My friends and I aspire to the former, so here’s the final five of my top ten ways to be a badass feminist:
- Stop reading those dating advice sites.
First of all, it will make you paranoid. Just take a look at the headlines on the current Marie Claire dating advice page: “10 Things Guys Think You Lie About” or “7 Things He’s Hiding” or “8 Things He’s Thinking But Won’t Say.” Sheesh. How you’re supposed to walk away from an hour on that site and not look like Tweak from South Park, twitching every five seconds and eyes bulging with terror—I don’t know.
Second, a disturbingly high number of dating advice columns and sites that are purportedly for women focus on men: what they want, how they feel, specific actions and gestures that turn them on, and how they want you to act. Sexism? Take this as Exhibit A. Newsflash: men are people, too. You already know a lot of them. Their feelings, wants, and turn-ons—like yours—are more about personality and life experience than gender. Which means they are going to be more individual than these gross generalizations would lead you to believe. And your desire for a lifelong partner doesn’t require you to cater to sexist stereotypes. So stop freaking out.
But not everybody gets it wrong. Some sites really do want you to be happy, healthy, and independent as a single woman who’s open to love. Here’s a great example of what dating advice should look like.
- Directly address problems. And be firm but respectful about it.
In an adult ESL classroom where I’ve been volunteering, a student recently fell asleep. It was interesting to watch reactions from the female educators in the room. The teacher did nothing, concluding that one night of exhaustion wasn’t worth addressing for this otherwise dedicated, engaged student. I had the opportunity to work with him one-on-one later during class and asked if everything was okay. “Work,” he said and wasn’t interested in pursuing the topic further. So I didn’t. Another volunteer waited until he left the room and started talking about how anxious and avoidant he was.
Afterwards, I had a good talk with my advisor (also female) who has decades of classroom experience with adult students. It turns out the teacher had it right. My advisor said that when working with adults, you’ll always get a better outcome if you make problem-solving direct and collaborative. Just say, “Hey, I noticed this is giving us some problems. How can we solve it?” Use “we” to show you’re in it with them.
Passive-aggressive behavior and indirect aggression are counterproductive. Girls are socialized in childhood to stop beating each other up and use indirect aggression instead. Men eventually get there by the time they’re in the workplace where they can’t just beat up their boss because he gave them the evil eye (you can read more about male and female aggression here). But women especially get a bad rap for being passive-aggressive and indirect. We need to change that. When there’s a problem, the power position is to head negotiations—not snap at someone or wait until they leave the room.
- Build a career.
Whether you’re an 18-year-old freshman trying to figure out your major, a 31-year-old stay-at-home mom, or a 49-year-old looking at a career change, keep your eye on the ball, ladies. Play the long game. I’m not one of those crazies who think everyone needs to keep that full-time job after you become a mom. That’s not what feminism is about, and that deal is right for some but totally wrong for others. Kickass feminists will support women in every variety of lifestyle. My point is simply to regard yourself as more than a student, a wife, a mom, a single woman. We’re more than our age and relationship status. We are all capable of offering something valuable beyond our own families. And we shouldn’t lose sight of that, no matter what life stage we’re in. So take yourself seriously, dream big, and figure out what your legacy is going to be. And then make it happen. Even if it’s sometimes only five or ten minutes a day. It still counts.
- Keep doing your own thing, even in a relationship.
One of my best friends complains about one of her best friends every time the woman is in a relationship. I wouldn’t call it indirect aggression because she’s already been a good friend and had several direct conversations with her. To no avail. Still, the bff changes every time she’s in a new relationship. Her boyfriend’s hobbies become her hobbies. His friends become her friends. His favorite shows are now her favorites. Which is all very cool, except that it doesn’t work the other way. This is the part my friend gripes about, and I’m with her. It’s not even a question of whether a guy is worth that. It’s a question of mental health and being a mature adult. If your guy loves football and you hate it, be a good sport and go with him once to see if you can enjoy it. If you can’t, it’s okay. Stop going. Part of being a kickass, feminist partner is encouraging your loved ones to do the things they love–even if sometimes that means without you.
So, too, you should keep doing your favorite things. I love kayaking, camping, museums, writing groups, readings, shooting pool, and coffees out. My fiancé isn’t a fan of most of these things, but because I keep doing them, he sometimes gives them a try. Which is very sexy. And it allows us both to stretch ourselves—rather than just one person sacrificing all the time to go along with the other. Not healthy.
- Tell your truth loudly and fearlessly—and don’t stand for interruptions.
People talk over me all the time. I’m a soft-spoken woman with a gentle, open communication style. So men and women both cut into my statements all the time. I either raise my voice or I politely wait until they finish, at which point I continue what I was saying. Either way, I still say it. I shouldn’t have to not.
Men don’t get interrupted to the extent women do—especially young women. It’s unacceptable. Plain and simple. It’s unacceptable that society is still in a place where women’s voices are less valued, where women are aggressively disinvited from conversations, and where women constantly have to fight to be heard. All of us need to get better at listening to women and inviting them in. But we women also need to get better at speaking up for ourselves.