The Fine Line Between Being a Bad Feminist & a Badass Feminist

For a while now, I’ve been struggling to put something into words. I felt like there was no way I could properly express myself in a way that would be coherent enough for someone else to understand while still being exactly what I mean. Then, last week, I watched stand-up comedian Iliza Shlesinger’s new Netflix special, Unveiled, and in the midst of all the laughter, Shlesinger said exactly what I’ve been thinking:

“...In the wake of Me Too and Time’s Up, all of these important, very necessary movements, what’s come out of it is women policing other women, and we walk around as women being terrified of being called bad feminists by, quite frankly, other bad feminists. So we all walk around on this heightened alert like, ‘She’s amazing! I didn’t say anything! Don’t get mad at me! I love all women! No woman’s ever made a mistake ever!’ Terrified that if we give an actual opinion, we’re going to get crucified. That if you say any criticism, some blogger in the back of the room is going to be like, ‘Female comic shamed my choices by existing...!’ So we all walk around and all we’re doing is blaming other women for our own insecurities, and all of a sudden, everyone is shaming everyone by sharing an opinion that you fought so valiantly to get to exercise.”

Towards the end of the show she says, “If I had a man here and he was heckling me the whole show, ruining the show and just being an idiot, I could snap and I could say something hacky like, ‘Well, you’re bald and fat and I bet you’ve got a small dick!’ Right?” And the audience laughs. Shlesinger continues with, “If I had a woman here who was yelling at me, being rude, interrupting your show, interrupting my night at work… If she was doing that and acting like an asshole and I snapped and said, ‘Well, you’re a fat, ugly bitch!’” And the audience immediately, without missing a beat, gasps and does that annoying “Ooooooh” that kids do when their friend gets called into the principal’s office. Shlesinger points at the audience with a smirk on her face and exclaims, “She’s not even real and you’re like, ‘Don’t shame her!!’”

Photo credit: Instagram @ilizas

So, why did I just write two whole excerpts from Shlesinger’s show? To tell you to go watch it? No. (Yes.) What I was struggling to express, I originally thought, was how I can’t talk about opinions of mine that are considered “unpopular opinions” without the fear that someone would crawl out of the woodwork and like, stab me or something for not agreeing with the masses. What I now realize is that it isn’t just that some random man will crawl out of the woodwork, it’s that I just know it’s going to be a woman. One time in my English class, I mentioned that I have an obsessive personality (because, spoiler alert, that happens when you have severe anxiety) and a girl in my class had the audacity to raise her hand and say, “I just don’t think anyone should be self-diagnosing and saying they have OCD when―” and because I really don’t like this girl and have had many run ins with her before, I turned around and said (more aggressively than I needed to) “That’s not what I said.” Now, all her minions in that class hold it against me, and sometimes I’m nervous about talking in that class because I know one of them is going to have some stupid comment to make.

We’ve probably all been told, “You’re your own worst enemy.” Somewhere along the line, for women, that became untrue. Other women have become our worst enemy because we police each other more than anyone else polices us. For as long as I can remember, feminists have been saying, “Feminism isn’t about hating men, it’s about equality,” and I still believe that’s true, but now it seems that feminism has become about hating women who don’t agree with you. It’s one thing to disagree on whether or not dark or milk chocolate is best and a complete other thing to disagree on whether or not gay people deserve rights, but this new wave of “woke” feminism means that if I say I like dark chocolate best and you like milk chocolate best, you’re now allowed to blacklist me and get all of your family, your friends, your classmates, etc. to blacklist me, too. The line between being a bad feminist and a badass feminist has become so thin, if you say one thing to disagree with the masses, you’re very quickly outcasted. If you don’t conform to what the masses think, you’re suddenly a bad feminist. And wasn’t feminism created to give womxn a chance to speak their truth without fearing massive backlash?

We all have controversial opinions. No one is perfectly “left” or “right” or “centrist.” Human beings love to put things into easy to check off boxes, but we live our lives on a sliding scale that allows us to bleed into other boxes in order to truly express ourselves. We can’t keep policing each other and assuming everyone really means what they’re saying, because we’ve created a norm where we’re allowed to attack and even “cancel” people who don’t agree with us.

Objectively bad things do exist. Discrimination, rape, abuse. Differing opinions are not objectively bad. They keep the world interesting and allow us to express our true selves. We have to unlearn how to police each other so severely that people become afraid to express themselves. Seattle is often criticized for being a “bubble” where a bunch of “soft, left snowflakes” reside. I can’t disagree that we live in a bubble. Because no one can really express a different opinion, Seattle and many other big, progressive cities/areas become an echo chamber, where even if you disagree with an idea originally, you repeat the idea so often you might even start to believe it. For example, after the Planned Parenthood debacle at Seattle University, many people wanted Father Sundborg to resign. In the heat of my anger, I agreed, desperate to see a change at my university. When I talked to my English professor, without me even saying I wanted Sundborg to resign, she expressed how she was concerned with how quickly that desire had spread throughout the students. “No one is talking about it anymore, they’re just calling for his resignation. I would rather sit down with him and hear what the other has to say. I don’t agree with him and I never will, but if we were to talk to each other, we might actually understand where the other is coming from.”

My brother and I have incredibly different political views, but he’s still one of my favorite people. I mean, he’s my little brother, for crying out loud. Of course I love him despite our differences. Many nights, we’ve found each other in heated debates, where at the end of the debate, through actual conversation, I’ve understood that I’m close minded to his views and he’s understood he’s that he’s close minded to mine. A few times I’ve even managed to help him see how some of his views are bigoted in a learned way, and then we try to dissect how it was learned and how it can be unlearned. It’s so much nicer talking to him and hearing his side and knowing he’s hearing mine, rather than just repeating what everyone is saying so no one will try to behead me.

There’s no one right way to be a badass feminist, but in order to change this strange, hypocritical culture we’ve created, we have to be willing to really listen to different opinions, not just hear them and quickly forget or, even worse, not allow ourselves to be exposed to different opinions. We are better than this. Challenge yourself to express your own opinions, not just repeat the ones around you. Listen when other people speak, because sometimes it takes a lot of bravery to express a different opinion. Let’s create a culture around genuine dialogue rather than echoes.