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Why We Need To Stop Arguing Over The Definition Of A “Feminist”

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCLA chapter.

Feminism. When you hear the word “feminism,” what do you think of? Do you think of the dictionary definition: “the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes” or of the Women’s Marches that happen across the globe? In recent years, feminism has definitely come to sit on the forefront of the minds of the American people. It would be difficult to find someone who doesn’t have an opinion one way or the other, and many people practice feminism everyday without calling it that. As feminism remains a top thought in American culture, as the #MeToo movement moves forward and as more and more women seek office, feminism has become a major fighting point because not everyone knows or agrees with the specific definitions for the vocabulary of feminism.  

One of the most confusing things about feminism is how we refer to it in waves. People started talking about feminism in waves in the 20th century, as a way to go from the ’60s and ’70s women’s movement to the suffrage movement to the present feminist generations. No matter what source you look at for information on these “waves” of feminism, you’ll find dozens of different answers. Are we in the third wave of feminism? The fourth? The fifth?  When did the last wave end, and this wave start? Waves of feminism are characterized by their contributions to society and feminist theory, but they are often messy, overlapping and confusing.  

However harmless it may seem to divide feminism into these waves, separating the movement into specific goals and failures separates the women behind the movement too. Instead of working together to collaborate and push the whole movement forward, each new wave of feminists instead works against the feminists of the past to criticize the previous wave’s failures. Each new wave proclaims a “better” attitude and “superior” tactics to drive the movement forward.

In each wave of feminism, feminists fight more about why they are better than their predecessors rather than for the goals of the movement. While the “waves” division is a good tool to see how the movement has progressed over the decades and how the movement and its goals have changed over time, waves are too often used for the new generation of feminists to argue why they are the best feminists. The separation of the movement into “waves” then serves to make each wave seem like a separate movement, where each movement has its own goals, its own failures, its own flaws.

Beyond discussing the feminist movement in waves, feminism today has changed and become far more complex than it was when the movement began. Feminism began with women wanting to be treated as people, not property, and grew into the suffrage movement and comes today to the point where women want to be seen as equals to men on every level. When the movement first began, “feminists” did not disrespect or hate men, and their goal was simply to attain the rights they deserved as humans. This is the definition of feminism at its base level, and the definition I will always support.  

Today, feminism has become so much more than what it once was. It has grown to be much more complex, and while the fundamental principle of feminism is still equality, there are many modern feminists today who have twisted this original purpose into something that every woman may not be able to get behind.  

Does feminism today still mean we want our voices heard? Does it still mean we are looking for equality? Do we have to believe in abortion to be feminists now?  Do we have to be liberals? Can feminists be conservative? In the 2016 election, are the women who did not vote for Hillary Clinton not feminists? Feminism isn’t only about supporting other women no matter what. Not every woman agreed with Hillary Clinton’s views or her beliefs solely because she is a woman. Real feminists should be able to think for themselves and recognize that other women think for themselves too. They are not blindly following the herd, but are out front, paving the way to the future—their goal is not to get every woman on the same page but to recognize the diversity of opinion and support the theory that women should have their own thoughts and their own goals in mind.  

A “feminist” is not someone who follows what other women are doing just to go with the crowd. A feminist is someone who follows her own path and forms her own opinions. We shouldn’t be arguing over whether so-and-so is a true or real feminist. True feminism is the idea of women supporting other women and, yes, that includes supporting a women’s ability and choice to think for herself, even if you disagree with her.  

A “feminist” also does not necessarily have to be anti-men to be pro-women. “Smash the patriarchy” and “girl power” are battle-cries that feminists today call out, but do we have to put men down to be feminists? Are the feminists who yell these cries out trying to show the men that they believe in equality? If so, there are better ways to do that. Believing in equality can be as simple as treating the opposite sex equally. This doesn’t mean ignoring sexist behaviors, but it means finding a balance. Men are not necessarily inherently dangerous, and pushing the idea that women are better than men only works against us in our charge for equality.  

A “feminist” does not have to be an extremist. They do not need to support the chanting or the yelling, the free-the-nipple movement or any of the oversexualization aspects of the feminist movement. There are a lot of extremes that don’t resonate with every woman out there.

I may disagree with or fail to understand some aspects of the feminist movement, but I can respect other women’s perspectives. Women are all strong, powerful and beautiful. I have so much respect for every glass ceiling we have shattered and every envelope we have pushed open. The feminist movement is a powerful movement. We are not all the same, and we do not all think the same. However, if we can all work together and be more tolerant of each other, we can further our progress and increase the respect for the feminist movement. Being a feminist isn’t something we should argue over. Being a feminist is simply being a woman who supports other women. And every one of us has that potential.

Alyssa Chew is a fourth-year Electrical Engineering major at UCLA. She is excited to be a Features Writer for Her Campus at UCLA and to get involved and explore Los Angeles. Alyssa hopes you enjoy reading her articles!
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