Feminism: It's complicated

By: Julia V 

“FEMINISM is not a dirty word. It does not mean you hate men, it does not mean you hate girls that have nice legs and a tan, and it does not mean you are a ‘bitch’ or ‘dyke’, it means you believe in equality.”  –Kate Nash

Feminism can mean many things to different people. In 1895, it was defined as “advocacy of the rights of women (based on the theory of equality of the sexes).” In present day dictionaries, it’s defined as “the theory of political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.” The term feminism was coined long before the Women’s Liberation Movement, and has seen many changes since then. It seems to me that it used to be most people were proud to be feminists. They were admired for their perseverance and strength in fighting for equality. Nowadays, people are less likely to come out and say they are feminists. Why? Because over the years, its meaning has been stretched and spun into an insult and its definition has been narrowed and simplified.

From the time the term was first used up to now, the media, political figures, and ordinary people, have belittled the term and those who associate with it. For example, the term “feminazi” made popular by Rush Limbaugh. The many misconceptions about what it means to be a feminist have led many to shy away from the term. A large misconception is that feminists believe women are superior to men. The “mainstream feminist” has developed as a man-hating, lesbian who doesn’t shave her legs when, in reality, we know feminists can’t be placed into a single category. Because of stereotypes like this, many people think that to be a feminist you can’t like the color pink, you can’t wear make-up, or you can’t be into fashion. Tavi Gevinson, a seventeen year old fashion blogger and self-proclaimed feminist, says it best: “Girls then think that to be a feminist, they have to live up to being perfectly consistent in your beliefs… you can’t be smart and pretty, you can’t be a feminist who is also interested in fashion…Feminism is not a rulebook. It’s a discussion, a conversation, a process.” It brings people from many different places, with many different interests, together to advocate for equality. To push self-proclaimed feminists away from others because of any interests they may have that don’t fit society’s “rulebook” slows down the movement toward change and essentially tells them they aren’t good enough, which is the opposite of what feminism is trying to accomplish: equality.

I think many haven’t grasped the idea that feminism is complicated and I don’t think they have realized how great it is either. To be a feminist shouldn’t be an insult and it shouldn’t push you further away from the person you are. Instead, it should liberate you to have doubts and fears, all the while allowing you to grow to be whoever you want to be.

Questions to think about/discuss:

How would you define feminism?

How do you relate to feminism?

What do you think of society’s take on feminism? How can we change it for the better?

Check out these great blogs, articles, and talks on feminism:

Feminists At Large: What does feminism mean to you?

XOJane: “Good Feminists” and “Bad Feminists”

The Online Gargoyle: Our favorite “f-word”

Tavi Gevinson’s TED Talk and her website: www.rookiemag.com

Attend or host event Volunteer