I know. I said the F-word - feminist. For some people, that word hisses off their tongue with a hint of disgust. For others, it slips off with pride, dignity, strength, and power. But why does such a powerful word make some people uncomfortable, disgusted, or defensive? The word is an adjective simply meaning, "advocating social, political, legal, and economic rights for women equal to those of men." So, what's the harm?
Feminism is not inherently bad. It's an extremely positive movement that wants to shed light on rape culture, annihilate gender roles and narratives, allow women equal pay, take women seriously, stop cat-calling, among many other issues. All of which point to equality. If that's the case, everyone should be lining up to advocate for feminism. But yet - they don't.
I've heard people refuse simply because they, personally, do not believe anyone is inferior. In the same respect, they don't acknowledge that people are, however, treated inferior. By acknowledging the purpose feminism (even without calling yourself a feminist) and acknowledging the issues feminism advocates for, you acknowledge the struggles others go through and you acknowledge there is some sort of inequality. In order for growth and in order to fix a problem, we must first admit there is one.
I've also heard people refuse because they don't like labels which I understand entirely. But it's important to remember everything is a label and it's not detrimental to have these labels. What is detrimental are the thoughts and preconceived notions people have associated with it. Negative thoughts and actions will breed negativity. Perceiving something as negative will allow something to be negative. Human, monkey, shirt, laptop, Apple, gay, straight, married, single, Samsung, Harry Potter are all labels. Without labels, we would have limited understanding and knowledge. Things would just be as they are and the ability to communicate would falter. Labels are part of us. Labels help personify things and allow us to relate. Labels allow us depth. Our thoughts are the enemies, not labels themselves.
What are some ways people label themselves?
- our religion
- our gender
- our sexuality
- our sports teams
- our ethnicity
- our cultural background
- our political party
- our relationship status
So why shy away from this label in particular?
With mainstream feminism, I understand the reluctance. I have seen a lot of hypocrisy and misandry throughout the movement. I have seen the hashtag #FeminismisForWhiteWomen because women of color are often forgotten from white feminists. When I tell people I am a feminist (an intersectional feminist to be exact), I worry they will automatically assume I am part of the harmful mainstream feminism that often doesn't promote equality. Regardless, I continue to call myself a feminist in order to reclaim that word. In order to show people what it truly is and stands for. I call myself a feminist in order to acknowledge the struggles of all women and humans alike. In the most basic form, it's a reminder that "Houston, we have a problem." Its message is a powerful one if we sift through the minuscule amounts of ignorant trash that occurs in mainstream feminism.
If you enjoy the gender roles of society, please know feminism does not reject you. If you are a male, please know feminism does not reject you. If you are trans, please know feminism does not reject you. If you are a women of color, please know feminism does not reject you. Radical feminism is not a reflection on actual, intersectional feminism which promotes peace, knowledge, and equality. Cisgendered, white women who request "white female-only, man-hating" spaces are not representative of the movement in its entirety yet it's the reason why I understand the word "feminist" is so easily written off.
Feminism is not a one-size fit all. There is no right way to be a feminist but it is important to know the struggles everyone goes through and not marginalize or demean any group of people. It's not a cult or a religion. It is not misandry. It simply is equality. The most important thing is asking yourself "why do I have such an issue labeling myself as a feminist?" If it's because of experience with the misandrists and the ones that marginalize groups of people, call yourself a feminist regardless. Hold that power and hold onto your own strength. Let them know the way they are perpetrating feminism is harmful. If it's because you do not believe sexism exists, look into the way media portrays women, look into rape culture, look into the general way women are treated and discussed, look into the way feminism is so easily written off, look into the way trans-women are treated, look into the gender roles imposed on both males, females, and trans. If it's because you don't like labels, ask yourself what ways you already label yourself and why this label is no different than those. If it's because you simply don't understand, research and ask questions. If it's because you simply don't want to, well, I suppose I can't argue with that (yet I'm sure there is a deeper reason whether admitted or not). If it's because you're a humanist, look into the broader picture, look into how specific groups are marginalized in one way or another. look into the ways feminists are humanists as well.
I won't tell you that you have to call yourself a feminist. I won't take away your choices on this. Part of feminism is allowing choices and allowing everyone room to have a voice but it's important to remember that choices can be harmful or can keep growth and forward progression stagnant. What I do hope is no matter what label you put on yourself, you acknowledge the problems and struggles groups of people go through. Although calling yourself a feminist is one way to get people listening, spreading knowledge is one of the best ways to be an advocate. If you are not calling yourself a feminist because you don't believe these issues exist, it's important to do more research, talk to women, talk to women of color, talk to transwomen, talk to feminist males. Talk, listen, and learn. Opinions are important but more important than opinions - is growth and knowledge. The ability to acquire knowledge, the ability to listen, and the ability to feel empathy are three of the most important and beneficial skills a human can have.
We need to move forward into equality. We need to take steps. Simply ignoring problems or attempting to argue the other side is doing nothing to help. Unifying occasionally means we will feel uncomfortable with the knowledge we receive, unifying means to stop being defensive and listen, unifying means letting go of the negatives and looking for positives, unifying means acknowledging struggles and working towards eradicating inequality, unifying means spreading knowledge and teaching younger generations (and older generations) how to be better.
Not all Christians are bad. Not all Catholics are bad. Not all Muslims are bad. Not all atheists are bad. Not all religions are bad. Not all anarchists bad. Not all Republicans are bad. Not all Democrats are bad. Not all Germans are bad. Not all men are bad. Not all transpersons are bad. Not all humans are bad. Not all feminists are bad. Not all labels are bad. Perception, negative thoughts, preconceived notions are what creates hate and the inability to achieve progress.