-OpEd-

BOGOTÁ — Feminism is an acidic drink, strong, seething and so concentrated that it should be sipped at a pace suitable for each person's palate.

There is no key or magic recipe that makes you a feminist and nobody has the absolute truth on how to most effectively pursue the cause.

What is certain, though, is that we are no religious order; that women have a right to not be feminists — a right given them by feminism — the glorious right to decide on all aspects of their lives without hurting anyone and without being punished for it. Every woman, feminist or not, faces a daily struggle against a system that hates and deceives her — a system that often makes her feel that it is feminism, not the system, that is wrong.

Instead of shaming anti-feminists for disagreeing with us, we have an opportunity to inform them, share knowledge and clarify misunderstandings

Initially, when I began my activism, I joined a diverse group of women blogging and tweeting about things they thought were unfair, while stressing that they were not feminists. I identified with these "non-feminists," who nonetheless fought against any attempts to deprive women of their rights, cut their wages or diminish their conditions. There are celebrities, like Shailene Woodley who starred in The Divergent Series and The Fault in Our Stars, who have disparaged feminism in the media.

Of course it is perfectly all right for someone not to identify as a feminist. It's a personal choice and it's wrong to criticize a woman for making it.

In my case, feminism is something I discovered in myself. And I understand today that most anti-feminist women believe in the stereotypes imposed upon the movement. They lack the background and historical context and are, themselves, informed by clichés.

For the comedian Sam Killermann, feminism is the exercise of forging a society where the gender of individuals does not restrict them from having equal opportunities to be happy and successful. People often confuse feminism with misandry, or hatred of men. There are of course misandrists who also identify with feminism, but they are a minority.

How can we reach people who have been brainwashed by patriarchy and society?

Women march for International Women's Day in Bogota in March 2017 — Photo: Joana Toro/Pacific Press/ZUMA

Bear in mind that most anti-feminists do not really know what feminism is. This should not discourage us; It is actually a positive thing. Instead of shaming anti-feminists for disagreeing with us, we have an opportunity to inform them, share knowledge and clarify misunderstandings.

Time magazine once quoted Woodley, the actress, as saying that "the idea of 'raise women to power; take the men away from power,' is never going to work out, because you need balance."

The feminist movement has never acted as a mechanism to strip men of power. This is simply incorrect. Feminism aims to divide power equitably, which is absolutely fair. Enjoying the company of men, having male friends or loving a man does not make you more, or less, feminist.

Being heterosexual or not is irrelevant to feminism. The idea that feminism is connected to lesbianism is a macho invention.

Some women like to say, ironically, that feminism is their excuse to act like drunken whores and cheat on their boyfriends. This clearly offends feminists, and we might be tempted to reply, "Listen stupid, it's about whether or not you can decide if you want to be monogamous, or have someone touch you ... about whether your decisions count, or whether the system allows you to be raped or murdered."

Of course we are sometimes tempted to say this and, in the past, I have. But time has taught me that this only turns women off and does not help raise their consciousness to the issue.

The writer Melissa A. Fabello says in an article titled "The Pain of Being Feminist in an Anti-Feminist World" that sometimes the best option is just to walk away.

Difficult as it may be to grasp, there are perfectly educated, intelligent people who understand exactly what feminism is about and still disagree; and regardless of what we say, will never change their minds. This is why sometimes the only thing to do, for the sake one's own mental wellbeing, is to walk away. Feminists do not have superpowers to overcome narrow minds. All we can do is keep working to achieve what's fair.

Feminism is an intimate encounter with our own bonds, a mirror that shows us our own reflection every day

Feminism is not a religion. Some women treat feminist books as sacred scriptures and try to impose norms of "true feminism" on others, but it doesn't work that way.

Feminism is an intimate encounter with our own bonds, a mirror that shows us our own reflection every day. It is a dynamic that allows us to see our own daily progression in other women, and other women to see theirs in us. I agree with the American blogger Tavi Gevinson who said that "one thing that can be very alienating about a misconception of feminism is that girls then think that to be feminists they have to live up to being perfectly consistent in their beliefs, never being insecure, never having doubts, having all the answers ... and this is not true and actually recognizing all the contradictions I was feeling became easier once I realized that feminism was not a rulebook but a discussion, a conversation, a process."

The early 20th century anarchist Emma Goldman said that women's "true emancipation began neither at the polls nor in the courts. It begins in woman's soul." This means we need an ongoing conversation with all the women that inhabit us, each of whom is a part of us, but also with those other women who are not feminists, or are feminists "in their own way," as that, too, is a way of freeing our soul.

For some women, feminism has become a sect-like experience, not intellectual, rational, humane or intimate. But before even speaking about feminism, each one of us should live it.


See more from Culture / Society here