I have considered myself a feminist for less than two years. As I calculate this in my head, it seems hard to believe. That’s it?! Just two years? Really, I think I’ve been a feminist much longer than that, I just haven’t always understood or embraced the title. After taking a gender, sex, and power course in Summer 2015, I realized that an identity as a feminist fit my values and beliefs, and I fully embraced feminism without hesitation. Since then, feminism has become a central figure in my life. It has influenced the books I read, my engagement with social justice, and the rich conversations that I have. Feminism has led me to build strong relationships with both men and women. Feminism has led me to advocacy and activism. Feminism has shaped me into a person that I am proud to be.
Because it is so intertwined into my life, I forget that not everyone is on board with feminism or even has a foundational understanding of what feminism is. I forget that feminism still has a bad reputation in the mind’s of some. This is further complicated by the inherent nature and history of feminism.
Feminism is largely self-defined. It is broadly rooted in the belief that gender should not be a source or determinant of inequality. But every definition of feminism is influenced by one’s own experiences and beliefs. For some, feminism means, simply, that men and women are equal. For others, feminism expands to consider non-binary gendered people, as well as other social determinants of inequality like race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, able-bodiedness, and language, among others and how these identities intertwine in systems of oppression (commonly referred to as intersectional feminism). Feminism is both simple and complex. It is difficult to define any “right” or “wrong” parameters of feminism. I believe that is partially what makes it powerful. That being said, historically, feminism has had exclusionary tendencies. Early feminist movements focused on equality for primarily white, upper class, educated women. Obviously, there are many people that don’t fit into those narrows categories that still deserve equality!
So, feminism has an imperfect history. And it is still imperfect. BUT, I believe that is is important. However, overall feminism is still widely misunderstood. Because I eagerly identify as a feminist, I often forget that these misconceptions still exist. But feminism is new to many people and I believe that it is important to have constructive conversations about why feminism can be empowering and why people should give it a chance.
Which is why I’d like to clarify what I feel are misconceptions about feminism and what my personal feminism is about.
- Feminism is anti-men. This is a big one. Perhaps some self-identifying feminists are actually anti-men, but I don’t think this is representative of feminism as a whole. My feminism is not about blaming men (though, I understand how some feminist arguments might come across this way). It is not about taking everything away from men so that women can have more. It is about creating systems in which all people are valued and have access to adequate support and resources. It is about recognizing and uplifting the inherent dignity of all people.
- Feminism is only for women. This goes back to the concept that feminism is self-defined. I know several men that identify as feminists and they are great human beings. I know several men that don’t identify as feminists who are still great human beings. Both men and women decide whether or not to identify as feminists for various reasons. My feminism is about challenging social norms and gender roles that are harmful to both men and women. My feminism is about recognizing women’s abilities to be strong, intelligent, and capable. My feminism is also about recognizing that men can be sensitive, caring, and gentle. My feminism is about recognizing that human beings are too complex to be placed in gendered boxes.
- Feminists are just a bunch of angry women. Perhaps this has some truth… to an extent. Truthfully, I do sometime express anger as a feminist. Probably because elements of my life are controlled by systems designed to benefit men more than women and I have little say in the matter. I am allowed to be angry about this. But that does not mean that I am constantly angry about the patriarchy or that I look for “excuses” to be angry all the time. A lot of my feminism is dedicated to uplifting and empowering others. My feminism is about celebrating difference and diversity of gifts, talents, and abilities.
- Feminists are too easily offended. Again, this holds some amount of truth…minus the “too easily” part. If I am told that I can or cannot do something specifically because I am female, I’m probably going to take offense. But I am not constantly seeking a reason to be offended. It is fairly easy to tell the difference between someone who is trying to be offensive or overtly sexist and someone that unintentionally says something offensive. Not all feminists are going to resort to outrage at every sexist thing they hear (BUT, language and intentionality are important!). My feminism is about meeting people where they’re at and having mindful conversation. My feminism is about hoping that people can approach challenging dialogue with a genuinely open mind.
- Feminists cannot be feminine. AKA It is contradictory to work towards restructuring patriarchy while succumbing to patriarchal pressures. Fortunately, empowerment comes in a wide variety. My feminism is about being and doing whatever makes you feel like the queen you are. If that means not shaving your legs, you go girl. If that means wearing makeup everyday, rock on chica. If that means you’re not a female but you like to wear skirts, party on.
- Feminists bash non-feminist women. Unfortunately, this does happen. But again, I don’t believe it represents the compassionate nature of many feminists. It is not the position of others to tell someone how or how not to identify. Personally, I am more concerned whether someone is a compassionate person than if they identify as a feminist. My feminism is about listening intentionally and acknowledging a variety of experiences. I hope that non-feminists are willing to listen to other perspectives too 🙂
While I respect others’ decisions to not identify as feminists, I strongly encourage you to challenge your understandings of feminism and to identify a version of feminism that works for YOU.
What is YOUR feminism about?