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What to Say to Someone Who “Doesn’t Identify as a Feminist”

Whether you identity as Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, white or black, Catholic or atheist, man or woman, or anything outside/inbetween those strict confines – feminism is for you.

Feminism can be a tricky word to unpack. It’s often misrepresented, and consequently misunderstood. Because of this, a decent percentage of the public despises the word “feminism” – not because they are inherently misogynistic or sexist, but because the “feminism” they’ve been shown by the media has had less do with equality, and more to do with double standards.

So before you get angry at Uncle Ed or your co-worker, Jenny, because they “don’t identify as a feminist,” take the time to have an educated and respectful conversation. Figure out where they are coming from, and start with saying the following three things.

And if you are an Uncle Ed or a Jenny, hopefully you can learn something from this article as well.

1. “The true definition of feminism is…”

Equality of the sexes. It’s that simple. Feminism is not a group of man-hating, bra burning, “career obsessed banshees” (as put by Republican Senate candidate Courtland Sykes). Feminism is a group of people (yes people…both men and women) that want to end inequality, sexism, and oppression.  Feminists don’t hate men; feminists hate the patriarchal system in which they operate.

Just like in any social group, any race, any religion, any ethnicity – ONE part does not represent the whole. This means when self-proclaimed feminist Jane Doe tweets out, “MEN ARE THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL. LET’S BURN THEM AT THE STAKE,” she does not fit the definition of a feminist. So, instead of walking away from a positive and empowering movement because a select few are misunderstanding the true meaning, we should be educating people, like Miss Jane, about the actual meaning of feminism (maybe by showing her this article).

Now ask yourself this: Do you support equal pay for equal work? Do you believe rape culture needs to come to an end? Do you think laws to protect victims of sexual assault/abuse should be in place? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you are a feminist.

Now here’s the good news: most people are feminists. The big problem is a lot of people don’t recognize this! Solving issues like the wage gap and the feminization of poverty can only be done when we unite as one common and powerful force. The first step to doing this is acknowledging that we are all, in fact, feminists.

2. “This is what the feminist movement does for both MEN and WOMAN…”

The Feminist movement is not a Zero-Sum Game (a situation which one person’s gain is equivalent to another’s loss).

Feminism is beneficial for everyone. When you empower a woman, you empower the sons she raises. When you help a woman escape the vicious cycle of poverty, you help her sons escape a world of violence. When you supply a woman with proper access to education, you educate her sons in return.

Author and activist bell hooks defines feminism as “a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation,  and oppression. (…). Practically, it is a definition which implies that all sexist thinking and action is the problem, whether those who perpetuate it are  female or male.” If you are male, I’m sure you’ve encountered times where you were told to “man up.” You were told you couldn’t cry, or show any emotion other than aggression. You may have felt obligated to make the first move in a romantic relationship, or pay on the first (or every) date. The feminist movement aims to put an end to this form sexism against men as well.

3. “Pro-life does not equate to anti-feminist…”

So here’s where it’s gets a bit tricky. There are handfuls of individuals that want to identify as feminists, but feel excluded from the movement because their religious beliefs call them to be pro-life. Their concerns are real and valid. Take a moment to remind them that they can be pro-choice and remain against abortion. They can be an advocate for alternate options, but still stand by women having the right to make decisions about their body. If that doesn’t work, inform them they are always allowed to say, “I am a Feminist, but here is where I align on this specific issue and this is why…”. The point is to discuss. Feminists should find commonalities between themselves and other feminists, but they should also talk about their differences in views. This is where the most change will happen.

Conversation is key. Respect is key. Understanding, empathy, and compassion are all key. But most importantly, feminism is key. It is key to creating a better and more equal future for ALL people. If you take away ANYTHING from this article, this is it: feminism has little do with political alignment, and a lot to do with being a decent human being.

Maddie is a freshman at the University of Kansas studying Psychology and Philosphy. Maddie is originally from Chicago but most recently lived in a small town of southern Illinois. While she has ambitions to pursue a Ph.D in Counseling Psychology after her undergraduate, Maddie is passionate about both reading and writing poetry. Maddie loves pizza, Italian greyhounds, and spending time with her friends and family. 
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