Being a Feminist is a Lot Harder Than it Seems

As a girl, I faced several gender-assumptions throughout my childhood. For example, I was the only girl on my tee-ball team as a five-year-old, something that never really phased me, but often “impressed” others around me. In elementary school, I often wanted to play football with the boys at recess, while the girls sat and braided each other’s hair. Only one boy in my grade advocated for me being able to play with the boys, while the rest were opposed. After much persuasion by the boy, they agreed to let me play (...sometimes). 

On a family trip to Disney World, my family went to breakfast at Cinderella’s castle, where the girls were given complimentary wands and the boys were given complimentary swords. When I reached for one of the swords over one of the wands, the Disney employee -an older woman- told me that the swords were only for the boys and that the wands were for the “pretty fairies” like me. I reluctantly took the sword and carried on with the breakfast.

I first identified with the feminist movement early-on in high school, when Emma Watson launched the HeForShe Campaign, a campaign “to end gender inequality,” during her address the United Nations as a UN Goodwill Ambassador in 2014. As I watched the speech in its entirety from my Twitter feed, Watson’s message resonated with me.

“For the record,” she said, “Feminism by definition is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of political, economic and social equality of the sexes.” 

Watson would go on to recount how she had encountered gender-based assumptions in her own life, whether it be her girlfriends quitting sports as to not be seen as “muscly,” or her male friends being unable to express their feelings, or pay differences between her and her male counterparts. I had just become a sophomore in an all-girls Catholic high school and didn’t understand how any young woman or man could disagree with her empowering message. But as I brought it to the attention of those around me, they rolled their eyes at the mention of “feminism.” I was confused but continued to agree with her sentiments in private.

I grew closer to my feminist identity during Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016. Now a senior in high school, I was becoming more and more aware of the harsh realities of the world around me. Growing up in a predominantly wealthy, “cushy” community, most of my friends were conservative, while I was liberal. I had no issue with this. 

Then, the Access Hollywood tape of Trump claiming that when you’re famous, you can do anything you want, even “grab ‘em by the pussy” surfaced. I was appalled. I thought there was no way he could win the election. My school hosted a faux-election, with everyone in my 250-person middle and high school voting for their preferred presidential candidates. Although I was at a small, conservative Catholic school, I assumed that this leak would take its toll on the young female voters. It did not. Trump won by a landslide. 

Then, I came to college. Coming to a co-ed college from a single-sex high school was an eye-opening experience and unfortunately, a devastating one for my status as a feminist. I found myself tearing down other women when I felt threatened by them. I found myself believing that a woman could take control of her body and “hook up” with whoever whenever, but hastily jumped to conclusions about them when their sex lives interfered with my own or with my friends’. I found myself taking jabs at women for their physical features, rather than judging their character. I would always criticize the young women that my ex-boyfriend would flirt with, instead of criticizing my boyfriend for flirting with them.

I would slam other young women I felt threatened by while simultaneously posting “Empowered Women Empower Women” to my Instagram story. And then this year, it hit me: I was a hypocrite. And I needed one hell of an attitude adjustment.

Being a feminist is hard. Practicing what you preach is hard. Being a feminist goes far beyond posting empowering messages on your VSCO and buying a “Call Her Daddy” sweatshirt. It’s about making a conscious decision to acknowledge that it’s a real tough world out there, especially for women. That being said, it’s essential to the feminist movement, and just for human integrity as a whole, to love one another and not make superficial judgments. Don’t put on a feminist facade while bringing down those around you. Acknowledge that we’re all in this together. But then again, know that it’s okay to mess up. It’s all about the process, there’s no such thing as a perfect feminist. I still mess up, more often than I’d like to admit, actually. But I’m making the conscious effort to change my mindset, and working toward being a better feminist, but moreover, a better human. And I ask that you all join me and do the same.