The Unapologetic Feminist

“I guess I am one of those angry feminists!” my friend told me secretively in a hushed voice. Her eyes looked wet and shiny. Shame glowed on her cheeks. Her breath was warm and it was as if the last syllable of the last word came out in a great, big, puff against my face. The sentence could not be contained in the pouring cold rain.

For a moment I was transported one hundred years back in time, when women did not have the right to vote and were not respected enough to have a political opinion. The next second, the moment was lost as my friend let out a roaring laugh. I joined her in laughing at the ridiculous stereotype. We all know the type: the angry feminist, that goes on endless rants about patriarchy, rape culture and gender inequality while no one listens.

It was only much later that I thought back on that day in the rain and my friend’s statement. Something about it haunted me. It might have been the colour of embarrassment on her cheeks or the tone of her voice. Her tone had been almost apologetic. Why had she been apologetic for having a political opinion? Moreover, why had her political statement been turned into a joke?

But above all I wondered: who are these angry feminists? Do they even exist? And if so, what are they so angry about?

When I was a little girl I learnt that “If you don’t have anything nice to say, you shouldn’t say anything at all”. Now, I am a grown woman and I have a lot of not-so-nice things to say. I am going to say them, and not apologise.

After all, people say many not-so-nice things about feminists all the time, without apologising. Perhaps that is why the feminists are so angry. People say feminists are too hairy, too loud and that their clothes don’t correspond with the gender identity society assigned to them. I often hear the question “Why can’t they just wear a bra, shave their legs and shut up?” followed by the answer that feminists have received a lack of heterosexual intercourse. Clearly, the feminist message has been lost on a great mass of people if they believe having sex can cure political views.

Other questions remain: do radical feminist activists muddle their ideology by creating a media scandal each time they take their tops off at a political event? The average woman does not care much for walking topless, letting her body hair grow or burning her bra. Who is feminism for then? Many would say that we have reached gender equality and that the remaining group of feminists are just socially maladjusted people. However, writing off political activists as imbeciles just because they are women, is a common patriarchal mastering technique and has been used throughout time to subdue women.

It seems feminism has become such a dirty word that you cannot say it without an apologetic tone or without preceding it with “I believe in gender equality but I wouldn’t identify myself as a…”. The shame of the word is intrinsically tied up with the notion of a woman in control of her body and her mind.

Everyday we encounter naked and half-naked bodies in the media, TV commercials and press. Poster girls are selected, photographed, edited and re-touched to perfection by an outside party. No one lifts an eyebrow to these monstrous alterations of reality. However, faces turn away in disgust when a feminist activist takes her top off or a mother breast-feeds her child. A woman with black hairs on her upper lip, a woman with unshaved armpits or a woman wearing a hijab are all discriminated against in different ways.  It seems that women making active and independent choices about their bodies, women in control of their bodies or any female body not following the norm – is frowned upon. While a female body subjected to violence, sex, humiliation, degradation and exploitation is considered beautiful.

For a moment, consider the time that an average woman spends every day in order to make her body presentable: showering, shaving, shampooing, drying her hair, applying lotion, applying make-up, painting her nails, fixing her hair, cramming into ill-fitting clothes and so on. Now, imagine if all that time was spent on studying, excelling at work or simply relaxing. Half of the population’s full potential is continually being wasted because women have to change their bodies to avoid discrimination.

Some feminists argue that women go through beauty treatments to feel good about themselves and to increase their self-confidence. In their opinion, a woman has the right to decide what to do with her own body and therefore no one should tell her to stop shaving or stop using make up. Truly, no one should be restricted in their lifestyle choices. However, self-confidence should come from inside: from one’s intellect, personality and spirit. It should not be motivated by how well one succeeds to meet the beauty standards set by society.

We need feminism because women still don’t have the same chances in society as men, because the destiny of the female body is still in the hands of powerful men and because to be a feminist is still considered dirty and shameful. I believe it is time to stop apologising and to start saying those not-so-nice things that should have been said a long, long time ago.

[Sofia Lindén]

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