My friends are all feminists, but I’m not. I’m all for equality of the sexes, but I don’t think women are superior to men or that 99 percent of men are jerks. Unlike my friends, I can enjoy a Nicki Minaj video without talking about how it’s “super anti-feminist” or whatever. As a result, my friends constantly yell at me about how I’m wrong. I don’t want to fight with them anymore. I wish they would just respect my opinion the way I respect theirs. What can I do to get them to stop trying to change my mind? —Clara, 15, Belgium

My idea of feminism is about equality for all sexes; it’s not about shaming girls and women for their opinions. Given how judgmental your friends are being, I can totally understand why you wouldn’t want to identify as a feminist! Believing in the equality of all genders is actually the only thing that’s necessary to be a feminist. Not judging other people, not reading a specific amount of books, not thinking all men are evil jerks, not even calling yourself a feminist—just believing that all people deserve the same rights and respect, regardless of gender.

When a person is learning about feminism in this day and age, one of the things they might see is people on social media being publicly shamed for saying the “wrong” thing, not taking their beliefs far enough, not knowing enough on a specific topic, or choosing to focus on other aspects of their beings and/or life than gender and its related politics. It’s important to me, as a feminist, to support all women, regardless of their backgrounds, beliefs, identities, and experiences.

There’s nothing “anti-feminist” about a Nicki Minaj video. Nicki Minaj’s feminism might not look like your friends’ feminism, but it’s unfair of them to tell you you can’t love and/or be empowered by Nicki. A simple googling of “Nicki Minaj feminist” brings up tons of articles that could be fascinating for all of you!

You’ve got a few options for dealing with this. You can ask your friends questions that challenge their opinions, like: “If feminism means supporting women, why are you being so harsh on Nicki?” But if you’re uncomfortable doing that, or you just don’t feel like getting into it with them anymore, you have every right to change the subject—talk about the things that DO inspire you. What I would honestly advise, though, is spending more time with people who support you and don’t yell at you when you disagree with them. Your friends are not changing your mind; they’re making you feel like crap. They need to stop telling you what to do and be respectful of your thoughts and feelings. You could even argue that what they’re doing now—disrespecting your intellect and making you feel awful just for having your own convictions—is what’s “super anti-feminist.” —Meredith
I’ve been gossiping a lot lately. I feel like I just HAVE to tell this person what AWFUL thing that someone said/did/texted me. This habit has gotten me into some sticky situations, but my friends don’t try to stop it. They just whisper back some equally awful dirt about someone else. I’ve talked smack about other people for so long that I don’t know how to stop. ​HELP! —Sarah, 13, Milwaukee

I don’t think gossip comes from a bad place, necessarily. Gossip is intoxicating, and there have been long, long periods in my life (see: high school, college, my 20s) where I felt like sharing other people’s secrets was not only the easiest way to befriend someone, but also the most fun. Gossiping is like Krazy Glue for new friendships—sharing your own secrets requires real trust, but sharing someone else’s only requires you to open your mouth. I’m sorry to hear that it’s gotten you into some sticky situations, but I can’t say that I’m surprised. It can be really hurtful when information you thought was private goes public, as you obviously understand, or else you wouldn’t have sent in this question. Now, here are some questions I have for you: Whom are you telling these secrets to, and why? Are you telling secrets to people you’re trying to impress? Are you telling secrets in order to feel like you’re in control of a situation? Or are you just giddy with knowledge, the way you would be if you know that your parents were gonna buy your little sister a pony for her birthday?

Here’s my advice, hard-earned: Try to focus more on your own stuff. Talk to your friends about what’s really going on in your life, rather than in other people’s. If you and a friend spend time talking about what’s happening with a mutual friend, that’s OK as long as it comes from loving and caring about that person, or even just needing to vent a little. But keep an eye on it, and watch for when it starts to boil. There’s a dark center buried deep inside what we say about other people, and if you feed that spot too much, it begins to grow. That dark center (maybe it’s jealousy, or anger, or pain) can get so big that it swallows up everything else around it. When your friends whisper back to you about other people, they’re feeding their own dark centers, as well as yours. It’s absolutely fine (and even healthy) to talk about other people, but just make sure that your center (the sweet, open part of you that wrote to Rookie) is clear. If you’re coming from a place of love, you’ll know it. —Emma S.
I’ve been getting more into exercise and being generally healthy, but I’m having trouble finding any fitness advice or plans that aren’t about “fixing your flaws.” I’m trying to see my body positively and take care of it, and those kinds of messages feel super toxic and unhealthy to me! Where can I find body-positive fitness and health resources? —Abby, 19, Wisconsin

Congrats on making the choice to be healthier! I share your experience of looking for fitness ideas and inspiration and being really bummed out about the seemingly limited options available, most of which seem to be based in mindsets like “Lose weight and find a mate”—just a bunch of crappy messages that make you feel bad about yourself instead of strong and fierce.

Luckily, there are other resources out there than the dismal, depressing offerings of the grocery store magazine rack. I’ll tell you about a few of them but, first, let’s look at the four basic building blocks of fitness. I identify these as aerobic exercise (cardio), flexibility, strength, and mental health.

Aerobic exercise means anything that gets your heart pumping (running, biking, jumping up and down, dancing, etc.). If you want some cardio inspiration, check out Punk Rock Aerobics. The concept behind it is totally fun and empowering: Pogo and slam-dance your way to cardio health! For flexibility, I like the website Decolonizing Yoga, which is an amazing resource for yoga news and inspiration. They have loads of body-positive videos and super-interesting articles. And for strength,the website Pretty STRONG is all about building muscles without any talk about our “flaws.” Mental health is the most complicated one of all, and the one I am least qualified to address. However, many studies have indicated that physical exercise is a natural mood enhancer and contributes to better mental health overall, so getting your body moving is definitely a step in the right direction. For more inspiration and ideas, check out the blogs Fit Is a Feminist Issue and Fit and Feminist, whose motto is “It takes a strong woman to smash the patriarchy,” and which also features a great blogroll of other cool sites, INCLUDING the site I started, Ms. Fit, an affirming, body-positive feminist health and fitness webzine.

I hope these ideas help! One of the reasons I created Ms. Fit was that it seemed like the whole culture of women’s fitness was about body shaming women into exercise, but when women feel powerful in our bodies—whatever beautiful bodies we have—that’s when we’re a force to be reckoned with. —Kathie Bergquist, publisher and editor of Ms. Fit ♦

If there’s something you’d like to try, ask us, we won’t say no, how could we? That rhyme doesn’t work as well in the second person, but we hope you’ll still email your life-based questions to [email protected]. We like it when you include your NAME, nickname, or first initial, plus your AGE and CITY.