Close your eyes and take a minute to envision a feminist. What does that mental image entail? Do you see a woman? A sign-waving man-hater with hairy armpits because shaving is what the patriarchy wants us to do? Do you picture a man? Or a soccer mom? A woman in a pantsuit, perhaps? The truth is, there is no look that readily identifies someone as a feminist anymore. Because if you believe in gender equality — and people of many different races, backgrounds, and cultures do — then you are a feminist.
Though the picture is changing for many people, there’s still an overarching view of feminists as bra-burning rebels, eschewing the traditional “trappings” of womanhood. Historically, thanks to a misogynistic culture, anything feminine has automatically become associated with sensitivity, weakness, and fragility. And since the earliest feminists were struggling to escape the constraints set forth by a male-driven society — I mean, they weren’t even supposed to wear pants — they rallied against the very items that tangibly represented their oppression: corsets, petticoats, skirts. To clothe yourself in those symbols of subjugation was to accept it. To look like a woman meant you were okay with being treated like one. You couldn’t emphasize your femininity and demand the same treatment and liberties as a man.
But there’s not as much need to address the basics of physical appearance anymore, the bottom rungs of a ladder that generations of activists have worked tirelessly to climb. It’s about so much more than what we wear, or refuse to wear. The landscape has changed, and thereby, so has the traditional feminist “look.” Women’s rights have evolved by leaps and bounds, and we’ve moved on to advocating for more important issues, no longer battling for the basic right to wear something with legs. Because the pendulum had to swing so far in the opposite direction to make a point, it has taken a long time to come back around — but we’re safer now to embrace even the most stereotypically feminine aspects of our personalities without risking a loss of legitimacy. We’re working on cracking glass ceilings and showing that we can damn well do it in stilettos if we so choose.
The long line of feminists who came before us fought for our ability to live without being chained to certain ideas of what a woman “should” be like. That doesn’t mean we need to skew in the complete opposite direction when it comes to our appearance, which thanks to their efforts is the least of our worries these days. Feminism is standing up for the freedom to be unashamedly who you are, without having to worry about being treated differently or paid unequally because of it. And feminist voices are powerful in a baseball cap and sweats or in lipstick and heels, whether we book ourselves regular bikini waxes or have leg hair so long we could braid that shit.
It doesn’t matter if we like finance or flower gardening, because we still have equal capabilities, passion, and brainpower to contribute to it. And the whole idea behind feminism is for that fact to be recognized and celebrated. It’s not about disallowing us to enjoy pink and makeup and adorable kittens; it’s about empowering us to like whatever we like, whether it fits into a gender-typical mold or not, and not be held to a different standard as a result.
At one time in history, achieving equality may have meant looking and acting more like a man. But thanks to the sustained and ongoing efforts of feminists of all types, we can embrace the things we enjoy — even if they’re on the girly side. In true feminism, there’s room for each of us: from false-eyelash-wearing glitter aficionados to people who wouldn’t be caught dead inside a Sephora, all united by the belief that we don’t have to conform to anybody’s outdated notions of what a real woman — or a real feminist — looks like.
Because as every modern-day feminist knows, you can still seize the patriarchy by the balls with nicely manicured nails.