I am a feminist. I am an intersectional feminist. To put it simply, I believe everyone no matter their gender, sex, race, sexual or romantic orientation, nationality, religion, self-expression or body size is equal. That is what feminism is. All genders are equal. All people are equal. Simple. Which leads me into saying that this post will focus specifically on women – and it is quite a cisnormative topic – but (hopefully) the overall message is applicable to the entirety of feminism, and thus its fight for equality across all genders.
One staple of modern feminism is the belief that women should be able to be topless, should be able to dress as they like and should be able to sleep with who they like… all without being shamed. I agree with every single one of these principles.
However it has come to my attention in recent months that some people get confused with this idea. Take the idea that women are allowed to wear revealing clothing – they are. For many women, this is liberating and self-expression, and that is awesome. However, some people take this and assume that it means a woman who chooses to cover up is un-feminist or oppressed. (Yes, sometimes it does, but it doesn’t always.) Another example is how I often see people saying that women who wear a hijab or a burka (or any other kind of headscarves/headwear for that matter) are ‘oppressed’ and therefore endorsing sexism. I strongly disagree.
You see, being topless is only liberating if you chose to be topless.
Wearing a burka is only oppressive if you didn’t choose to wear it.
Sleeping with multiple people is only liberating if you choose to do so.
Shaving your armpits is only oppressive if you didn’t choose to do it.
The liberation and the freedom, and the feminism, comes from the choice. Not from the action. Although doing some things (particularly things which society is happy to let men do without shame or judgement) do make a positive statement for women – and thus other genders too – that doesn’t mean not doing them isn’t also making a statement. Oppression doesn’t come from us doing certain things or not, it comes from why we do them: personal choice, or society’s expectations? So if you choose to cover up or not, it’s why you do it that matters. Is it because you like it and feel comfortable and like yourself? Then either way, great.