Last week, after having just finished chapter three of Caitlin Moran’s manifesto How to Be a Woman, I stared at the ceiling of the waxing salon private room, realizing that I was about to spend a quarter of my paycheck so that a woman could slap hot wax on my bikini line. As she ripped the muslin strips from my skin, I thought, what the hell am I doing? I read feminist literature. I post articles about the importance of educating young women. I encourage girls to embrace their intelligence over than their bodies. I tell women to do things for themselves and not for the pleasure of men, and I was getting a bikini wax.
I tried to push those doubts out of my mind, but the events of that day made it impossible. On the way home, I was the preferred target of a state trooper’s radar gun. When the lights flashed, I pulled over and powdered my nose. A few “yes sirs” and eyelash battings later, and I was let off with “just a warning.” I sat back in my seat and realized what I had done. Before all this, I had finished my shift working at a lingerie store whose fashion show is the pinnacle of unrealistic beauty expectations.
I thought I was doing everything wrong. I demand equal pay for equal work. I demand that women to be taken as serious intellectuals in the workplace. I’m angry that women are often turned into sexualized objects for men’s pleasure, and yet how I acted was in conflict with these demands. These hypocrisies kept piling up in my mind: I’m ready to punch a wall when a man yells, “Nice ass!” from the window of a passing car, yet I joke with my friends about opening a Hooters-esque restaurant for women titled, “Pythons.” I hear you: Isn’t that objectifying men? Yes, it is.
With all of these thoughts weighing on my mind, I came home and curled up on my microfiber couch. I opened up to chapter 4 of Moran’s book. “I am a Feminist!” she said, and I smiled. I read, “I do understand why women started to reject the word ‘feminism.’ It ended up being invoked in so many baffling inappropriate contexts that— if you weren’t actually aware of the core aims of feminism and were trying to work it out simply from the surrounding conversation— you’d presume it was some spectacularly unappealing combination of misandry, misery and hypocrisy…” (page 77).
Caitlin Moran seemed to speaking to me, and I was listening with the intensity of a young student at her Bible Study, hanging on to every word the preacher said. Feminism was a self-given title. It isn’t a trend, like kimono tops or blunt bangs. It’s about choice. It’s about being able choose the lives we want for ourselves as women, without anyone saying we can’t. There was no “right” or “wrong” way to be a feminist, was there? The more I thought about it, the more I realized: there wasn’t.
Even though I still have mixed emotions about working in a lingerie store, I have the right to a safe work environment with regular pay and working hours. There are still things that I value, that I want for my future: I work toward a world in which I can write a serious, literary novel without having to change my name to mask my gender. I work toward a world in which I can interview men for an assignment and not feel obliged to make myself look like a dowdy librarian just so I’ll be taken seriously. I work toward a world in which my children, should I have them, can create Lego houses for their Barbies without considering which one is appropriate for their gender.
I’m still a feminist, albeit an imperfect one. Frankly, I think that’s exactly what I should be right now. While we’re in college and exploring different ideas and movements, we’re going to be hypocrites. We’re young and naive and we don’t fully understand everything, because how can we? How can I, at 22 years old, know what it means to work 60 hours a week and earn 33 cents less per dollar than the man in the cubicle next to me?
Even still, I can understand through my limited scope what I want. I can decide for myself that I want to be a feminist, for the reasons that I can understand. I’m still imperfect. That’s what college students are: perfect works-in-progress, working on ourselves, our ideas, and what our futures will become.