Do you wear lipstick, or high heels, or short skirts? Have you, during the course of a heterosexual marriage, changed your last name? Regardless of whether you hold a job, do you find yourself taking care of your kids while other moms are “leaning in” to the demands of a boss in the paid workforce?
Honestly, who cares?
The nitty-gritty details of your personal life do not influence whether you can be a feminist, nor do they influence your ability to be a cause-advancing member of Team Gender Equality.
Still, the media continues to advance a false and worthless narrative of what we can call Dos and Don’ts Feminism, which posits that criticizing a woman’s personal life is a feminist act and further that one woman’s choices set an example that all other women must follow. Both practices are offensive and not feminist. Let’s look a little closer.
First, feminism is a movement that holds at its core the ideals of respect for the self-determination of individual women, as well as compassion for the lived experiences of women more generally. Accordingly, attacking, criticizing, and needling women for the way they live is not an expression of feminist ideals.
Further, the practice of criticizing women’s personal lives — for even thinking that women’s personal lives belong to the public domain — is rooted in a centuries-old pattern of sexism where men are supposed to get the public sphere, and can be disagreed with on the level of their ideas, and women are supposed to get the private sphere, and can be disagreed with on the level of who they are.
Second, one woman’s choices do not set an example that all other women must follow. In no legitimate feminism is there one ideal woman who we’re all supposed to be. I say no legitimate feminism because actually there are feminisms, not feminism (and any feminist who tries to assure you there is only feminism like what she says is probably fairly dictatorial, pretty insecure, and whether self-aware or not benefiting from some unhealthy dollops of unearned privilege, be they race, ethnicity, ability, religious status, gender conformity, sexual orientation, and/or marital status).
An outcome of feminism for women is agency, or the ability to direct the course of our own lives, and the proper placement of perspective with regard to women, that say, our bodies are actually about our bodies and not God’s will to be interpreted and enforced through (primarily male) theocrats. It’s not far by extension that a woman’s personal life is actually about that woman’s personal life and not about what potential should exist for all other women’s personal lives. In the context of a social movement that works for the ability of all people, and especially women, to truly express their own free will, it’s fine to draw inspiration from the lives of other women, but that does not mean that each woman must set an example for others. Men are not subjected to this, not this way.
Picking apart a woman’s personal life is not a feminist activity, nor does it reveal whether or not that woman can be a feminist. Feminist behavior lies in how we treat others, and how we work to ensure others are treated. Scrutinizing women’s personal lives is a waste of time, it’s not feminist, and let’s be real — it’s really mean. Dos and Don’ts Feminism can die now.