Embarrassingly, I didn't realise I was a feminist until my early twenties. No one had ever told me what that word meant, and the few off-handed comments I had heard in high school suggested something controversial- a big agenda I didn't really understand, like maybe chaining all men in the basement. This didn't sound so bad, but there was an implication that the feminism was something joyless, something humourless, and 16 year old me didn't want to explore that any further. When I realised what feminism actually was, (as the OED puts it "the advocacy of women's rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes"), I was mortified that I had ever been suspicious. Of course I believed women and men are equal, of course I believed in women's rights, where did I ever get the idea that I didn't? Probably because, as adult me has noticed, we're constantly being presented with the dilemmas of being a feminist and it makes it seem pretty complicated. "Help! How do I date as a feminist?" "Can I get married as a feminist?" "How do I have a feminist birthday?!" I exaggerate, of course, but I am a little bewildered that at least once a week I seem to be told that believing men and women are equal means I need a special set of tools to approach everything.
Lauren Bates (who has done amazing work with the Everyday Sexism Project) recently wrote an entire "how to" article for the feminist wedding. Though I have nothing but respect for Bates' project, when it comes to a feminist wedding guide I just can't see the need. Obviously there are many parts of a traditional wedding that are undeniably sexist - the woman being given away by one man to another, speeches normally given only by men, or chucking a bundle of dead flowers at a group of single women and expecting them to wrestle over it like frenzied hyenas. All incredibly sexist indeed. So how is a feminist possibly to cope with wedding planning through a feminist lense? To me, it seems the answer is:
1) Have wedding
2) ...don't do anything sexist
That's it. Sorted. It's your wedding, you can do it however you'd like... why manufacture some great dilemma? Bates is not the only one doing this, there seems to be some agreement that feminism clashes with loads of day to day life. Take this collection of 23 Confessions That Prove Being a Feminist is Complicated Identity. The majority of these say something like, despite being a feminist, the confessor likes kinky sex or to be taken care of financially. But why are we acting as though that's at odds with feminism? I might personally feel strange or unfulfilled living off of someone else's income, but it's a personal choice. As long as you believe women should be able to work and be paid equally for that work I don't see the contradiction. As far as kinky sex, should we be presenting feminism and sexual exploration as mutually exclusive? Maybe that's the problem - if the hormones pulsing through 16 year old me had anything to say about it, feminism never stood a chance.
Treating feminism as a hurdle to everyday life does women and feminism a disservice. Firstly, "how to guides", even delivered with tongue firmly in cheek, and saying things like "I'm a feminist but", presumes you're doing something wrong, something not feminist enough. It suggests that some people are doing it better, without any "buts". Some people follow the guide correctly, some don't. This needs to stop. It's not a competition, there are no points. No one is winning feminism. Stop. Secondly, Let's not a set up a false antagonism between feminism and everyday life, between feminism and liking things that everyone else likes too. Saying "I'm a feminist but I want to get married", "I'm a feminist but I like rough sex" is like saying "I'm a feminist but I believe love", "I'm a feminist but I like I fun". Why wouldn't you? Going around saying "I'm a feminist but I like biscuits and puppies and orgasms" is exactly what makes feminism sounds suspicious, what makes feminism seem controversial. It's not.
We don't need feminist guides to things, we don't need feminist handbooks. Because feminism isn't confusing. It's assuming that all people, regardless of gender, are equal and believing they should be treated equally. That it. Being a feminist isn't hard. Being a woman is hard - just take a look at Bates' Everyday Sexism and the terror of being followed home from the tube, the shock of being masturbated at in public, or the demoralization of being consistently under-valued by coworkers and family members. It happens every day. Being a woman is hard. But being a feminist is the most natural thing in the world.