The Definition Of Feminism

You’re already annoyed just by looking at the title, aren’t you? I understand. Feminism is a loaded word. It comes with a lot of different definitions, ideas and preconceived notions. It also just has a really bad rep. People are quick to judge and tell people, “You aren’t a true feminist. You let your boyfriend treat you like crap! You wore red lipstick to entice males tonight. You disrespected yourself when you watched that Judd Apatow movie. You, you, you, you!”

I also have a penis, which might annoy you. After all, how could I ever understand the every day plights of a female? I’ve never received a smaller paycheck than a man for doing the same job, I’ve never been catcalled (JK, I have. I lived in West Hollywood. WHAT’S UP DEGRADATION?) and I don’t live in fear of being raped. Rape isn’t even on my radar, which is a gift that I’m aware of and don’t take for granted. You’re right about all of this. The only thing I can really say that would make you feel like I kind of know what I’m talking about is that I pay attention. To everything. To my best girlfriends, to the celebrity narratives in our tabloids, to every horrible romcom, to the way people treat one another. And I also love women unabashedly. They’re such beautiful complicated people. Men are too obviously but women have this way about them that is truly magnificent.

I’ve written about feminism a lot in the last year but I figured I would condense all of these thoughts into one post. It will be similar to all the others but just super sized. Now let’s get on with it.

Feminism means being in the supermarket and looking at the tabloids in the checkout line. You see the headlines “SCARY SKINNY” next to “HOW TO LOSE 5 POUNDS IN 5 DAYS” and think to yourself, Gee. I’m confused. Won’t I be scary skinny if I lose 5 pounds in 5 days? I’m getting mixed messages that aren’t good for my self-esteem. That’s screwed up!” Acknowledge it. Hate them for it. And then maybe buy it and laugh at it. It’s okay. You can still buy that garbage and love yourself.

Feminism means watching any romantic comedy and getting annoyed that another fat ugly man is married to a bombshell supermodel. No one makes mention of the giant inequity in looks. You are just being subjected to another screenwriter’s fantasy. Great. Now this movie is going to paint women in an unflattering light and pass it off as inspirational. Double great.

Feminism means not being one of those girls who hates other girls. I mean, you’re allowed to not like girls but it should be on the basis of their personality rather than the fact that they have a vagina. By being mean to other women, you’re allowing sexism to happen in a way. You’re not getting what you want because you called the girl in the tube top dress a whore.

Feminism means trying to find a man who loves women, who’s a feminist in his own right. This is a hard thing to do. You will probably feel disrespected at some point and it will cause you to question your whole relationship; it will make you wonder if you’re dating someone who just doesn’t like women or holds on to harmful antiquated ideas about them. If you let it go and let the mean comments pass through you, you will feel like you’ve betrayed yourself. And that’s okay because we all betray ourselves once in awhile. The key though is to think critically and figure out if you’re with a dude who not only likes you but respects your gender as well.

You don’t lose your feminism when you get a bikini wax or shave your arms or laugh along to a Nancy Meyers movie. Your feminism doesn’t go missing when you don’t behave directly in accordance with your beliefs. It will always be there. It’s who you are. You either have it or you don’t. You either think this is wrong or this is right.

Feminism means challenging the screwed up things that are happening each and every single day to women. This doesn’t mean you have to protest the streets or listen to Bikini Kill. It can mean telling the drunk misogynist in the bar to piss off. It can mean telling your clueless self-loathing girlfriend that her favorite movie shouldn’t be the one that made girls look like neurotic insane people. By absorbing movies, art, TV shows, and music through a feminist lens, you are immediately able to pick apart the messages that society is sending you about your gender. And some of the time, it’s scary.

I don’t know why feminism is a dirty word. I want to clean it up a bit and give it a bath. Take it to a woman named Svetlana and let her give it a thorough cleansing. Because it’s not scary. In fact, the idea behind it is so simple. So can we just like women now? Can we just respect them and get on with it? Can we? These are a variety of definitions of feminism that all essentially mean the same thing: Women are equal to men and deserve everything men are already entitled to. One definition for one very confused word. TC mark

image – Gage Skidmore

Ryan O'Connell

I'm a brat.


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  • Perfect Circles


  • CatRocketship

    Yay, man-feminism! Honestly, I think one boon to feminism is…men? Men like you writing posts like this? Wow. That sounds fucked up, now that I say it out loud. But when men talk about feminism it’s another voice standing with ladies, and you’re someone who will, clearly, teach any future kids the right way to approach the sexes. 

    • seejohnstun

      Calling it ‘man-feminism’ kind of reproduces the whole gender issue, don’t you think? It’s not all that mindblowing to say, “Hey, people should be treated and viewed as equals, regardless of their sex or performed gender” even if the person saying it is the ~*oppressor*~

      • CatRocketship

        No. Even if the person saying it isn’t usually in the group of people who talks about it. Men aren’t always “the oppressor.” Sometimes they just don’t know any better.

  • scin

    thank you love you thank you

  • Cherchez la femme

    This is a very, very simplistic view on what feminism truly is. You raise some valid points and I definitely agree that the word has become dirty and alienating, but come on. Maybe read some bell hook, Simone de Beauvoir, Eve Ensler, etc. before pretending to know the ins an outs of a worldwide movement that people around the world continue to die for.

    • CatRocketship

      He’s not minimizing feminism here.

    • CatRocketship

      He’s not minimizing feminism here.

    • CatRocketship

      He’s not minimizing feminism here.

    • CatRocketship

      He’s not minimizing feminism here.

    • Anonymous

      i dont think ryan assumes he knows the ins and outs of feminism. feminism, itself, is a tough subject since there is minimal unity over the entire movement. all women want different things when it comes to feminism’s endgame. so i think ryan took it in stride and said what he could, as a man, who obviously feels for feminists and is himself a self-proclaimed feminist.

      • Cherchez la femme

         Absolutely – it is a complex subject. However, I don’t think Ryan is really saying anything new here. So he’s another cool writer dude who appreciates and respects women – that’s great, and we need more guys like that. But who is his audience for this? I’m honestly curious, because he is either preaching to the choir or not using this as an opportunity to really make a breakthrough statement.

        What would be more effective is if everyone would be completely, unabashedly honest about our own privilege. Feminism is more than just liking women – it’s about changing the very core of society’s beliefs about gender.

      • Anonymous

        this is thoughtcatalog. saying brand new profound statements is sometimes a rare commodity. i give him props for saying what he could and what he wanted. you honestly cant really change the core of a society’s beliefs about anything because really they either get hella pissed or just stop caring. usually you want them to just stop caring because then you can do what you want. but good luck. somebody’s gotta fight the losing battle.

    • YoYoMama

      *bell hooks


  • Sippycup

    I have perfected a trick that always ends in maximum amusement. A simple word that when said inexplicably outs any feminist no matter what the context of its use. Are you ready for a little internet magic?

    OK here goes:


    • Anonymous

      wow. you’re so clever. good job. i’m a feminist.

      • CatFight

        Hee hee. (It worked.)

  • Nive

    oh my, not this again

  • vintg

    *head desk*

    “They’re such beautiful complicated people. Men are too obviously but women have this way about them that is truly magnificent.”

    This is half the problem. Exoticising women. Making them something alien and different. Feminism is moving towards breaking down these ridiculous polarised views of men and women. It’s not about looking at women like they’re some kind of interesting zoo animal. Feminism is looking at tabloids and tutting? Seriously? Your view of feminism, while kind of well motivated, is outdated at best. All you’ve said is “women face hard stuff and I don’t think that’s okay!”. Which is… fine. A bit point out the obvious though. 

    As someone else has suggested, do some reading. Feminism has moved decades beyond this. If anything, this just comes across as pretty patronising. 

    It means something different to everyone and if you want to stick to your guns, fine. But I think that this post was a bit of a mistake, sorry.

    • Sippycup

      I feel bad for the French because we do this to them all the time. In the contemporary world they are to culture what women are to sex.

      • Quasishire

        I don’t think the French really mind. 

    • CatFight

      I liked this post. Your comment is a mistake. Hisssssssssssss. Meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeow.

    • Megan

      I disagree, I think Ryan is showing people that feminism is not some crazy thing and could just be as small as realizing how society treats women and knowing that it’s wrong. There are so many assumptions about the world of feminism, you do not have to be well-read and all-knowing in the subject to consider yourself one

      • vintg

        Yeah I said it means different things to everyone – by no means do you have to be some kind of academic to identify as one. But if you write a post about what the definition of feminism is in a didactic kind of of way, it’s a bit silly if you haven’t actually done much reading about it. If you did you’d know this is pretty old news. As someone else said, I don’t get who the audience is here. Anyone who doesn’t already know that women aren’t second class citizens isn’t going to learn anything, and anyone who does won’t pay attention. 

        I just think it’s sending out the wrong kind of message – that men and women are really different still. And doing it pretty naively :-/

      • Lala

        men and women ARE different… equal doesn’t have to mean same.

      • Nicole

        Sing it, sister.

      • vintg

        Not according to most contemporary feminist criticism. I recommend Cordelia Fine’s ‘Delusions of Gender’ (as an example) if you’re interested. It was published last year and is a really accessible and interesting read!

      • Michaela Smith

        Completely agree! I think women should be treated equally in that our gender should not preclude us from making the same income as men etc, but we ARE different from men. We have different levels of hormones which mean that we see the world differently, and react to situations in a different light. 
        I hate women who jump up and down that we’re the same when biology proves that we’re not. 

      • Guesty

        I’m a woman whose body produces too much testosterone, not enough hos!  I mean estrogen.  Oh no the hormones make me see the world differently!  Turn in my woman card now, okay.  

      • Michaela Smith

        Well, of course there is always going to be the one person who replies who is the “exception to the rule”, so to say. Who appears offended because of a generalisation. Because everything in life does not apply to everyone EXACTLY the same, and when we are not specifically pointed out then we have to jump up and down and draw attention to that.

        Everything about our feelings, reactions, the way we perceive the world, why we get angry at certain things, and why other things make us happy / scared / horny / indifferent is caused by chemical reactions. Romantic, huh. My point was that there is  a scientific basis in why women are different to men. 
        My point was clearly not that you are not a woman. 

    • Zoe

      I think part of the problem nowadays is the “appearance” that women have equality. All of the “big issues” have been “solved” and our generation was just sort of born into a world where second wavers had already gone crazy and gotten some major shit done. Most young women don’t believe in feminism anymore, not because they don’t believe in the ideas, but because they think it is irrelevant. 

      I consider myself a feminist and I have done tons of reading, taken classes, etc. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this article. Isn’t this what the third wave is about somewhat? Being who we are and being able to see through the bullshit in pop culture? I think that feminism can be more than just “big issues” and I like the idea that it can be just an attitude and a personal belief that guides choices, rather than an ALL ENCOMPASSING HEAVY THING. 

      I respect and acknowledge the history of feminism, but I think we have reached a little bit of a crossroads. Its about women’s experiences. Its about being who we wanna be and not apologizing for it. Ryan isn’t a woman. He’s just speaking from his own experience. And I think we should appreciate the care and love behind the article.

      • Cnlaird

        thank you for your insightful response; i agree entirely. ryan, i really respect and appreciate this article and i think you offer and embody one of the most important critiques in contemporary feminist dialogue –  awareness of and critical inquiry into the diversity of personal subjectivities. although you’re not a female, your acknowledgment of and ability to depart from your male-dominant lens to examine the world is both really admirable. 

        but one more thing…

        really? the Svetlana stereotype?!

      • vintg

        (maybe I should explain I’m a male feminist too)

        It’s like I’ve said a few times now – identifying as a feminist can mean appropriating it how you want. But in this context, which is called “the definition of feminism”, it’s kind of framed less like a private identity and more like a 101. It’s a bit misleading, especially since it doesn’t really encompass a lot of contemporary feminist ideas. This is second wave stuff.
        The motivation is a nice thought – it’s always great to see people sticking up for equality, against bigotry. But some of the stuff in this post actually feeds into some of the stuff which creates the bigotry in the first place, stuff that theorists like Judith Butler and whatnot pick up on.

        I don’t think Ryan is a bad person, I just think that the post is misleading, and really outdated if it’s an attempt to introduce more people to feminist criticism.

  • Alex

    The first rule of Feminism is you don’t talk about Feminism.

  • Megan

    “Do you consider yourself a feminist?”
    “Definitely not”
    “Oh, so you don’t believe women should be treated equally?”
    “Well, yeah…”


  • Maaever

    entry-level male feminist blogs a thing

  • Thomas Del Greco

    I agree with feminists 98% of the time; but I admit that sometimes I shy away from the term just for some of the reasons you point out in the first couple paragraphs. It’s intimidating to start a conversation about a term like feminism on the internet without getting into big arguments about what it means and what language you’re supposed to use- especially for men. Sometimes it seems to be as simple as equal rights and respect; and sometimes it seems to include a long list of cultural beliefs and ways of speaking you need to adopt  lest you be written off as another privileged male.

  • -heather-

    “You don’t lose your feminism when you get a bikini wax”
    Someone should really tell this to my sister.

  • Rodrigo Cervantes

    You should read a little before you write stuff. Some people actually believe you have something to say.

  • Donna-Lee Grant

    i think this was really sweet and its great to hear a guy speaking so pleasantly about women. ive literally witnessed my boyfriends friends saying that women really should not be in the work place (seriously? whattt!) and my jaw literally dropped. i mean, there are some realllllly ignorant people out there and although feminism has a seriously complicated definition and so many people think its this way or that way….this post was awesome. and i think ryan is awesome for writing this, hopefully he stands up for women when it really matters and doesnt just write it on a blog. :]

  • lily

    I loved this. I can relate on almost every level of this article and I thank you for writing it, quoting bell hooks or not. It’s the feminists who protest Hooters and then claim you’re not a feminist because you don’t protest who really get to me. Women are universally scared to label themselves as feminists due to patriarchy already, and now our own are complicating the definition of the word (women should rule over men? Thanks Andrea Dworkin!!) and making it undesirable in almost any context. I just think fighting patriarchy in 2011 in a militant feminist fashion is an unsuccessful avenue (as proven since the late 60’s). *sigh* So, like, stop that. 

  • Stevie Kew

    Bikini waxing should be considered a misogynist act against oneself. Fuck that noise.

    • Lola

      Oh please, what contradictory bullocks. Sexual autonomy is an important part of feminism – precisely, the self-control of one’s image and body, which means that I will do whatever the hell I want with my body, and fuck off if you don’t like it – it’s none of your business. I can get one to please men, or to please myself. I can even get fake boobs if I like – IMO, it makes YOU anti-feminist if you’re trying to direct what’s okay or not okay for a woman to do with herself. 

      • Stevie Kew

        Calm down there, I haven’t personally attacked you or your self-control of one’s body image. All I’m trying to say is that bikini waxes fucking hurt something serious. Shove off  if you don’t like my comment and loose the dramatic caps. Bikini waxes are not friendly, that’s all.

      • Lola

        Yes, that would have been entirely fine, if you hadn’t casually and callously lumped “misogynist” with a widespread and fairly normal female procedure. It may have been intended to be harmless, but I also think I have the right to point out that your comment connected to a much larger problem concerning a noxious culture of judgement and misguided ideas of “self-respect”.  The lesson here probably, is think before you speak. Otherwise instead of saying something intended to be witty and subversive, you end up making a bunch of feeble excuses when someone rightfully points out how unintentionally harmful or offensive your comment may appear. 

      • Stevie Kew

        Yes mum. Thank you for teaching me such a valuable life lesson on the internet. Perhaps I could offer one in return:

  • Anti-Climacus

    Don’t beat yourself up, Ryan. This isn’t a bad piece because you’re a guy- this is a bad piece because  you obviously have only a surface-level knowledge of the feminist movement(s). 

    • guest


    • Trader Hoez


  • Tau Zaman

    “Feminism means watching any romantic comedy and getting annoyed that another fat ugly man is married to a bombshell supermodel. No one makes mention of the giant inequity in looks. You are just being subjected to another screenwriter’s fantasy. ”

    Yeah that’s all perhaps true, but it’s so easy for us to tack on “ugly” once the word “fat” comes out of our mouths. We’re in a fatphobic and lookist society too. Why is it so impossible to believe that a conventionally attractive woman might find redeeming qualities in a man who is less than in shape. Sigh.

    • Guesty


    • Manna Arie

      I think it’s notable just because Judd Apatow-like movies outnumber movies where the “ugly” female gets the hot guy.

      • Tau Zaman

        Well, there doesn’t have to be a disparity in either direction, hot guy v. ugly girl OR ugly guy v. hot girl. I’d just like to see normal people hook up. When genuine characters hook up in movies and on TV, it’s all precious. Like, “oh, look, how cute, those old people are in love. Who knew they could do that?” Or “Aw, look, the quirky nerdy socially awkward kids fell in love. Look at their strain just to hold hands and look meaningfully at eachother before cutting away!”

      • Manna Arie

        Yeah, I agree with you on that. So many romantic movies’ characters seem so implausible that it’s refreshing when there are genuine characters (like you could actually imagine as real people) getting together. I like you, Zaman.

  • Quasishire

    I liked this post because while still being in the Thought Catalog vein of rather surface social critique/nostalgia/what have you, it took a real ‘issue’ and brought it to a human level. in laymen’s terms: it was a pro-women post without being an ANGRY FEMINIST or niche post. not pretentious. a little tongue in cheek. TC at its best. Thank you. 

    • cecilia


  • guest

    I think this article was nice and decent.  Perhaps it did not cover feminism in the way some people wanted it to, but it’s sending a positive message so why criticize it?  Language is power and I only see positive language here for feminism. 

  • giiist

    Ryan O’Connell, I would ask you to provide me with babies, but I myself do not have a penis. Sperm donor?

  • Hayley

    And this is why I love you Ryan.

  • Maxwell Smart

     Hey, people hating on Ryan O’Connell for being elementary, listen up! It says in the title it’s a definition. What are definitions? Literally the first thing you learn about something. It’s like when I try to get involved in some GLBT activities to help out and then find out I’m like “cis-sexist” or whatever. Dude, I don’t even know what that shit means, I just wanted to help you with your parade and you’re like “Why didn’t you read a hundred books about it first?” It’s not a winning attitude.

    • Chase

      The problem is that parts of this post are essentialist (re gender, not feminism) and that essentialism (re mostly anything) is lame.

    • Guesty

      if you’re cissexist, then you have a problem and you need to deal with it

      • Maxwell Smart

        I don’t even know what qualifies as that behavior. If you tell me I’m doing something wrong, but you don’t tell me what it is, how am I supposed to do any better?

    • vintg

      Bad definitions are about as helpful as no definitions.

  • Mandy

    this is so bad though.

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