5 Ways to Explain Feminism to a Non-Feminist

For many of us, identifying as feminists seems like an obvious choice. Even more so, it might feel inherent to who we are as individuals. For others, though, this is not the case. This means that we sometimes find ourselves forced to correct others’ assumptions or misconceptions about feminism.

Here are some helpful ways to explain feminism to those who don’t identify as feminists, want to but don’t quite understand what feminism is about, or even those who denounce feminism entirely. You can also use any of these explanations as reasons for your own identification as a feminist or to brush up on your alignment with the movement!

1. Define feminism

The definition of feminism is, according to Merriam-Webster, “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.” One of the most common misconceptions about feminism is that it’s about man-hating and female superiority. This might be why feminism seems like a dirty word, even for those people who wholeheartedly agree with the term’s proper definition! Often, a little clarification of the definition is all someone needs to realize that they are, in fact, a feminist!

How to use this argument:

According to Rachel Platt, a junior at James Madison University, “The best way to explain feminism to anyone is [by asking,] 'Do you think men and women should have equal rights?’ When/if they say yes, respond with, ‘Then you’re a feminist.’” Once again, sometimes it just takes pointing out the obvious for people to recognize the legitimacy of feminism.

Related: 7 College Women Explain Why We Need Feminism

2. Feminism makes sense!

As exemplified by its definition and by the feelings most feminists have, feminism is a logical solution to our world’s problems of inequality. As long as people are marginalized and regarded or seen as less than others, feminism remains a useful tool. Feminism is about making the world more navigable and open to those who have historically been denied access to spaces of power, privilege, access and success.

Julie Zeilinger, author and founder of The FBomb, an online feminist community, explains that “even when exposed to the definition [of feminism], there are still plenty of people who cling to the stereotype of the movement and those who identify as man-hating, angry or generally combative.” This is why it sometimes takes a little more explaining to those who are non- or anti-feminist.

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In order to get around these difficulties, Shailagh Lannon, a sophomore at Gustavus College, suggests using memes. “People from our generation tend to be more receptive to memes than other forms of communication,” and leveling the playing field for others to understand feminism in this way is really important. 

3. Feminism is helpful for everyone

Feminism is about so much more than equal rights and equal pay for women. Feminism is also for trans people, queer people, gender nonconforming people, people of color, people of varying bodily ability and all marginalized and subjugated identities that exist in our world. Though it sounds focused on female-male equality, feminism and its resources can be used as a kind of jumping-off point for other activist movements. Again, feminism is about equality and fairness, which are not at all limited to sex or gender differences.

How to use this argument:

Emily-Rose Grieve, a second year student at the University of Warwick, says that she has the most success explaining feminism to non-feminists “by giving ‘flipped situation’ examples.” For instance, when talking to male friends about catcalling, Grieve asked: “If a woman old enough to be your mother yelled ‘Hey sexy’ at you in the street, wouldn’t you be embarrassed and uncomfortable?” This kind of tactic is a very effective way of demonstrating that feminism is about making space for the fair treatment of all individuals. If one person should not be treated this way, then no one else should either!

4. Feminism insists on the inclusion of all identities

While feminism is about group solidarity, it also recognizes that individuals are by no means the same. Second-wave feminism of the ‘60s through the ‘80s—and, arguably, popular feminism of today—very much favored normative (white, heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied, etc.) identities. For this reason, it is understandable that a lot of people take issue with feminism’s seeming exclusivity. Modern feminism should (and often does!) seek to do a better job of inclusion.

How to use this argument:

“A goal as broad as equality means many different things to many different people and takes different forms and involves different actions,” says Zeilinger. When you encounter those who identify as non-feminists because they believe the movement is not welcoming to them, you can emphasize the endless work women of color, trans individuals and others have always been doing for feminism.

Though popular feminism has often failed to recognize these individuals, their feminist activism has been essential. This is exemplified by the lives of Sojourner Truth, Sylvia Rivera and Celeste Liddle. Look up these brilliant individuals and let yourself and others be inspired and feel called to action by the work they’ve done! Zeilinger adds that “the [feminist] movement today is inextricable from the influence and work of previous generations. We can learn from past mistakes…and try to emulate past successes.” We have to include the work of all feminists in order to do so.

Related: A Feminist Response to “I Am Not A Feminist, And That Is Okay”

5. Feminism is still so important

We don’t live in a post-feminist world, just like we don’t live in a post-racial one. This means that feminism remains a crucial movement. This is constantly evidenced by stories in the news and the experiences—like catcalling, unequal treatment in the workplace and harassment—that women and others endure every single day. Feminism has made great strides, and the fact that this article exists and that feminism has become a part of the popular vernacular speaks to that fact. This does not mean, however, that there isn’t much more work to be done. So, take these items and integrate them into your conversations at school, online, and with your friends, family and strangers. This is the first step to doing feminist work.

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Feminism’s continuing importance is easily evidenced by the remarkably common acts of violence and inequality that women and others experience all the time. While the Equal Pay Act may have been passed, women still earn a fraction of the amount of money men do for the same work (and the statistics only get more dire for women of color and other non-hegemonic individuals).

Stories of trans women being attacked and killed seem to be becoming more and more frequent, and recent stories like those in North Carolina and Mississippi demonstrate that same-sex marriage legalization has in no way ensured gay people have access to their full civil liberties. These examples are saddening and infuriating, and they prove almost better than anything else that feminism is as necessary now as it has ever been.

However you choose to explain feminism, try not to come from a place of attack or guilt tripping. These aren’t effective ways to convince people of your ideas, and they probably have something to do with the bad reputation that feminism has gotten!

According to Zeilinger, “Just as we ask people to respect our decision to identify as feminist, we must respect others’ reasons for choosing not to.” No one can (or should, for that matter) be forced to be a feminist. Though it may seem like common sense to some of us, for others, there is a discomfort with this term that might not be easily overcome. Hopefully it will at some point, and they’ll have you to thank for your calm, collected and coherent explanations!

At the end of the day, movements are only as strong as the beliefs that hold them up. Without every feminist’s own convictions and opinions, the movement itself becomes less inclusive and less powerful.

As long as feminism holds diversity and inclusion as its foundations, it has to also respect that people arrive at and define feminism in their own ways. Many feminisms exist, and intersectionality is one of feminism’s great strengths. Without the various perspectives the movement seeks to include, it is only a movement for some—and at its core, feminism seeks to be a movement for everyone.