Early feminists fought for political equality; now, we question if, as feminists, we're permitted to shave our legs. In this commentary, author Fabienne contemplates when it's beneficial to thoroughly consider feminist issues— and when some aspects deserve critical examination.

Ever since I started calling myself a feminist, I've been more conscious of the world around me. I notice which genders are (or aren't) represented, reflect how gender roles are depicted, and naturally, consider how I want to navigate life as a woman. I've become more discerning. Some might even say: more demanding.

For a while, the notion of being 'demanding' didn't quite resonate with me. Feminism felt liberating and empowering. But lately, it's been cropping up more often. That self-critical voice asking: "Does what I'm doing still align with my feminist principles?" Can I still listen to all-male podcasts? Can I genuinely do workouts by fitness YouTubers who title their videos with terms like 'Hourglass-Shape' or the famous peach emoji? And recently, during a discussion about holiday plans with a friend, he questioned how, as a feminist, I could justify traveling to Morocco. According to the 2022 Global Gender Gap Report by the World Economic Forum, the country ranks 136th out of 146 countries surveyed in terms of women's rights.

Fabienne Iff
The demands placed on feminists by others, or those we feminists place on ourselves, have become more extensive.

Increasing (Self-)Expectations

The demands placed on feminists by others, or those we feminists place on ourselves, have become more extensive. Today, there are many different forms of feminism: intersectional feminism, queer feminism, eco-feminism, and also choice feminism or white feminism. Virtually no aspect of life remains untouched by feminism.

Therefore, I now concede: yes, feminism has become more demanding. But to a large extent, this is also a positive development. Feminism is not a project that ever reaches completion. Our life contexts are evolving, and so are the conditions in which we live. A feminist perspective remains essential for many issues. It still makes a difference whether you're cisgender, transgender, white, BIPoC, healthy or physically or mentally impaired, who you love, how much money you have, or what religion you follow. We need feminist perspectives advocating for the equal rights of all individuals.

The Dilemma of Private and Public

With that being said, we enter a gray area when we begin to discuss aspects that are classified as 'private.' It's crucial to discuss how our bodies, relationships, or sexuality are influenced by patriarchal norms. However, it becomes problematic when these discussions lead to the establishment of new norms dictating what feminists can or cannot do. For instance, when we not only discuss but also determine if a true feminist should shave her legs, let herself be invited on a date, be submissive in sex, or get her lips injected.

Of course, it's meaningful to ask myself why I shave my legs before a date. Am I doing it because I want to? Because I've internalized the norm that a woman's skin should be as smooth as a baby dolphin's? Because I think that in a heterosexual context, a guy otherwise won't want to have sex (a shout-out to the German podcasters Tommi Schmitt and Felix Lobrecht of 'Gemischtes Hack,' who precisely reproduce this stereotypical norm)? There's no doubt: feminist voices that question socially normalized behavior of women have legitimate and good intentions. But if I have to fear that I'm no longer a true feminist when I shave my legs, feminist voices may become just as authoritarian as patriarchal ones.

An example is German-Lithuanian rapper and singer Shirin David. She underwent several cosmetic surgeries, speaks openly about the costs, and advises caution. However, critics doubt or deny David's feminism due to her surgeries.

This makes me angry, and I find it dangerous. Because we, as women, for other women, create a kind of feminist burden of proof: with every layer of our lives, we owe it to ourselves to ensure we're being 'good enough' or 'true' feminists. Skipping any layer is no longer acceptable. Feminism thus becomes an exclusive club to which only a few have access. This is indicative of the double standards of our society that, once again, it's solely about the behavior of women that isn't good enough. Would we scrutinize a man in the same way? Would we also tell him that as a feminist, he should stop drinking protein shakes and unfollow the muscle idols on Instagram? I don't think so.

Fabienne Iff
With every layer of our lives, we're held accountable to ensure that we are 'good enough' or 'true' feminists. Skipping any layer is no longer acceptable.

Not every action in our lives needs to be feminist. And not every action of a feminist is automatically feminist. Yes, personally, I see beauty procedures and personal trainers as privileged responses to a society that continues to successfully convince women that their worth is measured by their appearance. Would I judge or deny feminism to a woman who has had cosmetic surgeries? No. Because even in my feminism, I'm not without contradiction: I'm familiar with the pressure on female bodies to look young and sexy and succumb to it. With makeup. With shaving. With retinol serum. I, too, post the photos of myself that I find flattering and do things in interpersonal relationships where I think: 'Wow, this is my female socialization!' Sometimes I laugh about it, sometimes I'm annoyed. And occasionally, I consume shallow, definitely not feminist entertainment, because there the world is simple, and problems are absurd or solvable. Still, I don't want someone to tell me I'm not a true feminist.

Focus on the Essentials

Of course, this isn't a license to justify everything. While I occasionally do the free workouts of the conventionally attractive fitness influencers, I wouldn't spend my money on their sometimes questionable beauty products. Nevertheless, I believe that we should learn to tolerate contradictions. We should challenge ourselves and our fellow human beings to be capable of distinguishing. To realize that something may not be feminist and yet not resort to labeling ourselves or other women as 'not feminist enough'. Because when we judge each other, we end up doing what non-feminists are waiting for: We tear each other apart and hollow feminism out from within. Therefore: Drink your skinny bitch smoothie if it makes you happy. Complain about its name. Let your child wear pink glitter tutus. Still, go to a feminist strike. You belong.