves and fellow ladies are learned social behaviours and contribute to fuelling this inequality.
If you like W.A.P, then like it. If you want to wax your bits, then wax them. If you want to wear symbols of femininity, then wear them. If you want to be a stay-at-home mother, then be one. If you want to be a boss lady, then be one. Do it all with pride, do it all equally. We must write our own narratives, reject male-centric rules and self-judgement to create the space for women to be guilty, naughty, nasty, unique, mothers, bosses and, above all, feminists. Good or bad.