Live Through This

Change Your Mind

An argument for flip-flopping.

Collage by Minna.

Collage by Minna.

I used to believe, quite firmly, that feminism was dumb. (Stay with me, this isn’t going to be a post about why feminism is important.) I didn’t have a lot of female friends, but I had legions of guy friends, and I resented the girls they dated. None of those girls—none of the girls around me, in fact—seemed anything like me, so I dismissed them without a second thought. (Looking back, I can see that I was scared of them, because I felt inferior to them.) I thought it was dumb for women to expend their energy helping other women when we should all have been focusing on ourselves. I expressed these misogynist opinions as frequently as possible, usually while holding court with a group of guys.

Then I grew up. I made some wonderful female friends, I took some courses in feminist theory, and I started reading books. I came to an understanding of systems of oppression that have been used to deny the strengths of women, and I realized that I had more in common with my high school friends’ girlfriends than I had been mature enough to admit—and how much experience I shared with all my sisters, thought we were all unique human beings.

In short, I changed my mind.

For a while, I felt guilty about doing a complete 180 on my opinions on feminism. I struggled to incorporate the new thinking patterns and perspectives that came with time and experience. I felt embarrassed about switching from being so vocally this to being that, so I often didn’t express my hard-earned new opinions. I don’t want you all to struggle like I did, so let me say to you now:

It’s OK to change your mind! More than OK—it is inevitable, and it is necessary.

When I was a kid, I wasn’t super tuned in to politics, but I remember watching presidential debates and campaigns on TV, and they seemed to be mostly about candidates addressing talking points and expressing their opinions on issues. Now, they’re focused on catching people being inconsistent: Five years ago you said that, but now you’re saying this? Flip-flopper! Changing one’s mind isn’t seen as a result of a rational thought process, but rather as evidence that you’re not solid in your convictions. This is an unfortunate development, and it affects all of us. We lead more of our lives online all the time, so increasingly there’s a record out there of everything we’ve ever thoughts, said, or done, so we’re able to catch one another contradicting ourselves, which just leads to a lot of useless nitpicking and arguing about the past, when we should be discussing what’s happening in the present. Did we not want Obama to change his public opinion about marriage equality? Are we supposed to be mad at Beyoncé and her husband for going vegan?

We recently got this email from a reader:

Dear Rookie,

I was raised in a Catholic family and still regularly attend church with them. I have a lot of issues with the Catholic Church, but I share most of its main beliefs. It’s only recently that I discovered Rookie and some other online communities, and my eyes were opened so much to feminism and women’s rights. However, from the time I understood what abortion is, I was taught that it’s wrong. Now that I’m a teenager, I have no idea what to believe. I’m leaning toward being pro-choice, as I don’t want anyone, especially some old man in Congress, telling me what I can or can’t do with my body. But then I’ll get confused, because I have several little siblings, adoption exists, and the idea of terminating a life that’s begun terrifies me. I feel like I have a different view every day. How do I figure out where I stand?

Thank you,
Katherine, 17

The first thing I’ll say to you, Katherine, and to all of you Rookies, is that having a different view every day is a stance, and it’s one that’s a lot more nuanced and honest than ignoring your complicated and sometimes contradictory feelings about a subject just to sound more sure of yourself. It is completely OK to let people know that you aren’t 100% sure how you feel about any given topic. I’ve certainly felt, at parties or in random conversations, like I needed to hurriedly formulate an opinion on whatever is being discussed. Sometimes I rush into these opinions and then feel like I have to stick by whatever I said initially out of fear of being labeled unsure of myself. How I wish I realized back then that I could have looked someone in the eye and said, “You know, I’ve thought a lot about freegans and I still haven’t really figured out how I feel about them—I’m conflicted. So I guess conflicted is how I feel.” Not being completely sure is just as valid a position as anything else.

Some of you might have all of your beliefs figured out. I’ve met some of you at Rookie events, and you blow me away with your intelligence. But the majority of teenagers, even incredibly brilliant ones, are still trying to figure out how you feel about counter-terrorism/musicians dissing each other/poverty/Obamacare/Kimye. Hell, if we’re honest with ourselves, most adults aren’t 100% committed to a single position on most subjects. My point is that you can be completely solid in your convictions while accepting new ways of looking at things and new facts, and if your convictions happen to change as a result, well, that’s what we call growth.

If you’re not sure how you feel about an issue, try this: Sit down and suss out your initial gut reaction; ask your friends how they feel about it; ask your family how they feel about it; read some outside opinions from different sides of that issue. Actually, Amy Poehler did an “Ask Amy” that addressed forming beliefs and opinions better than I can in a paragraph—please just watch it. Once you’ve formulated your opinion, guess what? It’s yours to do with what you want! You may keep it to yourself, you may talk about it when it comes up in conversation, or you may screen-print T-shirts that say Tempeh Forever! and give them away to strangers. What you do with your opinions is totally and completely up to you—you are under no obligation to sing them from the rooftops or keep them like a secret.

When you really, really believe something, it seems like you will feel this way forever. I know that I feel that way currently about my love of animals, my commitment to GLBT rights, and my inexplicable fear of E.T. But who knows? Maybe they’ll do an E.T. reboot and I’ll fall in love with the little guy and forget to be scared. I have, in my life, held fervently so many beliefs that I just don’t feel the same way about anymore, like thinking that my parents are idiots—time has taught me that my folks are a wealth of wisdom and information and history, some of which occasionally still has the ability to embarrass me in public.

Very few opinions or beliefs last a lifetime, and that’s pretty cool—it means we are always changing and growing. Some of your convictions may be the core of who you are and stick with you for your entire life, but for the most part, we’re gonna keep evolving and learning and thinking about issues that haven’t even been dreamt up yet. It may be a bit scary to realize that so few things are completely set in stone, even in your own head, but it’s time to get more comfortable. Change is inevitable. Growth is optional. ♦

31 Comments

  • Christi December 9th, 2013 7:19 PM

    Thank you so much for this! This has been on my mind a lot lately. Also, I am in somewhat the same boat as Katherine on the abortion issue. I am Catholic and will quickly identify as pro-choice; however, I also feel a little confused about its morality. It’s reassuring to see I’m not the only one.

  • spudzine December 9th, 2013 7:35 PM

    OMG THIS 1000X THIS. What people today fail to realize today is that IT IS PERFECTLY FINE TO HAVE MADE MISTAKES. I used to be narrowminded about some topics, and now I am less ignorant on certain subjects. This doesn’t mean that I am a liar because I no longer hold the same belief. This just means that I’ve changed, and change can scare people. You are not obligated to be the same person you were before, and you can have an honest opinion whenever the heck you want. You CAN change.

    (I am kind of relieved that I’m not the only one confused about the abortion debate. I think abortion’s great, but I’m also not sure if it correlates with my religous beliefs)

    http://spudzine.tumblr.com/
    http://emotwins.tumblr.com/
    http://rockogirl.tumblr.com/

  • Ting December 9th, 2013 7:40 PM

    ROOKIE READS MY MIND AGAIN!
    I was just thinking about how I have changed my mind in the past couple of years, and how I’ll probably keep changing my mind as I continue through high school and hopefully college. And as much as it scares me, I agree that it is good to be able to change and I’m glad that there was this article on it.
    http://www.meadowinferno.blogspot.com

  • anna eve December 9th, 2013 7:51 PM

    Thank you so so so much for this! I guess I’m in a figuring-myself-out sort of phase right now, so it’s so helpful to know that I don’t have to keep my beliefs the same as they always were, even if they’re supposed to be my deeply rooted “values.” There are big issues that I’m still trying to work out my stance about, so thank you so much for reaffirming the fact that it’s okay to be a flip-flopper, it’s even completely normal. Again, thank you, this was a truly amazing post!

    http://lilliputianlilac.blogspot.com

  • Savidi December 9th, 2013 8:02 PM

    This is interesting. i’m kind of like Katherine here. i’m not catholic, i’m buddhist but i don’t know where i stand with abortion either. i don’t believe that it should be outlawed but i feel that a lot of women are only pro-choice because they’re fighting against the principle of the thing(having some congressman telling you what to do) and not the actual issue. please correct me if i’m wrong. i really do want to hear from both sides. I just think that myself personally, could not have an abortion because i could not be responsible for killing a child to be. I understand that sometimes it can be dangerous for some women to give birth under some circumstances, but why have an abortion when there are other options?

    • Panda December 9th, 2013 8:36 PM

      The abortion issue is extremely difficult one. I personally identify as pro-choice but I don’t think I could actually have an abortion. I think you can identify as pro-choice but not actually want that for yourself. It is about giving other women the right to do what they want with their bodies and not judging them for it.

      There are other options but again, I don’t think I can judge another woman or tell her want to do with her body.

    • Zzz December 9th, 2013 9:46 PM

      Hi Savidi,

      I think that many women fight governmental intercession in abortion laws because they are worried that these laws are created without empathy for the situations that many people who need abortions are in. There’s something very reductive about the ideas that conservative male politicians (and others, but generally them!) seem to have in regard to who can morally justify having an abortion.

      There are so many different reasons and motives for having abortions, but I feel as though too much of the political discourse is about arguing that victims of rape and incest can get them, people with disabled children shouldn’t be so evil as to try, and anyone else is a slut who deserves what’s coming for them. There’s something really scary about arguments that seek to blame women for their situations, and arguments that fail to take into account pregnant women as real human beings with lives and feelings outside of their wombs.

      As I get older and my friends start families (or don’t), I’ve seen far more reasons why abortions might be necessary. One of my friends was forced to have a late-term abortion after her baby died. Another two became accidentally pregnant because they have PCOS and thought they were infertile. One of them gave herself an abortion in a really unsafe way, and other other made it very clear to the rest of us that early pill-based abortions can be painful and difficult. I think that anti-abortion activists want to imagine a world in which abortions are easy and women do them for fun. That’s the kind of discourse we need to eliminate and fight against.

    • soviet_kitsch December 9th, 2013 9:51 PM

      the idea that women should be restricted access to abortions and denied medical privacy stems from an inherently patriarchal construct that says women are only good for letting men fuck them and then pumping out babies. until the fourth week, the developing fetus is almost nothing, it’s more an idea of a fetus as opposed to a complex being like a late-trimester baby (source was the mayo clinic website), and the placenta doesn’t even begin to form until week four, too. another thing is that a woman could potentially have a miscarriage soon after conception that could very easily be mistaken for a heavy period, which should give you an idea as to how formed the blastocyst is, hehe. with no disrespect/animosity towards you, it always irks me when i see lack of basic scientific facts masquerading as concern for children, because it just goes to show us how long we have to go! i hope this helps you, and again, no judgement towards you. i was conflicted on the issue for a while myself, but it’s hard to justify being disabled with a deep curiosity and desire for cutting-edge science while still somehow remaining anti-abortion.

  • Maryse89 December 9th, 2013 8:37 PM

    This is a really important piece. I feel like I change my mind about things every other day, and I’m already an adult. as a teenager, i was even worse

    I also think it’s important to be able to have certain issues that you admit you will never understand enough to have a concrete, well-informed opinion on.

    This is me anytime anyone asks me about my opinions on the Israel/Palestine situation for example. I have a gut feeling about it, but there is no way I will ever be able to truly understand such a complex situation. So I just say, as Emily so beautifully put it, “I’m conflicted”

  • Zzz December 9th, 2013 9:36 PM

    To those of you who are conflicted about abortion, it’s so wonderful that you are discussing it openly with each other and considering all the different perspectives out there. You’re the perfect embodiment of this article!

    Something that’s important to consider is the difference between your own personal choices and the rules that are applied to other people. It’s not a logical or ethical contradiction to think that abortion should be legalised and freely available whilst having personal reservations about it. You may feel that the loss of a potential human being is too much for you to handle, or you may feel that you would be too ethically burdened by that choice due to the moral code you were raised with. Those are totally legitimate feelings to have, and they don’t mean that you can’t also believe in the right that other women have to make their own choices based on their own circumstances and ideals.

    • soviet_kitsch December 9th, 2013 9:52 PM

      already posted a comment but i agree 100%

  • julalondon December 9th, 2013 10:24 PM

    This is so good; i always had a bad opinion about myself when changing my mind about stuff. What you say is true; it’s all about Change and growth and those are GOOD things.

  • pattyandselma December 9th, 2013 11:38 PM

    Hi. I have an unrelated question i was wondering if any poc would like to answer. I’m trying to figure out how to be the best ally in the antiracist struggle as possible. One of the things I’ve learned from many awesome blogs that deals with antiracism is that I as a white person shouldn’t be the one doing the loudest shouting. Because I am not the one it is about.

    Now, one of my friends is black (i’ll call her Anna) and the thing is I don’t know if i can ask her this because I don’t want her to feel like she’s being used as my counselor in white guilt.

    My question is: when we’re hanging out with other people, when do I call out things for being racists and when do I shut up?

    For example, we & two other persons were hanging out and I said that i thought an acquaintance of ours was racist for this and this reason. am I acting like a steamrolling jerk to think I as a white person can call out others for being racist? Should I let Anna have the first say in the issue?

    Another example where I feel I went over the line was when our mutual friend had mentioned to her boyfriend’s friend that Anna was black and he responded “aall right! i always wanted to have sex with a black girl” and I was like… “that sounded a bit iffy”.
    Afterwards I kinda felt like that wasn’t my thing to judge, but i just blurted it out in the heat of the moment.

    I know no one owes me to teach me about racism. But i feel it’s easier to address this on the internet rather than to my friend so as not to make her feel uncomfortable. we’re just beginning to get to know each other away from our group of friends.

    • GorillazFangirl December 10th, 2013 2:00 AM

      Hi pattyandselma, I think that if you feel discomfort with racist comments and racism you should voice your thoughts. You shouldn’t let the colour of your skin stop you curbing racism. Be vocal. Instead of it being the ‘black fight against racism’ rather everybody of every skin colour must unite together and point out racists. Only when we all do this together, will the prominence of different skin colours start to diminish and racists will be seen merely as ‘bad people’ instead of ‘bad white people,’ for example.

      Goodluck and know that there will be a greater world if we reconcile our separate pasts and unite for a homogeneous future.

      • pattyandselma December 10th, 2013 7:59 AM

        Thank you for your beautiful words. I will keep them with me. And speak up when I see racism.

        • pattyandselma December 10th, 2013 10:35 AM

          But also I just want to add, if some on is reading this, after thinking some more, that I DO feel like there are times when I should rather listen than speak. I have a male friend who recently got into feminism which is great, but sometimes I get irritated with him because he takes up too much space in our conversation (which he’s been taught to do for his whole life) and sometimes speaks FOR me and I’m like “well, what do you REALLY know?” Like be humble, be supportive and don’t speak for me about situations you have never lived through.
          I think that this applies to me and anti-racism as well.

  • milky December 10th, 2013 4:09 AM

    abortion for me, i was completely no buts pro-choice before i had a kid, only thinking about how women should not be told what they can do with their bodies. then i started to think maybe i am pro-life since i couldn’t stand the thought of terminating my baby once i had her in my arms (sounds cliche but its true). i’m still pro-choice but in my stomach i hope that people would choose to keep it but i accept someone else’s life is ultimately none of my business.

    so yeah totally ok to question what you thought was truth and to change your mind! :)

  • eesmee December 10th, 2013 9:55 AM

    This is great, thanks Emily!

  • Erin. December 10th, 2013 11:44 AM

    Very nice essay, Emily.
    I remember being as young as ten, and having to do mock parliamentary debates in class, and having to chose a side, and being unable to do so, because I could always see the pros and cons of each side (and there are always more than two sides to an issue anyways). Numerous people have gotten annoyed with me because I’m so indecisive, but truly I think it’s a strength to see the good and bad in everything. It means that you can think critically no matter what. It means that you are thinking!

    • Erin. December 10th, 2013 11:45 AM

      Oh, also, I love your collage, Minna!

  • Abby December 10th, 2013 11:58 AM

    This is perfect, thank you. I wish people wouldn’t be so “OMG SHE CHANGED HER MIND FLIP FLOPPER”. It’s GOOD to grow and change your views on things, especially when you come upon new information that contradicts your views.

  • JennaF December 10th, 2013 2:32 PM

    The way I see the pro-choice thing: Ideally, there would be no need for abortions, ever. In this ideal, people who didn’t want to have a baby would use infallible birth control whenever consensual sexual contact occurred, and there would never be any non-consensual sex.

    However, lacking these idealized conditions, I can’t stomach the idea of making abortion illegal. Non-ideal things happen, and abortion is sometimes the least-bad of bad options. Not to mention that people will get abortions whether abortion is legal or not; but if abortions are legal, those abortions are more likely to be affordable and safe.

    • erintintin December 10th, 2013 5:07 PM

      I understand your position. And an ideal world would be lovely, wouldn’t it? *sigh*
      Still, not all abortions are completely safe. The laws that they recently tried to pass in Texas were to require ventilation in abortion facilities and other safety procedures and people got upset about that. It is sad because in some ways abortions help women who need it, but oftentimes, it (planned parenthood) is a moneymaking business and they take advantage of their opportunities for more profit rather than focusing on the well being of their patients.

      • Purple December 10th, 2013 8:52 PM

        A lot of those laws (like the ones you mentioned in Texas) are not about making abortions safer. They’re about making it difficult for abortion clinics to operate and forcing them to shut down over technicalities that do not affect the quality of medical care provided.

        Also, Planned Parenthood is not a money making organization. It is a nonprofit organization designed to help poor women have access to basic medical care so they can have happy, productive lives.

        Here’s a great article on the matter:

        http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/23/opinion/abortion-in-texas.html?ref=abortion

  • elliecp December 10th, 2013 2:40 PM

    this is awesome. I’m constantly changing, and I always hate and regret the ‘old’ me and what she thought and did. I think this is what growing up is like…you just keep changing and changing until you discover who you really are. I’ve been scene, emo, punk, indie, chavvy, retro and back again and I’m sure I have plenty more phases still to go through….that’s what life is. Bowie is my inspiration though as he changed so many times and now seems so happy and comfortable. He was never apologetic for changing either, which I really admire in a world where we are supposed to know who we are and what we want the minute we take our first breath of air.

    http://roseandvintage.blogspot.com/

  • Clair December 10th, 2013 4:24 PM

    Just for some of the readers (and for the original letter-writer) who have questions regarding faith & reproductive rights/choice/justice – recently my campus had a pastor from the Minnesota Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice give a talk about faith and choice and how she and others feel about these issues and how they intersect. It might be a helpful resource when trying to formulate your opinions, so I thought I’d share!
    http://www.mnrcrc.org

  • erintintin December 10th, 2013 4:58 PM

    First of all I will say that I LOVE LOVE LOVE this post. All of it is so very true. I actually find myself bothered when some of my friends quickly jump sides on an issue they have no idea about just because they want to be on the “liberal” or “conservative” side of the issue.

    Second of all, I am Catholic, and as of right now I have my beliefs mostly figured out (though they could always change). I am pro gay rights. I am pro life. I don’t identify with any political party just because, I mean, I can’t even vote yet so…

    Still, my mom is very conservative, and my dad is very liberal so in the past I have had a rough time figuring out who I am in the grand scheme of society.

    I’m just happy to hear that it is okay to change and grow, and no matter your personal opinion we can all get along here on Rookie. My pro life beliefs stem very deeply, and as I have worked things out they interfere in no way with my feminist beliefs. Although it oftentimes sharply contrasts my friends’.

    Sorry this was kind of long winded my loves <3 have a fabulous rest of your week. I'll be drowning in exam reviews.

  • diana94 December 10th, 2013 5:21 PM

    I think the issue we need to solve is deciding when, in simple words, a fetus becomes a separate entity from the woman carrying it. im still unsure on what to believe. I dont want to deny any rights to handle her own body to any woman, but i also dont want to deny the right to life that a little person who cannot speak for her or himself has, so the real debate for me right now is when does a person becomes a person? any scientific or philosophical evidence of that would be greatly appreciated.

  • Purple December 10th, 2013 8:29 PM

    Great article!

    On a side note though, can everybody please just call the Affordable Care Act by its true name instead of Obamacare? It was dubbed that by congressional Republicans to discourage voters from liking it. Regardless of whether or not you support the law, you should call it by it’s true name rather than spread misinformation and encourage a cheap political ploy.

    I don’t mean to be fastidious, just thought it was relevant and important. :)

  • flocha December 11th, 2013 5:44 AM

    It’s so nice to see this written down! Why don’t people seem to get that we are allowed to change, and actually just because we said/did something in the past doesn’t mean that we would still do it now, because people do change all the time.

    http://whimsicalprocrastination.blogspot.co.uk/

  • RubyK December 27th, 2013 2:52 PM

    People are allowed to change their minds. After all, the only constant thing in life is change. When I read that last paragraph, Whitman’s Song of Myself comes to mind: “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)”