Little to our surprise, Beyoncé’s recent feminist move caused, once again, a great deal of polarization in women’s opinion. Like most of her feminist moves in the past, this one wasn’t free from dividing reactions either: on one side, people are glorifying her contribution to the promotion of the feminist cause and, on the other side, her behavior is being condemned as anti-feminist. Disagreeing responses come from women across diverse age groups and cultural and racial backgrounds. Stances go from she’s objectifying herself and being a bad role model, to at least she’s exposing the feminist cause to bigger audiences, and all the way to she’s a powerful free woman who’s making smart use of her voice for the benefit of us all. A similar division in opinion, although based on somewhat different stances, was caused by UFC fighter, Ronda Rousey, by saying that a woman who “tries to be pretty and be taken care of by somebody else”, is a “do-nothing bitch”.
These women’s moves in the name of feminism, whether we find them right or wrong, are not necessarily problematic, the way we respond to them is.
I enjoy learning from the diversity of people’s perspectives on feminism, whether they call themselves feminists or not, but I find this particular conversation draining, mainly because it seems divisive between individuals. Many of the opinions are shaped by individual preferences, and they are explicitly targeted to Beyoncé, or Rousey –individuals themselves. The lack of a spirit of unified purpose is concerning.
Our cause has an individual and a collective aspect so, undeniably, its promotion should be done with wisdom, which means that we must strive to ensure that our individual actions are the cause of progress for all. This implies two areas of work: on one hand, feminism is an individual effort, a personal responsibility; on the other hand, we share our efforts with others and maintain a dialogue; this way we continue educating ourselves and our societies along the way. But it doesn’t mean, at any point, that we must be concerned with monitoring and criticizing other women’s efforts, or lack of efforts, and then undervalue them as less than intelligent humans, whether celebrities or not.
Perhaps most feminists would agree that the main purpose of today’s feminism could be simply defined as the pursuit for the establishment of equality of opportunity and treatment for all humans. An equality that is not just to be manifested in the systems and structures that run our societies, but an equality that would be engraved in all our minds and that will shape our attitudes towards all humans. However, the journey to that goal is different for different people. And that is ok.
Our different understandings of the practice of feminism come, in great part, from our education and from our different experiences with discrimination. For instance, some experiences with discrimination are more intense and more frequent, so they require more immediate attention, but, naturally, when society doesn’t give them enough attention it causes more anger and indignation, which is why some expressions of feminism would come off stronger. We must understand this because policing each other’s efforts based on a lack of understanding of each other’s struggles undermines the validity of those experiences and weakens our efforts to bring about universal equality.
It’s a known thing that, unfortunately, women can be very cruel when it comes to judging other women, from looks to life and career choices –or lack of –; but we need to realize that disunity amongst us will not add to our cause, it will destroy it. We’ve had enough centuries of teaching girls to compete against each other for the attention of boys; our future girls don’t need to transform that rivalry into who practices feminism right and who doesn’t.
Feminism is not about hating men, it’s not about being condescending to women who don’t call themselves feminists, and it’s definitely not about belittling women who make choices we don’t agree with (whether she is a self-objectified woman, or a stay home mom, or a single career woman). It’s about being free to choose who we want to be while expressing love to all. It’s about celebrating freedom of choice over imposed standards, including those choices we wouldn’t personally make. It’s about wanting freedom for all individuals to develop their potentialities in the path of their choice.
Feminism also suggests that all of us have complete freedom to express our perspectives and practice our own principles in life, as loudly and firmly as we like; but we have to be conscious that directly offending another woman’s expression of feminism will destabilize our cause. The goal of our cause is bigger than our personal preferences. We don’t have to agree on how we practice feminism, it’s ok to disagree and it’s ok to express our perspective as strongly as we want, but not by putting other women down, because it reinforces our differences instead of encouraging equality. Turning away the attention from the main goal (equality of opportunity and freedom of choice) to our personal values is counterproductive for feminism; it’s self-righteous. The most productive thing to do would be to use our voice and example to share what we believe without belittling other women’s actions; in this way, we would be having a fair conversation about feminism. We must remember that we are having a conversation.
Feeling passionate about a subject is beautiful, having the ability to converse about that subject is even more beautiful, but the most magnificent thing is to direct that ability to bring us closer. So what I suggest is that when we are about to share a passionate opinion, whether about a celebrity or the girl next door, we think about how our words are bringing us closer, as one humanity. The goal of our cause is more certain than its journey, which means that together we are learning what the best way to achieve our extraordinary goal is. No single attempt will be perfect, but they will all contribute to the conversation.
It won’t be too hard to maintain a fair conversation if our purpose is equality for all. Our experiences and our struggles may be different in form and intensity, but by having widespread and inclusive conversations and caring for all through empathy, is how all our perspectives will contribute to achieve that main goal many of us share: to live in harmony. Harmony will not be achieved by imposing personal principles, or by superficially listening to each other, it will come from our unity. Conversations that are nondiscriminatory and encourage universal participation will lead to unity. It is in this sense that I ask us to think what will be more beneficial for all, criticizing each other in the name of equality, or conversing about equality with a spirit of unity?