But I can't always say that I'm any good kind of feminist.
Putting aside the can of worms that is "good feminism," I confess that I sometimes fall short of my principles. For someone who values gender equality, I can have alarmingly grumpy, weird, terrible, and even misogynistic or misandrist thoughts: "I wish I were a guy She needs to shave I hate when boys try to empathize with me Why is he wrapping his arm around mine like a girl?... I wish people treated me like a princess."
I feel guilty when I indulge in this kind of harmful stereotyping, when I feel comfortable contradicting my feminist values.
Embarrassingly enough, some of these hypocritical moments occur daily. For example, I find it awful that women face significantly more pressure than men to alter their physical appearance and meet particular expectations. And yet, I refuse to reject that double standard for myself: I won't leave my dorm unless I'm wearing at least three layers of cosmetic product on my face. I imagine a pressure to look pretty, and only feel in control of my femininity when I feel pretty. So I conform, almost neurotic about my appearance but also willfully responsible for my own vanity.
I'm not, however, struggling toward empowerment, or attempting to hold myself accountable. In fact, I just feel indifferent. I'm not usually considerate of rejecting unrealistic beauty standards. I have other concerns, more pressing than reconciling my feminism with a personal sense of feminine beauty.
So I accept that double standard, because ignoring sexism is sometimes more comfortable than burdensome. And I like feeling comfortable.
Comfort is how I get through the day. Worrying about being a "good" feminist sometimes inconveniences or exhausts me. I'm not always equipped to clarify what the right move for gender equality is. Worse, I'm not always motivated to explore what troubles me, to act on what may be egregious stereotyping. So, while feeling disturbed by sexism is absolutely critical—and the stakes are high—I think it's acceptable to postpone acting upon my sense of justice occasionally.
The word "occasionally" raises an important question though—one that isn't simply about improving my personal feminism. The question isn't something that I'm always privileged enough to ask, because there are, of course, situations when postponing justice is an unattainable luxury.
But when I am able, I want to know: When is it okay to not feel guilty about complicity? When should I criticize imperfect feminism and when should I just accept it? In which situations am I justified to relax my convictions, to say that cultivating an equitable society isn't my immediate priority?
The answers come easily some days. I can say that unrealistic beauty ideals aren't as important as combating rape culture, for example. Absurd beauty standards seem minor and glib compared to outright violence.
Other days, however, these questions lead to unsettling thoughts: How can I attribute less importance to an unhealthy sense of beauty, when confidence in one's physical appearance connects fundamentally to sexual respect? Unfair beauty ideals should worry me as much as sexual assault, because they promulgate a disrespect similar to that which can enable violence.
On those days, I can't so easily accept or dismiss my complicity. And that's when I want to delve further into how I contradict my feminist values.
I'm dissatisfied with a feminism that merely declares faith in equality, RBG, and consensual sex. Decrying mansplainers and the commercialization of feminism is easy. Comprehending myself as a hypocrite usually isn't.
Seeing myself as such is unflattering but also at times liberating. It's difficult to recognize myself as someone who doesn't always care about upholding my principles. But then I can accept myself as a feminist who fell short. It's as if settling below my standards frees me from the obligations of my espoused values.
I want to be someone who helps cultivate a more enjoyable and equitable society. But I don't think I can accomplish that, not without contradicting myself sometimes and not knowing why it happens. For me, taking action isn't as important right now as understanding my hypocrisy. I first need a working measure by which I can determine when to feel comfortable with hypocrisy, and when hypocrisy should make me worried. Only then can I know how to honestly maintain my personal standards for a better feminism.
Laura Allen is a Barnard senior majoring in English. She is a former associate copy editor for Spectator and the president of the Barnard Outdoor Adventure Team. Laurem Ipsum runs alternate Thursdays.
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