Mean Girls and Feminism

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I’m a feminist who believes there are many ways to be a woman, to be femme, to be maternal. I can value skills and talents I don’t have in other women. I can support interests and passions that don’t do much for me. I can make space for other women to express themselves, and I can learn.

One of the most important things I have learned is that it’s all too easy to try to elevate ourselves on the backs of other women, especially if we have race, class or cis privilege in our favor. The woman-hating world we live in encourages unhealthy competition between women, so that we can aid the patriarchy in oppressing each other.

You can be against marriage as a legal contract without suggesting married women aren’t real feminists. You can push to more women CEOs without throwing homemakers under the bus. You can question the cost to society of unpaid childcare without casting child-free women as shrill and selfish.

You can support breastfeeding without insulting formula. You can defend nursing in public without slut-shaming women who display their breasts for pleasure or money. There is no rule that says women must fight against each other to secure our rights. In fact, fighting each other keeps us distracted from the job of dismantling patriarchy.

I know we have areas of real disagreement, matters of principle where we cannot budge, unresolved harms we aren’t ready to forgive. Feminism includes women I could fall in love with and people I wouldn’t want to spit on if they were on fire (trans exclusionary feminists, that’s you!) But where we can agree, where we can work together toward common goals, I wish we would.

At the very least, we can watch our words, and take care with what we say. We can consider the impact of what we say before we say it, and who our message might damage beyond our target. If I call one woman fat or slut or bitch, I am signalling to the world that it’s okay to judge women by their size or sexuality or gender. To quote my favorite movie Mean Girls, “You all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it okay for guys to call you sluts and whores.”

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