Rethinking What Feminism Means

Has feminism become a dirty word? And if it has, why? Feminism is defined by dictionary.com as: “The doctrine — and the political movement based on it — that women should have the same economic, social, and political rights as men.” This is a very accurate definition of the word Feminism. Yet, if you ask people you might be surprised to find that not many would identify as a “feminist” even though some do believe in equality of the sexes, the foundation of Feminism.

Where did the negative connotation come from? Somewhere along the way “feminism” has gotten a bad rap. For instance, on UrbanDictionary.com there are many entries under Feminism, and most of them are not favorable.  Scroll through the first couple of pages and you will begin to see a pattern of misunderstanding as to what “Feminism” means and what it stands for. Perhaps the best example of this is the number two definition under Feminism: “Feminism is a federally funded, politically correct, special interest hate group.”

It’s sad that people think this way. And yet it seems to be a trend. I know even in my life I have seen the attitudes of people or ideas that are identified as “feminist” as a negative thing. But if you ask those same people who think Feminism is bad, if they believe in equality of wages and not discriminating against someone because of their gender, a lot of them will say they agree. In fact, a lot of people hold ideals and values that are apart of Feminism but they still won’t use the word for fear of the negativity associated with it.

Why are people scared to be called a “feminist”? I proudly say that I am a feminist. To me, that does not mean that I hate men, rather it is just another way of saying that I believe in gender equality. I wish we could reverse the negativity towards the Feminist movement. It doesn’t mean you have to burn your bras or that feminism means that being a stay-at-home mom is bad. Actually it’s the opposite. Feminism is about choice and standing up for everyone’s right to decide what they want to do and the right to equal opportunities and for the respect of their choices. If women want to stay home and take care of their kids, then they should be able to do that without judgment. If a woman wants to be a CEO then she should get that shot and expect the same respect and pay as her male counterpart.

It seems that this animosity towards the idea of Feminism has gotten significantly worse in my generation, those of us in our 20s.  In the blog, “The F Word” , Emma Cosh discusses how women in their 20s have become fearful of calling themselves “feminists”. The blog talks about how even if they believe in gender equality and all that feminism stands for, they don’t want to be labeled a “feminist” because somehow that idea has become linked with being different and the possibility of being outcast in certain areas of our lives. The blog ends with a dead on observation:

“The most significant barrier to gender equality is not the actions of others, but our own. The reason that many of us are afraid to call ourselves feminists is that doing so would separate us from the crowd. We are afraid that the friendships and networks which we value could not withstand the strain; secretly we’re afraid that neither we, nor our friends are up to the challenge.”

Are we up to the challenge? I think so; but in order to achieve and sustain the gender equality that should be in place, we have to be okay with being labeled a “feminist.” Not only can we decide to proudly wear the Feminism badge but we can also help redefine the idea of Feminism. Somewhere along the way we lost what Feminism really means.

Feminism doesn’t have to be a dirty word. Standing up for the belief in equality of the sexes isn’t a bad thing, in fact it is a great thing. So, if I chose to classify myself as a feminist, I shouldn’t be worried that someone will judge me based on that. Maybe its time we took back the word and made Feminism positive once more.

What do you think?  Join the discussion on Tuesday, February 23 at 8pm in room 147 of the UMKC University Center at The “F-word” and Women’s Leadership.  The conversation will be led by Dr. Brenda Bethman, Women’s Center Director and UMKC Women’s & Gender Studies Acting Director, and explore what the “f-word” is and how it relates to women’s leadership.

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