The Collegiette's Guide to Feminism

You might have heard it while watching the news, seen it while scrolling through Facebook or Tumblr or heard it mentioned in class. This word that keeps showing up. Your favorite celebs like Emma Watson, Beyonce and Joseph Gorden Levitt (yum) call themselves one. You may love it, you may hate it or you may not really know it. The word is feminism. And seeing as how we are living right in the midst of third-wave feminism, and we are approaching the International Day of the Girl (Oct. 11), I wanted to give an easy, straightforward and fun guide to understanding feminism!

What is feminism?

Feminism is a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing and defending equal and equitable political, economic, cultural and social rights for women. Simply put: the equality of the sexes in all aspects of life.

Important Terms in the Feminist Convo

  • Equity: The quality of being objective, fair and impartial.
  • Gender: Cultural and societal expressions of sex; various forms of masculinity and femininity.
  • Sex: The biological differences between male and female.
  • Glass Ceiling: "The unseen, yet unbreachable barrier that keeps minorities and women from rising to the upper rungs of the corporate ladder, regardless of their qualifications or achievements.”
  • Cisgender: Gender identity where individuals' experiences of their own gender match the sex they were assigned at birth.
  • Intersectionality: A concept often used to describe the ways that oppressive institutions (racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, xenophobia, classism, etc.) are interconnected and cannot be examined separately from one another.
  • Agency: The ability for a person, or agent, to act for herself or himself.
  • Fabulous: Amazingly good; wonderful -- something we should all feel due to feminism!

Why do we need it?  

Some think feminism is a radical idea of the past. Common questions about it might be: Didn’t the 19th Amendment in 1920 take care of women’s issues? Didn’t the feminists of the 60s and 70s make their point by not shaving and setting bras on fire? Why do women want to be like men? Is feminism even necessary in this day and age?


But actually, this third wave of feminism takes the ideas of the first two movements and expands on them tremendously. It also encompasses and includes groups that are often left out of the feminism conversation, such as women of color and women who are not cisgendered. It takes the first wave fight for suffrage and expands it to more legal rights, legislation and social policy. It takes the second wave fight for sexual freedom, reproductive and family choices and workplace equality, and expands on these issues to include social responses to sexual freedom while continuing to combat reproductive choices, and the ongoing fight for workplace equality. In fact... 

“In 2013, female full-time workers made only 78 cents for every dollar earned by men, a gender wage gap of 22 percent. Women, on average, earn less than men in virtually every single occupation for which there is sufficient earnings data for both men and women to calculate an earnings ratio.” (Institute for Women's Policy Research)

Another difference in this wave of feminism is its focus on gender and sexuality equality. There's a prominent emphasis on LGBQT rights and advocacy while also highlighting the need to eliminate sometimes harmful gender stereotypes and roles.

Common Misconceptions and Misrepresentations of Feminism

Feminists hate men, and yet they want to be like men.

False. Women who are feminists are close friends of men, have men as partners and lovers, and some of them are men. Some of my favorite feminist authors are men. Some females may identify more with traditionally masculine traits and that is their right to do so, but that is not a core characteristic or quality of most feminists.

Feminists are lesbians.

Some are, some aren’t. Some lesbians are feminists, some aren’t. Some feminists are dudes, so they can’t be lesbians.

Feminists can’t be feminine.

What? Feminists are not required to conform to one sort of look or style. I, myself, enjoy many traditional forms of feminine expression (i.e. makeup, fun hair, pretty dresses). The key thing to remember is that women should not be expected to express themselves in a certain way or be judged if they choose to do otherwise.  

Feminism is reverse gender discrimination.

False. Feminists don’t want to push advancement at the oppression of any other group. We just want a fair opportunity. If removing the road blocks that were never there for others allow for more women achievements to exist, then be happy for them!

Feminism on Campus at VCU   

As a gay man, I have experienced what toxic masculinities can do to a person. Growing up, I was teased for being 'feminine' and for being 'flamboyant.' I now realize this is because femininity is something that is viewed as negative or less than by our society. For me, feminism means understanding that all of our identities affect our access in society. Feminism for me means recognizing all identities. It is ensuring that all people have the best quality of life, have equal access and their own agency. Racism, sizeism, ableism, gender discrimination, homophobia, transphobia and violence still exist, and until then, the work of feminism is not over for me.” – Nick Artrip, Senior, Gender, Sexuality and Women's Studies major

I’m proud to say that I'm a feminist. Many, men and women alike, are afraid of this taboo word because they're unsure of what it really means. To support feminism just means that I support equality among all, including men, women, the LGBTQIA community, young people, old people, people of all races and anyone else who falls inside of, or outside of, this spectrum.” – Shakola Walker, Senior, Print Journalism major

Feminism for me is striving for the inclusion and equality of all, and not just some, counterparts in society. It's taking away the idea that anyone is lesser by genetic default. It's educating women on the possibilities of a world where we are valuable in all aspects of existence. And it's me being able to work at Hooter's, able to recognize the societal flaws and still be true to what I believe in and not have questionable judgment.” – Mikayla Bartholomew, Sophomore, Theatre Performance and Pre-Nursing double major, Gender, Sexuality and Women's Studies minor

In my opinion, feminism means the possession of a strong advocacy for women. Paying special attention to the advancements and rights for women. Nonetheless, embracing and celebrating the inherent qualities that only women possess.” – Toni Hunter, Senior, Psychology and African American Studies double major, Spanish minor

As you can see, feminism is really not that complicated to understand, and it stands on some pretty moral principles in order to make our world a much more fabulous place. Whether or not you choose to identify as one, hopefully you are at least more informed. If you’re interested in learning more about feminism at VCU, check out some of the classes, workshops and clubs available under the Gender Sexuality, and Women’s Studies department! And most importantly, remember that feminism is fabulous and feminism is for everybody!