It is high time I wrote this article. Please take it seriously because at the end of the article I will try to explain why it means so much to me that my definition of feminism—what I hold to be the most accessible and most true—is heard by as many people as possible.
Feminism should not be a foreign concept to women; in fact, the vast majority of girls I know are all feminists, they just don’t label themselves as such because of the misconceptions that swirl around this campus and the globe about what it means to be a feminist. These misconceptions prevent women all over this campus from recognizing their own power as individuals and as a collective group.
Too often, I hear women around me say they are not feminists or say, “not to sound like a feminist, but…” Just what is it that these girls think they are comparing themselves to? Someone unfeminine? Someone who hates men? Who doesn't want kids? This is not what “being a feminist” means.
A feminist is any woman, every woman, who thinks that she deserves respect in the classroom, in the workplace, and in her relationships. She is any woman who does what she wants to do and feels how she feels. She doesn’t make an apology for acting and feeling in seemingly contradictory ways and she won’t settle for less than what she wants.
I realized my thoughts aligned with feminist theory after I saw a friend of mine blackout and suddenly start sobbing uncontrollably, sounding genuinely heartbroken because “She didn’t have a boyfriend.” It took me a while to figure out what I found so profoundly sad about this scene. I felt like there was something I knew that this poor girl did not.
When I entered the WRC event “Uncovered” and met with an impromptu group of women who all identified as feminists, I was able to put these feelings into words. I suddenly understood that even while I often felt mired in insecurity, I still had an deep-seated feeling of worth and a self-respect. That inner well of self-love is the ideology of feminism.
I realized that all the things I thought made me different from feminists were actually a result of my misunderstandings about feminism. The confidence, clarity and better quality of men that have entered my life since I proclaimed myself a feminist are so undeniable that I am compelled to get as many women as possible to see the light. In this hostile climate, it is almost easier to go through and clarify what feminism isn’t.
To begin with, the situation with my blackout friend, which I know sounds familiar to many of us. I realized this was so profoundly sad because she didn’t think she was hard-working, talented and worthwhile if she didn’t have a boyfriend. She was wrong.
This is not “man-hating.” This is another major misconception about feminism. It is not the kind of power that derives its power by taking power away from other groups.
I personally love men. I adore them. I admire that they can do so many things I can’t do, like open jars, be rejected, be tall, move furniture and persevere in difficult tasks. I love men, I like dating them and I will probably marry one some day. I want to be loved and I want to be taken care of. This is not mutually exclusive to being a feminist.
Being a feminist also does not mean you aren’t “feminine” in the traditional sense of the term. No feminist doctrine I subscribe to states that if I don’t wear a flannel and sports bra each day I am bowing to society’s oppressive expectation of women.
Being a feminist doesn’t make you less of a woman. Actually, I have never felt more womanly than since I fully embraced the term.
When you embrace feminist theory, you realize that you possess the tools to forge a completely new concept of what being “feminine” and “womanly” means to you, or you can embrace traditional gender roles and stereotypes, but with new eyes. I am aware I have this choice.
In many areas of my life, I choose to embrace traditional gender roles and posturing. For example, I love dressing up, cooing at babies, setting the table and I’ve put bows in my hair since I was three. Just because I support a less-constrictive and more modern construction of womanhood doesn’t mean that I want to or have to blow traditional gender stereotypes out of the water. The most important thing here is that I do not have to justify this choice to anyone. Being a feminist means that I can want things or act in ways that people see as contradictory and shrug off their efforts to encapsulate me.
Being a feminist also doesn’t necessarily mean I am all about “equal-equal,” as some women deridingly say to me. Of course I think men and women should be equal before the law, in terms of political participation, wages/career advancement and equal opportunity education. Who doesn’t think this?
But socially, I am not always “equal-equal.” As I have asserted before, I do enjoy the special treatment women receive just by being women, usually called “chivalry.” This do not make me feel like less of a feminist, and I never worry that the same guy who opened a door for me will later tell me to “shut up” if I start to speak my opinion about the US healthcare system. My full opinion of chivalry can be found here.
I recognize that there were very important reasons that women a few decades ago refused to let men open the door for them or insisted on changing the term “stewardess” to “fight attendant;” these modifications were very important and serious for many women. But in my time, to me, they feel less necessary—probably because of societal changes brought about by those very women.
I am able to reconcile chivalry with my belief in female ability because of the progressive society we live in, and my personal views on gender difference. *Note: This is not a view held by all feminists, and it is heteronormative in the extreme—I recognize its weak points, but it makes sense to me. I encourage you to come up with your own ideas! *
As for me, I think there are inherent differences between men and women, different strengths and weaknesses that mean 1. We can make a bang-up pair, an unstoppable team, a ying and yang of one-cannot exist-without-the-other…or we can drive each other irreconcilably insane; and 2. There is necessarily different treatment and limitations of each gender.
To me, being a feminist is in part about celebrating gender difference. Just as I see what unique gifts men offer, I recognize and celebrate unique strengths that I think just women tend to possess. Strengths like sensitivity to people’s emotions, attention to detail, intuition and the ability to endure aching pain for excruciatingly long amounts of time.
Other feminists might disagree with me, and advocate that gender-specific treatment and/or ideas of gender difference are both wrong. This is the beauty of feminism. It is a spectrum; there are many viewpoints along it, and many different types of feminists.
Our approaches may be different, but we are all trying to further the ultimate goal of feminism: to create a generation of women who believe in their own abilities and who feel their dreams are not limited by anyone or anything.
Finally, another statement I hear all the time and is the most damaging and false perception of feminism of all: “Oh but I’m not a feminist, because I do really want to be a mom and I can’t wait to take care of my husband.”
…………………. I WANT ALL THESE THINGS TOO. And it doesn’t make me any less of a feminist. Sorry to yell, but really, ladies, think about what you just said. You think you can’t be a strong woman and also a caring, maternal family woman? Don’t limit yourself like that.
When and where it pleases you, you define yourself as a party-er or a hardworker; a flirt and a monogamist; a healthy person and a Nutella eater. If you unapologetically don’t hold yourself to absolute consistency in other aspects of your life, why do so in this one?
Saying that it is impossible to want to be both a homemaker and treated with respect and appreciation by your husband not only disempowers you, but it is just plain wrong.
To repeat: mothers and housewives can be feminists. Feminists can be mothers and housewives. These categories are not mutually exclusive AT ALL.
It really upsets me when girls on campus think they aren’t feminists because they want these things. They are missing the fact that in their everyday lives, they are thinking, living, and acting as feminists.
For centuries, women have not been able to choose what they want to be. It has been decided for them, by society (read: men). This time is over. WE get to choose.
Now that I have talked a lot about what feminism isn’t, I arrive at what I think feminism is: the ability to choose what you want to do, how you will act, and who you want to be.
Don’t let a misconception about feminism isolate you from other women and diminish your personal power. Don’t build an imaginary wall between you and me. I know we understand each other; don’t let the vocabulary get in the way.
Feminism signifies different things to all women who define themselves as feminists. It is this way for a reason; it is purposely broad. It is a big “screw you” to the divisions within our global sisterhood that have been drawn throughout history and continue to be drawn today.
These are divisions like “Being a career woman means you aren’t a good mother,” or “Women who have sex with multiple people are sl*ts,” or “The women who perform in Vagina Monologues are anti-Catholic.” These divisions take away the power of women.
I argue these divisions are made so that college women think they don’t relate to outspoken, openly feminist women and think those women do not have their interests in mind. This is a deliberate power play, because it keeps women disunited and fractured.
Think of how powerful we BC women could be if we welcomed every type of woman into our sisterhood, a community whose only parameters were that all its members were strong women who sought to fulfill their own idea of happiness— aka feminists.
If women are going to achieve our fullest happiness, whatever unique path that may be, then we must band together to fight the forces that prevent us from doing this. No matter what it is that makes you feel powerless or prevents you from being happy, be it hook up culture, pressure to be thin, or anti-abortion laws to name a few, these are issues that can only be addressed once all women unite. And the perfect way to do this is by proudly calling ourselves feminists—women—but by our own definition.
We need to remove the stigma that this word has. In my mind, nearly every woman is a feminist, and I hope that if someone mockingly asks her, “Oh, so you’re a feminist then?” her answer will be “…. Well, of course I am, I’m a woman.”
On an individual level, feminism is so important because it is the first step towards loving yourself. Accepting you are a feminist and feeling great about it is saying that you recognize your own power. Again, it is not a vindictive power that has to dominate others, but an inner strength that enables you to achieve the best version of yourself.
Feminism is the only space that recognizes both that every woman is unique, and every woman has something in common with the woman next to her. Feminism is celebrating being a woman and all the inherent contradictions, intricacies, delights and struggles that come with womanhood.