Historically, women have been empowering themselves through the feminist movement by trouncing stereotypes and limitations and going against the grain: advocating for and obtaining voting rights; overcoming the “homemaker” façade; and, more recently, entering the STEM fields; encouraging a generation that doesn’t tie women to beauty standards; and performing as elite world athletes, to name just a few accomplishments of the movement and work of women.
It is important to celebrate these accomplishments of feminism, as they are part of a decades-long effort to ensure gender equality both through recognition of women’s strength, resilience and capabilities by the government and society at large. However, when we have built a movement that is defined by dissent and resistance by women and allies, we default to assuming that the face of feminism and its progress is defined simply by women taking defiant or unexpected stances to accomplish change. In doing so, we have ignored the women who identify their passions with aspects of the female identity that have been defined by traditional gender roles. Let’s make this clear: we should never uphold gender roles such as, say, the belief that women are intellectually or physically inferior beings, that women do not have a place in the public or political voting sphere or that follow any perspective that poses women as incapable or that restricts women in the scope of their abilities. Nevertheless, we should also not believe that women must be perceived as “different” or outstanding from the rest of the women in society in order to be upstanding feminists or progressive women—and we especially should not shame or have instilled distaste for those who do not.
First and foremost, we should understand that feminism’s goals should be evolving by this point: We are no longer simply working toward obtaining acceptance for women because of what they can do but rather acceptance for women regardless of what they may do. Women should not have to prove themselves or abstain from any and all associations with traditional female gender roles: We live in a society where women are undervalued because they work in hair and makeup industries or artistic sectors, are degraded and called vain for taking pride in or spending time on their appearance and are laughed at because they prioritize the idea of a family life or relationships over work and career goals.
By honing this perspective that women have demonstrated a certain aptitude or like for nontraditional gender roles and therefore should not associate with or consider the possibility of enjoying or prioritizing those aspects of their lives, we are branding a divisive and counteractive type of feminism: a belief that women must be a certain way in order to be respected by society, which is ironic considering that feminism’s original purpose was to take a stand against patriarchal institutions that prevented women from broadening their horizons in life. Moreover, we are not empowering women by necessitating them to defy certain gender roles, but rather we are meshing ourselves with the original belief of patriarchal power that limited women by declaring their, at that time, forced endeavors to be inferior pathways in life. Feminism’s goal should not be trying to make women equal to men by making them have the same interests and pursuits that men traditionally held; feminism, instead, should be trying to make women equal to all peoples by promoting the concept that women are passionate and powerful no matter what it is with which they concern themselves—and should be accepted simply for that reason. This divisive feminism is also hierarchical, as it serves to ultimately further divide women by pushing some down while lifting others up.
Furthermore, believing women must diverge from traditional gender roles facilitates the “you’re not like the other girls” trope that is commonly reinforced by men. Feeding this idea that women should be different from the rest, who could be supposedly more vain or unintelligent because their concerns may be perhaps in clothing and makeup as opposed to academic literature and science, only upholds the concept that women are objects of male approval—or, generally speaking, objects of approval at any level of society. These beliefs have permeated to people of all genders since concepts like slut-shaming women for wearing certain types of clothing and not being reserved enough, heteronormative double standards regarding heterosexual women’s tendencies when dating and a mentality that criticizes women who enjoy dressing up in heels or skirts for everyday activities are common even amongst the considerably more modern feminist young adult generation. Many feminist women have succumbed to an internally misogynistic outlook, believing that other women must demonstrate a certain standard of defiance against gender role interests in order to be a truly progressive woman. Some women even continue to believe that they “can’t trust other girls” and can only have “guy friends,” a form of internalized misogyny that believes that women who conform to some traditional interests are not acceptable to be in their circles.
The girl at the party wearing jeans and no makeup though should not be perceived as a more acceptable or intriguing woman than the one in the cocktail dress simply because of her non-conforming appearance. And, of course, it should be acknowledged that women are not simply either-or in this matter: humans are complex individuals with distinct personalities, and there is likely no individual who wholly fits a certain box in this dichotomy. The point of this matter is that the aspects of women that follow traditional gender role interests should not be discouraged or disdained by the feminist movement; instead, if we hope to make a truly impactful, inclusive and progressive movement, feminists must learn to accept and celebrate the women who have any and all types of passions and criticize those who shame women for their passions. In truth, feminism should just be working toward allowing people to exist and be themselves without fear or reprimand.