I have this vivid memory from one time when my friends and I drifted off into the ocean on a kayak– maybe a little too far for our own comfort. Naturally, some of us started to panic, and thought about scenarios where our flimsy boat tipped over, or we lost one of our oars. I remember one friend turned to me and said,” Aly, you’re a good swimmer though, right? You could swim us to shore.” I like to think that this moment pretty much sums up what feminism means to me: it’s just like swimming against the current to get everyone out of this precarious situation. But what I find most exciting about contemporary feminism is that we don’t all have to be great swimmers– there’s a plethora of different ways you can help us get the damn thing to shore. Whether you’re steering the boat or pushing it, riding the waves or treading against them, we’re all headed in the same direction and are trying our very best not to drown. We live in a time of unprecedented opportunity where the doors are being held open for us by other women, and we get to choose between taking a turn as the necessary doorman, or walking through the threshold and making use of this new space. First, second, and third wave feminisms have provided us with the essential tools to build our own feminism, and the only instruction in the manual is to use them.
You don’t have to dress a certain way, shave your head, or grow your armpit hairs; you don’t have to hate men or have been abused by men in order to validate your adoption of a feminist standpoint. It’s not about how you choose to fashion yourself, but about how you choose to think for yourself. If activism and advocacy aren’t your favorite strokes to swim, you can still make a significant impact through conscious efforts to read more books written by women, watch movies directed by women, listen to music made by women, subscribe to businesses that hire women, or support industries that themselves support women. I would love to see feminist culture become less of a niche market and instead one that caters to a general interest in society. A feminist blank canvas on which people of all kinds, colors, tastes, and flavors can paint a picture–or one that anyone would care about enough to hang up on their wall in admiration for what others have contributed. Can you imagine if feminism went mainstream? Because the thing is, as long as feminism is still treated with a condemning sense of separateness and is dealt with as an anomaly, we will never grow out of this patriarchal phase that has honestly been coddled for way too long.
Despite the fact that our human nature is riddled with skepticism, loves dwelling on the negative, can easily be stilted by social hang-ups, and is quick to unravel as soon as you start poking holes, I prefer to forgive (without necessarily forgetting) and move forward (without being afraid to look back). We could spend the next five centuries seeking retribution, or talking about how messed up the last ones were– but I think the best way to do them any justice is to find a different path and make it our own. I acknowledge the value in pointing out what’s wrong with the messy quilt that is society, but it’s draining a great deal of the much-needed energy we could be focusing on those who are thinking fresh and maybe even starting anew. It’s hard enough for feminists to fight the battle against centuries of oppression, let alone constantly have to remind people that it’s a battle worth fighting. The best proof is, and will always be, in the pudding. There are so many fierce ladies killing it out there–find one who motivates you to dial down the bitter aftertaste of resentment (or retrograding indifference), and start supporting the shit out of her.
There are so many female voices worth listening to that it’s impossible to think none of them could speak to you, or could provide you with a new source of daily inspiration. It comes in a profusion of forms including books, magazines, newsletters, music, videos, television, films, and good ol’ blogs– each of them presenting a different perspective from the last one. What’s going on with female astronomers this day in age? I haven’t a clue, but I think space is cool, and the universe is so bizarre, and I can almost guarantee you there’s a blog for that. And don’t even get me started on comedy, stand-up and written. I honestly think it’s The Future– haven’t you noticed everyone’s trying to be more and more witty? Even Hollywood’s doing it! And trust me, if those guys (ha, get it) are doing it, then you can assume they’ve struck gold. If you haven’t already, you should watch the new Ali Wong on Netflix, or follow Dana Schwartz and Anne T. Donnahue on Twitter. Those girls are hilarious… whoever said girls couldn’t be funny? As someone who’s studying film theory, I’m most drawn to criticism on the representation of female bodies in the media, and the lack of a well-rounded repertoire of female creators in our textbooks. I’m really excited by films that show aspects of women’s lives that aren’t usually the stuff of cinema, which is to say anything in which they aren’t flawlessly fragile babe shows ready to pounce on so-called Prince Charmings (give or take the charm). I also personally find it fascinating to touch base with how women’s voices gained momentum in the first place, such as through documentaries like Janie’s Janie (1970) and Joyce at 34 (1972), or Silvia Federici’s manifesto Wages for Housework (which is accessible online and you should totally read). But that’s because I like history and I like movies–half the fun in finding what you like is looking for it. So either pick up an oar or star kicking– cause we’re due for some time relaxing in the sun.
Illustration by Robert John Paterson