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This Is What Feminism Means to Me

In my experiences, I’ve always found the word “feminism” to be confusing. Although the dictionary definition seems straightforward, the term signifies different things among various people. As a kid, I thought that all feminists looked like Rosie the Riveter and worked to show that women were just as capable as men. As I got older, this explanation became complicated by political and social issues. When I started learning about government and politics, the concept of feminism came up again and again.

I can’t remember considering the basic principles behind feminism, only the controversy it sparked in my small, conservative hometown. In school, other girls would boldly speak out against feminists, condemning them for their conniving attempts to secure “better” not equal rights. One of my closest female friends was offended by the furor of the movement and often sympathized with those who felt “slighted” by feminists. Much of the push-back against feminism seemed to be directed towards the pervasiveness of the movement. My friend often expressed that women seemed, to her at least, so impatient. From my perspective, it seemed as though she spoke out against the movement because its supporters were loudly lobbying for change. She thought that women had progressed significantly throughout history—”I mean we can vote, can’t we?”—and that any necessary progress would just come with time. She even dubbed herself an “anti-feminist.” When she ranted about men being slighted by feminism, it always struck me as almost futile. Why was she so inclined to fight for the group that held the most power and capital rather than the group that has been historically marginalized?

As I got older, I began to recognize needs for feminism in new formats. When I was about 16, I started to notice some of the comments that my grandparents made to me but not my brothers. For example, one of the last conversations I had with my grandpa before he died was about whether or not I had a boyfriend. Although it’s not an offensive question, in retrospect, it feels weighted. He seemed to suggest that at 16 years old, I should be thinking about my relationship status—unlike my brothers, who did not need to worry about finding someone to take care of them. 

The summer after I graduated high school, I realized that despite being liberal and a woman, I couldn’t confidently call myself a feminist. My perspective up to that point had been clouded by other people’s ideas about the feminism, but I had never truly investigated the movement for myself. In an attempt to resolve my cognitive dissonance, I read “We Should All Be Feminists” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I don’t wanna spoil anything, but the book explained modern gender inequalities that have persisted and the gender norms that perpetuate them. Feminism is so easy to distort, especially because it’s often intertwined with other political and social issues, but the book reminded me that it is most deeply connected to breaking out of the limits that traditional gender roles of both men and women create. She offered a perspective on feminism that transcended all ages, races, and nationalities. She accounted for why feminists were so “impatient”—because they had the right to be. 

Not all woman are going to agree on every social and political issue, but feminism should be about giving women the ability to voice their opinions with equal reception by all. Although I don’t agree with most of my above-mentioned friend’s opinions, I still want her to be able to live in accordance with her own beliefs. While some people define feminism by the issues, I have come to define it in terms of the empowerment of all women to pursue endeavors in spite of traditional expectations. If women want to make traditional life choices about their jobs or relationships, I want them to do so without feeling coerced by societal pressures. And if women want to take different routes, I hope that they don’t have to tackle extraneous obstacles and questions about straying from what used to be the norm. For me, feminism is about utilizing gender equality to make thoughtful choices that stem from personal desires, and not societal pressures.

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