I was first introduced to the concept of feminism right around the beginning of high school. I was extremely intrigued by the idea, and decided to look more into the feminist movement. Immediately, I was met with a large amount of information, coming at the issue from all different sides. From what I knew at the time, I was reluctant to call myself a feminist. I associated the term with the radical, bra-burning stereotype, and naturally didn’t want to be recognized as that type of a person. However, as I grew, and became exposed to more information, I gained a deeper understanding of feminism, which is why today, I will proudly call myself a feminist.
From my view, the ideas of feminism, and on a broader scale, equality, represented values that everyone could get behind. That’s why I was so shocked when, particularly this past year, I saw an outpouring of backlash against feminism and those who called themselves feminists, from many individuals that I knew well.
I wondered if maybe the fact that there were so many people who were not just uncomfortable, but vehemently opposed to the idea of feminism represented an ideological discrepancy. So I decided to do even more research, but this time, not by reading documents or listening to slam poetry. This time, I decided to reach out to my circle of peers, and see what feminism meant or represented to people I was close to. I received some very interesting and thought-provoking responses.
“Feminism to me is the freedom of expression, right to do whatever feels right, and live independently”
“Feminism to me is total equality of the sexes. I feel like I personally look at it as the ability for both sexes to receive the same treatment and privileges. As a man, I want the same ability to be quirky, weird, and sensitive, without being called ‘gay’ or ‘fag’ by chauvinists and homophobes, and as a feminist I find it wrong that my parents let me walk home from parties at midnight, but my sister needs to get picked up or get a cab because ‘there are strange men out’. Feminism is ending all these gender stereotypes so everyone has the ability to be their true self”
“It doesn’t matter whether you’re male or female. Both have positives and negatives and should be treated equally, in all senses. There’s no reason to complain about one another. People should learn to appreciate one another for who they are”
“I think feminism is simply the movement and the belief that women should have the same ability to succeed to the same degree as men. I think it means that women should be treated the same as men, and that men should be related the same as women”
“Feminism to me means equality for both sexes, as opposed to being misandrist and wanting women to take over the world”
“Feminism is the equality of all sexes and genders. To me, the goals of feminism are clear: equal rights economically, socially, politically, and judicially for all genders. Over the past few years I’ve felt as though I am on the outside looking in on our strange, andocentric society and have been able to pick apart and identify flaws in gender equality. I find it so strange how the inequalities between genders had not occurred to me for so long”
“Feminism is the struggle of the oppressed against the oppressor, that deconstructs gender binaries and the material implications of those binaries. However, my identities (Marxist, atheist, middle-class, cis-gendered male, bisexual) could potentially bias my definition”
“There are people who call themselves feminists who are actually misandrists or transphobes or a variety of other things. I know for this reason, some people are anti-feminism. Yet judging feminism by misandrists is like judging Christians by the Westboro Baptist Church”
“Feminism is simply believing in gender equality, more specifically acknowledging the equality of women from social, political, and economical perspectives (in comparison to men.) I do think unfortunately that maybe feminism is not the best word to choose for something that is suppose to convey such a pure and important meaning, since society has been associating it with a negative mindset over such a long period of time”
“Feminism just means you believe that women should be equal to men and be responsible for the same activities like working and on the flip side men should be responsible for housework and family duties too. To be a feminist basically means you think women are equal and should be recognized as such, but a lot of people don’t like the word and think it’s synonymous with man-hating or weirdo (cool) girls who don’t shave their legs or armpits”
“Feminism means equality. It’s as simple as that”
“To me, feminism is the rejection of systemic orthodoxy by denying those inherently privileged the right to uncritically maintain, facilitate, and utilize a birthright to limit the life of others”
“Feminism is when a girl can start dancing with a guy at the club without any thoughts of seeming too desperate or too drunk”
“To me, feminism means so much because I see it as representing hope. Hope that one day I won’t have to worry about being sexually assaulted, discriminated against, or used as a punchline. Unfortunately though, we live in a world built for men. Men constantly tell us that we are being treated equally, but we know we aren’t and whenever we try and explain our hardships we are cast off as ‘hysterical’, ‘menstrual’ or ‘hormonal’. And with the ongoing war against feminism, I find it absolutely disgusting and deplorable. When I hear women complaining about feminists being ‘annoying’ and ‘whiny’, I get into such a rage. It’s appalling how men have been able to alienate the term ‘feminism’ into meaning something so unappealing to women who lack the knowledge of what feminism really means. Everything that women before us have fought for, such as the right to vote, is completely forsaken by some women, and forgotten”
“Feminism, to me, is about equality. It’s not about me hating men, or favouring women; it is about justice, equality, and dignity that one deserves regardless of their gender. I mean, hell, I’d love to pay for a dinner on a date without my boyfriend saying ‘Oh god, don’t go all feminist on me now’.”
“Girls just wanna have fun(damental human rights)”
“To me, feminism is the statement that men should get equal paternity rights and that women should be equally represented in high-level positions in all fields. It’s a statement that trans and genderqueer people shouldn’t face discrimination because, not only is it not a choice, but not neatly fitting in to ‘male’ and ‘female’ categories is subversive if men and women aren’t equal. It’s the statement that women aren’t divisible into Madonna and Whore- and especially not on the basis of skin colour, class, or clothing style- while men are not either gentlemen or brutes”
Through collecting these responses, I learned a couple things. First, that I have some very interesting and very insightful friends. Second, that maybe the reason that people can’t come to a collective understanding and appreciation of feminism as an ideology is because everyone assigns their own meaning and interpretation to feminism. There is no one size fits all, clear-cut way of defining feminism. Feminism means something different to every single one of us, whether it be good or bad. Is it bad to not have a clear consensus on this issue? I would argue that it’s actually a good thing. We’ve seen so many different waves and evolutions of feminism throughout history and each have their own take on the issue and what can and can’t be included. The only way to develop these kinds of ideologies is to talk about them, and be able to identify what works and what doesn’t. Maybe we will come to some kind of agreement one day, but that can only be reached if people keep sharing their viewpoints and keep the discussion going.
Recently, I stumbled across a site called Know Your Value, which contained videos and articles that appeared to empower women and promote gender equality. As I scrolled down, I was having very positive thoughts about everything the site was promoting, until I came across a particular post entitled “Study: Men looking for independent women”.
I was a bit confused. Here is a site that is promoting women and empowering them to know their worth, posting an article that is almost counterintuitive to the message they are attempting to promote. A woman’s value is something that she should learn about and develop herself. A woman’s value is completely separate from how a man sees her. The idea that men prefer independent women has nothing to do with being an independent women, and should have no effect on a woman’s perception of herself as independent. While this was a little frustrating for me to brood over, it actually helped me to come up with what I interpret feminism as:
“To me, feminism is the upholding of mutual acknowledgement and respect of the value and worth of every single person, regardless of any facet of their identity. It is also the understanding that a person’s worth is an independent entity, and that no one should be able to undermine the value of anyone else”
In the end, however, I definitely expect that my interpretation, along with many other people’s, will change and evolve along with the movement. I am more than excited to see it do so.
So how do you interpret or define feminism?