7 things that DO NOT make you a bad feminist

Between 2015 and 2017, I was a graduate student in the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies master’s degree program at Oregon State University. This was one of the most important experiences of my life, primarily because it gave me the strong foundation in the feminist knowledge that I knew I would need if I wanted to become a successful feminist blogger. Yet I also derived essential benefits from the experience insofar as it revealed to me how exclusive modern feminism can be. But as the great bell hooks reminds us, Feminism Is for Everybody.

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1. Being heterosexual

At some point in this long battle for gender equality, we got confused and assumed that meant that female-identified people who love and/or want to bang people of the male persuasion must exist in opposition to the cause of feminism. If the logic here is that it is because men are part of the problem, well, that’s as sexist as the problem itself. 

2. Being privileged

As an upper-middle-class (as long as I live with my parents, anyway) Caucasian, I’m privileged. I know that. What I don’t know, however, is why this has led people in the past to assume I’m “part of the problem.” Those who are not of color and are of wealth have perpetrated some abominable atrocities. But that doesn’t mean all people sharing one or both of these traits must automatically be taken as the enemy. A lot of us have our hearts in the right place and are eager to learn from people who are differently oppressed and work together with them to make things better. The need for sexual equality knows no income or skin color.

3. Being monogamous

Sexual liberation has been a critical element in feminism since the dawn of the second wave. But somewhere along the way, being sexually liberated became a requirement to join the feminist cause, and moreover, the definition of sexual liberation seemed to shift to exclude long-term, single-partner relationships, especially relationships with men (see above). But I call bullshit. True sexual liberation means feeling free to engage in whatever type of sexual activity you want (as long as it’s consensual) without worrying about how others will perceive it. It doesn’t matter if it takes place in the context of a committed relationship. 

4. Being cisgender

Shaving your legs, wearing makeup, or being in any way “feminine” whatsoever is NOT mutually exclusive with being a card-carrying feminist. True feminists realize gender roles are human-made, and so resisting freaking out over whether you’re conforming to said gender roles, by realizing certain traits are merely artificially coded “feminine” or “masculine,” is as feminist an act as I can imagine. As Martha Rampton of Pacific University’s Center for Gender Equity notes,

An aspect of third wave feminism that mystified the mothers of the earlier feminist movement was the readoption by young feminists of the very lip-stick, high-heels, and cleavage proudly exposed by low cut necklines that the first two phases of the movement identified with male oppression.

5. Wanting to get married

I’ve just about had it with the argument that a quote-unquote real feminist activist can’t dream of someday saying “I do.” Whatever your gender identity or the gender identity of your chosen spouse, the institution of marriage has the potential to be extremely feminist. After all, marriage, at its best, is about two people coming together as equals and promising to honor and love each other; and equality is feminism manifest. 

6. Wanting to have kids

It’s okay to want to tie the knot. The same goes for the desire to procreate. Motherhood isn’t inherently feminist, despite what some proponents of breastfeeding might have you believe; but it isn’t actively un-feminist, either: Most of the professors I studied under at OSU are parents, and let me tell you, they’re all veritable paragons of feminism. So, yes, I want to be a mom. I also want to shatter the patriarchy. Luckily for me, a feminist can do both.

7. Wanting to beat men at their own game

Second-wave feminists “rejected the ideal of inclusion because … they would only be vying for inclusion in a world built on men’s values.” This MO has continued to dominate mainstream feminism ever since. But while I am loath to tell anyone to “lean in,” let me just say there is nothing at all wrong with wanting to work in the same institutions as men, e.g., a traditional workplace, and surpass them in excellence. It’s totally OK to wish and demand that there be space for us women in the world we live in now.

Otherwise, in my humble opinion, we’re just letting those who benefit from the patriarchy off the hook.

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If it’s not comprehensive, it’s not really sex education.

In a recent post, I reported that since the inauguration of Donald Trump (shudder), the federal budget for sex education has been heavily favoring abstinence-based programming, and I said exposure to sex education based on abstinence is the worst thing for anyone whose parents want them to practice safe sex. I realize that sounds like a pretty outrageous claim, so it seems prudent for me to show my work here. 

A brief history of sex education in the U.S.

The following is an adapted version of a timeline of the history of sex education that I composed as part of a journalistic research project I completed during my freshman year of college at the University of Oregon:

  • 1981: Republican senators Jeremiah Denton and Orrin Hatch sponsored the Adolescent Family Life Act (AFLA), which was designed to prevent premarital teen pregnancy through quote-unquote family-centered programs to promote chastity and self-discipline. The statute emphasized so-called religious, charitable organizations. In the opinion of many religious and human rights groups, this inherent fusion of church and state flouts the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
  • 1986: A group of priests and activists challenge the AFLA.
  • 1993: The AFLA is ruled unconstitutional.
  • 1994: Social conservative Representative John Doolittle unsuccessfully proposes limiting the content of HIV-prevention and sexuality education in school-based programs, indicating to conservative groups that to make headway in abstinence policy, it will be necessary “to circumvent the federal laws by restricting, and shaping, education programs through health policy and funding…without drawing Congressional or public debate.”
  • 1996: During the final version of welfare reform debates, Congressmen Ernest Istook and Tom Coburn persuade Speaker Newt Gingrich to include $50 million annual federal funding for an abstinence-only-until-marriage program (Title V).
  • 1998: The ruling deeming the AFLA unconstitutional has expired, paving the way for an eight-point, (a)-(h) definition of abstinence education, requiring states that accept federal funds to match every four federal dollars with three-state raised dollars and to teach abstinence only. 
  • January 2001–January 2009: Federal abstinence-only sex education (AOSE) funding doubles under the George W. Bush administration, peaking at $1.76 billion.
  • Spring 2009: Half the states have rejected Title V funds, and President Barack Obama calls for the elimination of AOSE programs.

Comprehensive sex ed > AOSE

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It’s more effective at delaying teen sexual debut.

Studies show that teens who receive comprehensive sexuality education are more likely to have sex for the first time later in life. According to a publication of Advocates for Youth*, “Evaluations of comprehensive sex education and HIV/ STI prevention programs show that they do not increase rates of sexual initiation, do not lower the age at which youth initiate sex, and do not increase the frequency of sex or the number of sex partners among sexually active youth.” Teens exposed to AOSE, on the other hand, tend to have sex earlier and are less likely to practice safe sex when they do (see below).

It’s more effective at teaching teens to practice safe sex.

Comprehensive sex ed has been proven to be more effective at teaching teens to engage in behaviors that reduce the likelihood of spreading sexually transmitted diseases: According to a fact sheet of the CDC, “Research shows that well-designed and well-implemented HIV/STD prevention programs can decrease sexual risk behaviors among students,” including delaying first sexual intercourse; reducing the number of sex partners; decreasing the number of times students have unprotected sex; and increasing condom use. 

It’s more effective at preventing teen pregnancy.

There’s an abundance of evidence that when it comes to preventing teen pregnancy, comprehensive sex ed is the way to go. This is because it includes discussions of contraceptive use (see above). Unfortunately, according to a September 2017 fact sheet by the Guttmacher Institute, “Many sexually experienced adolescents … did not receive formal instruction about contraception before they first had sex; fewer received instruction about where to get birth control.”

It isn’t heteronormative.

Modern comprehensive sex ed incorporates discussions of sex beyond just male-female intercourse. AOSE, by contrast, provides an incomplete version of a practical sexual education to the 52 percent of teens who don’t identify as “exclusively heterosexual.” 

It teaches teens that sex isn’t wrong or shameful, but a a simple ‘fact of life.’

Last but not least, as Amie Newman of Our Bodies, Ourselves puts it, “Young women who are exposed only to “just say no” programs learn little or nothing about what it means to find pleasure in sex and in their own bodies.”

What lies ahead for American sex ed

As I mentioned, sex education (or rather, a lack thereof) under the Trump administration has been seriously lacking in evidence-based, effective because comprehensive, sex education. If this isn’t rectified, the Republican Party will have more welfare mothers to deal with and a more exhausted public health budget for its citizens’ HIV/STI treatment. And since virtually every aspect of Trump’s public persona flies in the face of Christian goodness or any religious influence, it would be in his best interest to bring back the Obama-era sex ed days — and fast. 

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In this post, I cite articles from the websites of pro-comprehensive sex ed advocacy groups. While I’m aware that such groups can’t be taken as credible sources on their own, their claims are supported by scientific evidence, the citations of which are included in said articles.