You are my sister. If you are reading this and you identify as female, you are my sister. We might never hang out, you might be devout in your religion, or conservative at the voting booth. You might be any race, or more than one. You might be born with the same parts as me or be in the process of looking the way you have always felt inside. You might be naturally slim, or zaftig, or at the gym every day, or maybe you’re unhappy with how you are shaped. Maybe you like country music, acrylic nails, maybe you watch Lifetime. Maybe you spend your weekends making poster board protest signs and marching the streets, maybe you live in a convent. I don’t know, and I don’t care. You are my sister.

As an angsty teen, I thought being a feminist meant not doing cheerleading and not wearing pink. In college, I was convinced that I had to grow out my underarm hair and show my breasts in defiance of those who might think about controlling me. In my twenties, I struggled to feed myself and pay rent, so I often let feminism slip to the side if it meant someone else would pay for dinner or buy me a luxury I coveted.

It wasn’t until I was thirty, married, and with a daughter, that I really began to grok what feminism really meant to me. It isn’t about rejecting beauty standards, or liberating other women from their oppressive cultural traditions, or even about rejecting anything at all.

It is about lifting each other up.

Now, of course, we need to fight for gender equality, to push back against rape culture, to change the world for our own safety and health. There is a laundry list of everything we need to fix, from the eradication of female genital mutilation in the third world, to equal pay and decent maternity leave. But the list will never ever get done if we don’t figure out how to lift each other up.

I stopped talking trash about celebrities. I came to Miley Cyrus’s defense in a group conversation. I stopped saying that skinny women need to “eat a sandwich”. I stopped snarking that leggings are not pants. I stopped pitying Christian conservative women. I stopped feeling sorry for women wearing hijab in public. I stopped bending over backwards to let transwomen know I was so totally accepting of them and just treated them like I would treat any other girlfriend. I started correcting people when they forgot to address women by their titles, such as Doctor Condoleezza Rice, Doctor Maya Angelou, Secretary Hillary Clinton.

And then……..and then……. I stopped the negative self talk. I stopped calling myself a fat slob. I stopped hating my stretch marks. I stopped beating myself up for skipping my run because I had cramps, and I just let myself have a moment to eat something comforting and let myself be vulnerable. I forgive myself for making mistakes, I stop comparing myself to my friends and acquaintances. I stopped wearing shapewear just to take my kids to school, or when it was 85 degrees outside because someone might see my muffin top. I started doing my makeup and hair more often because I wanted to. I dressed as fancy as I pleased, just to go to the store because I no longer felt like a sell out to the cause for wanting to be pretty. I started self identifying as fat, without a negative connotation attached to it.

Western culture, the supply and demand economy, the patriarchy, they all really and truly depend on something to keep the status quo alive and well: Women being too distracted with hen-­pecking each other and their own self loathing to affect any real change.

I reject the notion that there are good feminists and bad feminists. I reject the notion that women who do not identify as feminists do not deserve my support. I reject the idea that in order for one person, group, or idea to rise, that it has to done with judgement and intolerance of others.

I have been an idealist for as long as I can remember knowing what an ideal was. I realize exactly what a tall order it is to love yourself, and to love others. Without any sort of religious motivation or spiritual platitudes, I feel like I need to tell you all that the smashing of patriarchy, the road to equality, is paved with love; the love of our sisters, and of ourselves. From beauty pageant queens to prostitutes and from crunchy­ conservative moms to the blogger on the frontlines of reproductive justice. Stay at home parents, and female CEOs. Those who chose to have children, those who are child free, and those in that grey area in between. Intersectional awareness and acceptance of women’s choices, all of their choices, begins with love. Is that a radical notion? Maybe. But that doesn’t mean I won’t hitch my wagon to it.

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