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What Counts as a Feminist Intervention?
By Jess Horsnell, MA Student
We live in a society that is obsessed with putting people in boxes. I think being able to do so helps others form their own identities, and when they can’t put someone in a perfectly square box, all chaos breaks lose. It is easy to identify yourself based on what you are not, but forming your own genuine identity based on what you are becomes more complicated. And of course, people are not perfectly square, easy to categorize entities. People are complicated, nuanced, and dynamic. People are messy. That’s what makes life interesting.
Something that I’ve been reflecting on quite a bit in the past few months is how society loves to police those who identify as feminists. The amount of times I’ve been told I’m not a “real feminist” because I don’t hate men, because I wear makeup, because I watch shows like Game of Thrones is unreal. At first, I thought this was due to societal misconceptions about what feminism actually entails – and much like people, feminism as a movement is complicated, nuanced, and dynamic. This misconception is certainly a part of it, but it goes deeper than that. I’ve come to realize that this policing is a patriarchal tool to patrol women, particularly as they try to go against the grain, and challenge the patriarchal system.
As one of my jobs, I work as a princess impersonator, leading children’s birthday parties dressed up as their favourite characters. Even in choosing my topic to write about for this blog post, I was hesitant to reveal that part of myself. I find that I tend to over justify it when I explain it to people, and a lot of that justifying tends to manifest itself in me reassuring people that I’m still a feminist, but I need improvisation experience for my future career goals. Nothing will quite give you improvisation skills like a group of six year olds rapid fire throwing questions at you, while you have to try to stay in character and keep them entertained at the same time. I find myself reminding people that I’m still a feminist, but I organize parties for fun. I think there is also an added dimension of being an MA student in that there’s a feeling of having to maintain somewhat of a serious scholar façade.
Beyond that, I do really believe that princess parties do leave room for challenging norms and stereotypes. I’ve done parties where little boys are made fun of for wanting to wear princess dresses. When I gently suggest that it’s okay for anyone of any gender to wear a princess dress, it seems to hold a lot of weight. There’s nothing about being a princess that is inherently non-feminist, and in reflecting back on my justifications, I find it interesting that I feel like it’s something that I have to explain to people. But I think there’s a direct link to people policing what they think a feminist should look like. Can’t be too masculine, can’t be too feminine, can’t stand up and do anything or say anything. Can’t enjoy dressing up as a princess and delivering children’s birthday parties, because that’s too childish/feminine/anti-feminist.
You can love princesses, fairy tales, and still be a feminist, and I feel like this is something I should not have to explain, yet I find myself doing it preemptively. The truth is, I love doing it. I love letting my inner child out. Creating magic for little kids absolutely does not feel like a job, it feels more like a gift. The feeling of empowerment I feel after leaving a party is pretty much indescribable. Letting your inner child out, especially in today’s world where we’re surrounded by a myriad of bad things, is really important. Maintaining creativity, magic, and even joy are so important to focus on in a world where we can be overwhelmed with more bad things than good. Shame has been a tool of the patriarchy to keep women in line, and I think it’s high time we break out of that shame. If you want to play sports and go for hikes, that’s cool. If you want to wear Ugg boots and drink pumpkin spice lattes, that’s cool too. If you want to dress up like a princess and deliver children’s birthday parties, that’s not shameful.
You don’t have to let yourself get shoved into a box. You can be a princess and a feminist. You can let out your inner child and be a scholar. You can be who you want to be, identify how you want to identify, and I feel like that in itself, in a society where we keep people in line by shoving them into boxes, is an act of resistance.