Feminism is the true F-word, the most provocative word you could use in any setting. As soon as the word leaves your lips, discourse breaks out on the internet over feminism’s inherent meaning and why it’s a bad thing to call yourself a feminist. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen or heard people mocking feminism in everyday life. Even when the word isn’t explicitly mentioned, if something gives off the notion of being feminist (like a film that stars a female lead), people will blast the film for “promoting” a feminist “agenda.”
But why is there so much controversy around calling yourself a feminist? The definition of feminism is the belief in gender equity, which applies to women (as we’re a marginalized gender). Therefore, to call yourself a feminist is to say that you believe in feminism. Believing in equity simply means that you believe everyone deserves to have what they need. So why is feminism such a loaded word?
There’s a lot of misconception around feminism and what it means, even though it’s not the definition of feminism. A dictionary certainly can’t cover every meaning of feminism, but no one can. The basis is there—the belief in gender equity—and I don’t see how being equitable would ever be a negative thing. Yet people misunderstand and misrepresent it all the time.
Inequalities do exist in the world, however unfortunate, and people like women are minorities because we aren’t afforded the same, respectful treatment that men are. Yet somehow, stating that fact is a problem. It makes me a crazy person, someone who’s difficult to get along with, someone who’s “too” politically correct.
So maybe I should try something new. Maybe every time someone asks what it means to be a feminist, I’ll explain.
When I say I’m a feminist, I’m saying that I believe that women are, above all else, human. I believe that all people, including women, deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. I believe that people ultimately want to just live their lives doing what they love and enjoying the company of others. I believe that people who want to live their lives do, and that they rarely get involved in someone else’s business if it has absolutely nothing to do with them. I believe that the average person does not care that much about other people’s lives—that is to say, they do not wish them harm and probably even wish them well—but they only know about their own lives, and they are always with themselves, so they tend to leave other people alone.
When I say I’m a feminist, I’m saying that I’m standing up against the unfair treatment that women receive. I think it’s awful that women get catcalled walking down the streets, either of their own neighborhoods or in town, and how those jeering, sexually explicit comments made by men make them feel uncomfortable, belittled, and even unsafe. I think it’s awful that there’s so much violence against women in the world, most of it perpetrated by men, as if they don’t think women’s lives are important. I think it’s awful that women are called sluts and whores because they decide they want to engage in casual sex with people, and that men are praised for the same thing, and that women now feel uncomfortable and ashamed of their personal sex lives because of how society views them. I think it’s awful that women get called “bitch” and “shrewd” and “bossy,” simply because they are not happy or perfectly kind all the time, as if women don’t experience human emotions like men. I think it’s awful that people pathologize women’s feelings, which is invalidating, hurtful, and demeaning—all things that wreck a person’s sense of self.
When I say I’m a feminist, I’m saying that I support women in all their endeavors. I’m saying that I want women to live their lives and be happy, which is what I want for everyone, but I specify women because they are not afforded the same opportunities as men. I’m saying that I want an end to inequality, an end to the sexist jokes and violent, misogynistic attacks that women have to deal with on a regular basis. I’m saying that I want women to be treated like people because they are people. I’m saying that I believe in a world where we all have the same opportunities, not because of our gender, but simply because of our humanity. I’m saying that I believe it’s possible to have an egalitarian society, even if we don’t have one now, because there is nothing inherent in systemic misogyny. I’m saying that I believe we’ll all be better off as people if we treat everyone with respect and love.
When I say I’m a feminist, I’m saying that I believe in basic human decency. And that’s all there is to it.