I hear this word all the time. It’s usually exchanged between close friends in hushed tones. They look around the room to see who could possibly overhear them. Only after making sure that the coast is completely clear do they say it……
I’ll admit it. I am a feminist. I will say it loud and proud. However, it’s hard for us not to be aware of the growing antagonism toward this word. You say it and, all of a sudden, everyone has an opinion. Next thing you know, you are in a screaming match with the football player in your accounting class who you’ve never talked to before. The second you say feminism, though, he feels the need to point out that he doesn’t appreciate those who persecute men. This antagonism, I believe, is based on a misunderstanding and lack of conversation. So, before we can even talk about why we need feminism or the impact it would have on society, we need to take a few steps backward.
What do we mean when we say Feminism?
Now, I am not here to define everyone’s feminism. I am here to speak about the general goals and ideologies of the feminist movement as it exists today. You may disagree and that is okay.
Feminism is not a hatred of men. That is misandry. Feminism is about equality. It is about taking apart gender roles that have existed for ages. These gender roles have led to men taking a dominant role in society over women. Feminism seeks to give men and women equal footing in society. In theory, this is beneficial to both men and women. Women will be able to bridge the pay gap and bring an end to rape culture. Men will feel free to express their emotions without fear of being called “less than a man.” Both men and women can be feminists.
You might be wondering: if feminism is about equality, why not call it the “equality movement,” rather than feminism? Historically, women have been the ones who are oppressed in society. Therefore, we use the term feminism in order to signify the fact that women are the ones who need actions taken in their favor.
Modern feminism is intersectional. Feminism (in theory) advocates for women of all races, religions, or sexual orientations. It gives a voice to both cis and transgender women. In the past, feminism has been extremely white-washed and, I won’t lie, feminism today is still largely geared toward the cis, white, straight woman. However, there has been more of a switch towards inclusion of all women into the feminist movement in recent years. We have a lot of progress to make in the future, but this is where feminism is headed.
Feminism has a lot to do with choice. Women have been historically given less choices about pretty much everything. We are limited in what jobs we can have, what we can do with our bodies, what we should and shouldn’t wear, and so, so, so much more. Feminism tries to give women back their own autonomy, or control over their lives. Feminism is sex positive and fights for women’s reproductive rights.
Now, let’s quickly touch on the elephant in the room. What if you believe you are a feminist, but you don’t identify with some of the commonly accepted liberal feminist perspectives? This is a tough issue to tackle and almost everyone I’ve talked to brings a different perspective to the table. I can only give you my words of wisdom. One of my favorite (albeit cheesy) quotes is, “Live and let live.” If you believe that feminism is something different, that is okay. However, since feminism is based on choice, it is not okay to take away other women’s choices because you believe something different.
I hope that reading this article has demystified feminism for those who never quite understood it. For my die- hard feminist sisters out there: don’t immediately shut out those who might disagree with you. Have a conversation with them. Discuss any misunderstandings. Explain your opinion in a language which includes, rather than excludes. This is the path to a better future.