I’ve always been on that weird middle line with feminism where I can’t jump over the fence and burn my bras because those things are DAMN expensive and sometimes kind of pretty, but I also am definitely not on the side of “all girls should sit and be pretty.” I can’t say that I’ve always been on the side of women, I’ve talked my fair share of smack and I’ve always kind of felt (and always loathed) Daisy in Great Gatsby:
“It’ll show you how I’ve gotten to feel about—things. Well, she was less than an hour old and Tom was God knows where. I woke up out of the ether with an utterly abandoned feeling, and asked the nurse right away if it was a boy or a girl. She told me it was a girl, and so I turned my head away and wept. ‘All right,’ I said, ‘I’m glad it’s a girl. And I hope she’ll be a fool—that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.'”
Some of my judgment: For too long we’ve lived in a world where women who play dumb and look pretty get ahead. It doesn’t matter if they’re legacy makers in every right (See: Kim Kardashian or Jessica Simpson), but the way women are still supposed to portray themselves for the public is to be just what Daisy said. What these woman actually are, are bosses. Big men on campus, but it’s the “beautiful little fools” they play.
After reading You Don’t Have to Like Me: Essays on Growing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding Feminism by Alida Nugent, I have to agree that it isn’t my call to judge them for how or what they present, but what they can represent for feminism and girls everywhere. Nugent says “There are other words, too. Bossy. Bitchy. Rude. Fat. Ugly. Stupid. Whore. I used these words when I had an agenda. I was always looking for ways to frame other women in a way that made me seem better and more appealing. I was a cool girl, not her, don’t you see?” And for the record, I don’t just mean girls who are born biologically girls, but also the ones who decide / choose to come to the dark side as well. You’re all girls in my Barbie World.
I loved this essay collection like it was a time-tested musical number or a Pablo Neruda ode. Nugent didn’t have to shout at us with her torch and teeth barred, instead she spoke feminism like a soft wave from a wet kayak. One chapter would have the punch of lemoncello and the next would be a little quieter, but just as brave and equally meaningful. Towards the end of the book she smacks the reader around with her to do lists on masturbation and porn, but in the middle, the soft stuff like female friendships (that are never, ever soft by the way) and virginity are breached.
When everyone else in a girl’s life is silent on these topics, Nugent is educated and sassy. I tweeted multiple times about stalking her and becoming real friends. One imagining even got very real: we were in the grocery store, knocking on cantaloupes because aren’t they one of those fruits when you just never know the ripeness? Some people flick, some people tap, some squeeze slightly like the first time you touched Nickelodeon Gak, but Nugent and I, we are two in the same. With full chapters on lipstick and the haven’s of bliss that are women’s restrooms in a crowded club (other than the pukers and the ones that have to hold their hair), I couldn’t get enough of Nugent’s perspective on feminism.
In her world, and mine now that I can stop secretly torturing myself for “Hm”ing every time a dude makes a mild sexist joke, feminists can make mistakes. They can disagree, but support all the same. They can understand their bodies, their moral lines, but also accept everyone else’s bodies and moral lines. I finally get what all the tweets are talking about when they bash Teen Vogue or Cosmopolitan for “fat-shaming.” To be a feminist, it doesn’t mean you have to be pure as a saint or reeking of sex 23/7 (no one can have sex for an entire day, we’d all die a slow and maybe only half painful death). It means that you – at the bottom of everything – you have to believe in other women, and believe they should get the same treatment as any man.
That means it’s okay to suck at that too sometimes. It doesn’t mean you have to show a nipple once in a while and it doesn’t mean that you have to have a vagina pin on your backpack and it certainly doesn’t mean that you have to be angry with all the dudes in your life, because some of them are kind of cute, ya know? In Nugent’s feminism, you just have to be knowledgable and accepting.
I literally, full-on, laughed out loud at work reading this book. And it wasn’t a cute laugh, it was one of those wide mouth laughs that has you burying your face into your elbow while people kind of stare at you. To the point where I had to almost make up a reason that something would be that funny in a book. It was. It totally was. I almost cried a little bit too, but mostly I laughed. A lot. Nugent’s voice is like listening to your girlfriend tell you a drunken story except she’s really smart so it still sounds smart, but there’s tangents of nonsense and hilarity.
I texted my best friends paragraphs of text from this book. We joked for a few minutes about how much she “knows” us. This is one of those girl’s girl books. If that’s not enough to pick it up and read it, I don’t know what else to tell you. I especially liked the chapter on losing your virginity because I think someone needed to say it.
“I did not lose my virginity. I know exactly where it went. It went on top of a futon in a basement that you could enter through a sliding door. Nobody took my virginity, because my virginity wasn’t a landmass that Columbus entered and then ruined. Nobody took my virginity, because my virginity wasn’t a number-two pencil somebody asked to borrow during a Scantron test and never gave back. Nobody took my virginity at all. I had sex for the first time in a condo with a sarcastic dude whom I sort of liked. I don’t feel like this is a sad story.
It’s enough to feel shame about your public smile, about the way you look in a tankini, about the amount of tortilla chips you ate for … linner. It’s enough. It’s enough to feel shame of not living up to parental expectations of “being a good girl.” No one needs to feel shame for the way they use their body if they wanted to. If there were 2+ consenting adults and they chose to make moves. My religion makes me feel some shame, I think it comes with the Catholicism though and so I accept it as part of the “Catholic guilt.” I can’t save anyone from that because it’s a lingering sort.
What Nugent can save you from is digging holes against other women (or just people) and burying yourself. She can save you from judging someone’s past because it doesn’t match up with their present, or judging someone period because your idea of “rightness” does not align with there idea of “learning.”
Everyone always says, “think before you speak.” Maybe instead we should be saying, SPEAK. and in equal measure LISTEN, and while you’re listening don’t judge, degrade, downgrade, take back to another dinner table and spill about with giggles. Support your fellow woman and make good decisions. When they aren’t good, own them and learn.
That’s a feminist if I ever saw one. (Except I haven’t seen her even though we could totally be best friends. This is definitely an awkward “Call Me, Maybe” moment that I will own and learn from).
PS. I kind of also wrote about Nugent’s book here when I went on a rant in support of Planned Parenthood.