Why the “Perfect Feminist” doesn’t exist

I don’t plan to make commentary on feminist issues a regular topic of discussion. Without belaboring the point, there are female-feminists out there who believe that a man simply cannot be a proper feminist, and will short circuit any disagreement within feminism by claiming the other person only holds the opposite opinion “because they are a man.” Obviously, this is not true of every feminist, and I’ve personally never been challenged with this argument, but I’ve watched it happen in open forums enough that I’m gun shy about voicing my opinions.

With that out of the way, I saw an interesting article asking “Who is the better feminist: Lily Allen or Miley Cyrus?” The crux of the article is that Miley Cylus takes ownership of her sexuality but is still allowing herself to be sexualized, and Lily Allen is righteously angry and takes on the patriarchy and its oppression head on. Apparently, we have to pick a side; one of these is the “true” feminism. One of these women is a “better feminist.”

In my mind, this is a forced dichotomy, and the concept of one feminist being better than another is simply baffling. To me, a large part of modern feminism is choice. Society may tell you what is “right” and “proper” for a woman, specifically telling you where you should sit in terms of feminine and masculine qualities, but you have the right to completely ignore them and find your own way. If the problem with the patriarchy is that it tells women who to be, then feminism isn’t really going anywhere if all it says is that you have to be the opposite simply to be contrarian.

To that end, there is no such thing as the “perfect” feminist. If feminism is about choice, and it’s impossible for a single person to embody all choices simultaneously, then it’s impossible for that single person to be perfect.

Take, for example, the question of a woman’s sexuality. On the one hand, a woman “should” express their sexuality and have as many partners as they can to stand up against prudish cultural norms and slut shaming. On the other hand, a woman “should” dress in a non-provacative and gender neutral way to stand up against the objectification of women. Likewise, a woman “should” be sexually selective to stand up against a male-benefitting hookup culture that plays right into our pervasive rape culture. Likewise, a woman “should” be willing to be feminine, because femininity is equal to masculinity, and stand up against growing cultural moods that invalidate women who do not “act like men.”

Those are all valid stances for a feminist to take, but I don’t think it’s too hard to see why some of them are mutually exclusive.

I think the best way to go about this is to create a “Pantheon” of women (and men!) who exemplify all the different and valid ways to express gender. Variety is the name of the game here. Try to find conscientiously feminine women, bold sexually liberated women, masculine women, respectful and masculine men, effeminate straight men, effeminate gay men, transgendered people, etc. We should raise all of those up on a pedestal and say “Take your pick. It’s your choice!”

With that in mind, who are some people you would put in your gender pantheon? Feel free to include fictional characters too, since they can be just as inspiring.

One thought on “Why the “Perfect Feminist” doesn’t exist

  1. Interesting post. I’ve run into the “men can’t be feminists” thing a few times online. It does bother me and has had a somewhat self-censoring effect on some of my own writing on this topic.

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