Embracing Feminism

The term feminism has been around since the 70's but has gained immense traction lately, especially among college women. Originally, feminism represented a political movement to gain equal rights for women across economic and social spectrums. But what does feminism mean today, nearly 50 years later? What exactly does it mean to be a feminist, and who considers themselves to be one? Can men, and more importantly should men, be feminists? I set out to answer these questions.

I started where I thought would make the most sense, which was asking the men I knew if they were feminists, and what feminism means to them. The responses were hilarious and frightening. I started with the number one man in my life, my father (sorry in advance for the embarrassment, Dad). I called him up and without any context asked if he was a feminist. With hesitation and an unsure tone in his voice, he answered that he “didn't think so.” After telling him that was the wrong answer, he asked for a definition of feminism to which I responded, "feminism is the movement toward gender equality." Then I gave him a few more specifics on the ideas of the rights to receive equal pay and to be given the same opportunities as men. He couldn't argue against feminism in this context, and I honestly think he was surprised by my definition. While many people like my Dad think of feminism as a radical political movement characterized by extreme views, it has taken on an entirely different meaning in 2016 than it did in1970. Like anything else that changes over time, equality for all genders today is not the same fight as it was 50 years ago. People and their ideas have evolved and grown and expanded and changed, but the root of the issue is certainly still the same. Note, my Dad called me back the next day to let me know he did some research and would like to label himself as an "equalist" and not a "feminist." Not my first choice, but I'll take it.

I got a very similar response from my boyfriend who is over 30 years younger than my Dad. For some reason it surprised me even more that he was equally afraid of the term and the connotation that the label brings. While many men would say that they believe women should have the same social and legal rights as men, they still don't want to be labeled as a feminist. But why not? Why is the word feminism associated with such negativity, and why do so many men and even women not want to take on this label?

Feminism is not bashing women who want to be stay-at-home mothers, but rather is saying that it's okay if they want to have a career, and that men can be the ones staying home and taking care of the kids, too. Feminism is not saying that men should not be chivalrous or act like gentlemen, but rather challenging the concept that a girl should never be the one to call a guy first after a date. Feminism is not saying that women should not take their husbands’ last names, but rather that if they don't want to, they shouldn't have to. 

Women all over the world are treated unjustly, from receiving less money than a male counterpart for doing the same job to being used as sex slaves. Like any political party or issue, there are always going to be extremists that take on a single-minded view. At the end of the day, feminism is about challenging gender stereotypes and gender inequality, and saying that all people – regardless of their gender – should have the same rights. Personally, I will probably change my last name when I get married someday, but I will stand up for every woman's right to keep hers if she so chooses. So men, if you believe that your mothers, sisters, girlfriends, and wives are no less of people than you are, then guess what? You are a feminist.