How to be a happy feminist in the real world

Up next in the back-to-school series (miss part 1?): So you’re a feminist. How do you work that in the real world?

The folks over at abortiongang have a very nice little primer for how to make your feminism more palatable to others.

They have some good tips but, with respect, I think it can go a little bit further. Sometimes you want to play nice and sometimes you want to confront some serious bullshit. Here’s my list of things you can do to rock out your feminism.

  • Wear your feminism on your sleeve, or rather, wear it on your tshirt, backpack buttons, notebook, cellphone cover…etc. (What’s this? You can buy cool Siren merch? Yeah, I’m shameless.) Let your tshirt/button/whatever do the talking for you. It can be an ice-breaker, stir up controversy or make someone think. Live in the dorms? Put a NARAL sticker on your door.
  • The other thing about advertising your feminism is that it will attract other feminists. Now you’re finding the community and that’s a great thing. Not feeling the feminist tee? Try checking out some groups and clubs. If your campus is lucky enough to have a Women’s Studies Department, they will usually have the info on campus clubs. You can also scan campus bulletin boards. Look for key words like “pro-choice,” “equality,” “pro-women,” “womyn”… stuff like that. Some campuses (like UNLV) have a Women’s Center organization that offers different programs and events. Very good.
  • But what if you go to a school that has no Women’s Studies Dept. and no groups. It happens. I went to a school like that my freshman year (then I transferred to the University of Oregon, which is awesome. Go Ducks!). This is a good time to check out organizations and groups in the community. NOW, Planned Parenthood, AAUW. There are many national organizations with local chapters. Check ’em out. (PS: I highly recommend Planned Parenthood of Southern Nevada and their many groups. SURJ. And the Nevada Women’s Lobby, if you’re politically minded.)
  • Even easier than going to a group’s meeting is getting hooked up with their social network. You know the drill. Facebook. Twitter. Et al. Plus, when you start following a group, you may attract friends with similar interests or even discover your old friends and family share more in common with you than you thought.
  • Go to a feminist event! Take Back the Night. The Vagina Monologues. Domestic Violence Awareness Month (PS: That’s October). These perennial events happen for a reason! It brings the community — young and old — together. If you show up at an event, rally or protest, it’s a guarantee that you will meet others who share your feminist beliefs. Plus, it’s a blast to go to a feminist rally!
  • Buy Girl Scout Cookies. Well, maybe only if you are confronted with someone like Washington Republican Hans Zieger, who said the organization is a “pro-abortion, feminist training corps.” I knew those cookies were delicious!

And some things I recommend against:

  • Don’t argue just to argue. I am totally supportive of voicing your opinion, sharing feminism with others and even trying to change some minds. But I don’t think it’s productive or healthy to just have a shouting match with someone for the sake of being right or  shouting the loudest. Sometimes discussion turns to red-faced arguing. It’s possible that will lead somewhere productive, but very unlikely.
  • Likewise, it’s alright to get mad but keep it respectful. There are a lot of things in this world I don’t like. But there are only a few I hate. I really hate bigotry, anti-choice rhetoric and scare-tactics. They’re wrong. They’re hurtful. And they are a trap. Don’t get caught in the trap. There are some minds you will never change. There are some fights that take class and finesse over shock and awe.
  • Pick your battles. For one thing, you will wear yourself out and burn out on the cause. For another, sometimes you can’t transfer out of the sexist, pervert’s class. I had an algebra class my freshman year that was taught by the school’s football coach. (No joke!) I was one of about three women in a room full of football players and their coach. And I suck at math. (How stereotypical, I know.) I walked in with long, bright-pink hair, punk clothes and combat boots. “Coach” wasn’t going to like me no matter what I did after that. There was no other class. There was no other teacher. I had to make it work. And the fact is, he knew I hated his bigoted politics from the moment he saw me. I didn’t have to say a word, so I usually didn’t. (Even when he stood at the front of the class and gave his opinions on the daily newspapers headlines for half the class period.) This doesn’t mean I sold out what I believed. I didn’t do anything I didn’t believe in, dress a different way or anything like that. I just saw that fighting the teacher wasn’t going to change the situation I was in. I needed the class. I worked hard. And I got a B.
  • Don’t sweat it too much if some of your old friends and/or family members don’t agree with your new-found feminism or your newly vocal feminism. Sometimes it takes a while for people to warm up to a change. Give them time. Don’t lecture them. Make piece with the fact that they might not come around completely. But you can still love them. It doesn’t make you any less feminist. I promise.

Next up: Safety. Safety. Safety.

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