So the word feminism gets a lot of backlash. I may have blogged about this before but I just see so much backlash from all these people who I really expected to know more about it. People, women included, reject it, despite their full support of gender equality. This happens when they don't really know what feminism is. And we, as feminists, are here to educate them. Let's begin with the simple definition brought to us by the great bell hooks.
"Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression."
Pretty simple, right? I'd say most of us agree with those ideas. However, people get scared of the word feminism or calling themselves a feminist. They think it means they'd have to burn their bra, or hate men, or not be a man, or choose women over men. We are here to assure you: it does not mean any of those things. I mean, you can burn your bra if you want to and if you think it has a significant meaning. But as a feminist, you would never make anyone else burn their bra if they didn't want to, and you wouldn't judge them if they didn't. Because that's what feminism is also about: choice.
We need to have the agency and the choice to make our own educated, conscious decisions. We need to be aware of the consequences and the meaning of those decisions. Moreover, we need to respect the decisions of other people (yes, including women, as they are people), and realize that their decisions are none of our business. Unless someone is hurting others or possibly herself with her decisions, she has the right to do as she pleases.
So Joss Whedon made this speech (Watch Joss Whedon Make the Perfect Speech about the Word Feminist - Jezebel). He gets to his point near the end about making genderist the new word so less are scared of the word feminist. Cool. However, I don't think it faces the real problem; instead, as one commenter said on our Facebook page, "it just proves the stigma attached to the word is alive and well." People have all these ideas about feminism, and although it does not embody one way of life, it is a word that is inherently flexible and can work for all different kinds of people and their expressions. One does not have to deny feminism in fear that he/she will be labeled a man-hater or sexist against men. Feminism embodies gender equality; it does not put women above men, but strives for equality.
In the text below the video, blogger Kate Dries says, "You can of course say you're not a feminist! It's not what I would do and it makes me sad but it's your life. You can say you're not a feminist because you don't like the movement and how it's been isolating to women of color, or because you think women shouldn't have to be asked if they are feminists. But don't say you're not a feminist because of things that are inherently not true about what word means or that inarticulately imply that there's something wrong with owning your belief that men and women should be equal or rejecting the many women and men that have come before you who let you live the life that you've led."
I absolutely love this. This is everything. And it's so sad that these women, many whom we are familiar with in pop culture, feel that they cannot express their struggle against patriarchal institutions in their business. Many of them explore the word feminist in their quotes and ultimately don't want to be judged by applying it to themselves. As the commenter who I mentioned above said, "These women shouldn't have to be afraid of a word, a label, they get labeled things all the time, but they know this particular label could create problems for their career." You said it, girl.
Another problem I've noticed is that people say they are a humanist instead of a feminist. Perhaps they mean humanitarianist. Even if humanitarianism is your go-to word, feminism is still necessary in context, because historically, humans meant men. Women did not have rights hundreds of years ago. So you still need to acknowledge feminism is required in the movement of humanitarianism. However, humanitarianism is a logical argument if you naturally believe women and men should be equal and you don't feel like you are required to constantly explain that to people (which you have the right to-but note this is a feminist idea, hence bringing us full circle back to the requirement of feminism to explain so many of these things...).
But back to humanism. I first learned about humanism in my AP European History class my sophomore year of high school. According to the definition that pops up in a google search, humanism is:
Humanism is not a word for a social change or political movement as feminism is. Rather, it refers to several branches of philosophical and secular thinking that have their origins in 13th century renaissance thought. So although modern-day humanists can be politically and socially active, the term humanism doesn’t have the political or human rights implications that feminism does.
This is absolutely right. You can say you are a humanist because you want to believe that that promotes that all human beings deserve to be treated like equal human beings. Maybe you think feminism is a gendered word and you don't want to raise women above men. But you are wrong in thinking that that is what feminism is about, and you are not understanding feminism if you believe humanism can embody all that feminism does. People striving for gender equality needed to name their movement, and since women have historically been oppressed, the name they deemed it has a "feminine" word derivation. But it's necessary to understand that does not mean it is a sexist movement, pushing to raise women up above men.
Therefore, if you believe in gender equality and you want to end sexism and oppression, you are a feminist. You may not identify as one if you truly understand what it embodies, and if you have a problem with it. That is legitimate. But if you don't understand it and you want to reject it because of the way it sounds, you are hurting us women, who are subject to sexism or oppression every single day. You are devaluating our experience and how far we have come, attempting to stigmatize and make unattractive a word that has helped us find a light in dark times. I am personally hurt when I hear one of my friends, who I know to believe in gender equality and to fight domestic abuse or gendered violence, say he or she is not a feminist because he or she has a misconstrued understanding of what it is but is not interested in learning what it's truly about. It's their right as free individuals to refuse that, but it hurts me by showing that they don't care about something that is one of my life passions. I'll end with something I said which was quoted in our school's newspaper:
"We need to recognize that feminism is not solely about gender equality (although that is the essence of it). There's all these different layers that come together, and we have to be conscious of that.”
Be conscious, people. That's all we ask.