I find that as feminists, we get a lot of mixed messages. We’re told that if we’re a feminist, we have to be pro-choice, or we have to know who Steinem and hooks are, or we have to vote a certain way in the presidential elections. It can be a bit of a minefield at times — when I look at my feminist identity, I find myself sometimes wondering if I’m not feminist enough, or if certain things I believe or enjoy disqualify me from being a REAL feminist.
I was driving home from work recently when I noticed a few bumper stickers on the SUV ahead of me. I was excited about this because, well, it was a red light and I was bored and I love to construct imaginary personalities of the drivers based on the brightly colored opinions affixed to their cars. The two bumper stickers on this particular vehicle were so striking in their combination that, weeks later, I’m still thinking about them. On the right side of the car, the vehicle proudly displayed its “I’m Ready for Hillary!” sticker. On the left side of the car, a sticker of equal size boasted “Hooters: Best BREASTS & Wings in Town.”
My first knee-jerk reaction? “What the hell kind of feminist supports Hillary Clinton AND Hooters?”
Now, I recognize that my immediate, unfiltered reaction was problematic — that’s why I’m calling myself out. That split-second thought process was laden with assumptions, and assumptions can be dangerous. I assumed that the driver was a woman, that they must automatically identify as a feminist if they support Hillary Clinton as a potential president, and that every feminist must think that Hooters itself is obviously anti-feminist. For all I know, I could have been wrong about all of it. This driver could have been a gay dude who likes chicken wings and wants Bill Clinton to be the first husband in the White House. The point is, I immediately judged the driver of this car and did exactly what I worried about happening to me: being considered a bad feminist.
I don’t consider myself to be a judgmental person, but I think every person is guilty of passing a judgment or two from time to time. Judgments and assumptions are hurtful; my immediate reaction to this driver wasn’t a positive one. I projected all of my own stuff onto this person and instead of constructing a scenario in which I created an imaginary personality, I assigned them a warped version of my own.
I feel it’s important to note that my feelings about Hooters are complicated. I’m not a fan of the restaurant because I don’t love the way it objectifies its female wait-staff. But that’s just me — I know other feminists who support Hooters because they argue that the women who work there are choosing how they display their bodies. I also know women who work that sexist system for their own monetary gain. My own sister worked at Hooters — I didn’t look down on her for working there, and she did not look down on me for choosing not to stop in, buy some wings, and hang out while she was on the clock. But who am I to assume that my feelings are shared by all?
Who decides what makes a “bad feminist”? When we point fingers at each other and decide what isn’t “feminist enough,” we’re becoming no better than the people who vilify feminists for their beliefs. As a community, we have got to get our shit together. We are so judgmental about other feminists that it muddies the playing field and actually prevents anything from getting done. How can we accomplish any type of activism if we are policing each other’s brand of feminism? Policing feminism is NOT a feminist act. How can we promote change if we can’t even change our judgments about what constitutes a good or a bad feminist?
I’m only human — the next time I see an array of bumper stickers, I’m inevitably going to make some assumptions about the person behind the wheel. It’s up to me to check myself before I fall down the negative, judgmental rabbit hole.