The Definition of Feminism

I have come across many definitions for the word feminism, including, “advocacy of equality of the sexes and the establishment of the political, social and economic rights of the female sex.” This definition in particular struck me as interesting because I find that most people have a different definition.  Today, feminism means crazy women who run around without bras and with unshaved legs, forcing people to convert to their barbaric ways. However, feminism can range from the aforementioned description to a woman who merely wishes to be respected. Contrary to popular belief, men, too, can be feminists. That does not mean that men have to give up their masculinity; it means that they can participate in the fight for equality.

Many people are a little confused about what the word feminist actually means. Do you believe that women are human beings? Do you recognize the full humanity of both men and women? Do you believe in equality between men and women? Then I hate to break it to you, but you’re a feminist.

Feminism has never been defined as “man-hating” or “trying to be like a man” by anyone except the Rush Limbaughs of the world, who use terms like feminazi to demonize people who seek social justice. Feminism also isn’t about making women the same as men. Feminism recognizes the difference between the sexes and asks that both sides be treated equitably based on their needs. Feminism is just as much about protecting men as it is about protecting women. Feminism works to end racism, classism, sexism and all other forms of discrimination that exist in our culture. It’s a living movement, which tackles new problems as they arise. It’s not perfect, nothing is. Some who call themselves feminists are merely perverting and co-opting the word because they either don’t really know what it means, or they want to use it to advance their agenda (Sarah Palin comes to mind).

There are three types of people who hate feminism: those who actually hate it, those who think they do and those who really just find it problematic. The second and third groups are where most people who say they hate feminism fall. Unfortunately, feminism has a bad reputation. Some people think it’s more than just advocating for equality. Some think that feminism involves a belief that women’s rights are more important than men’s rights (it advocates more for women’s rights because women have fewer rights), a belief that women are absolutely equal to men in all ways (the majority of feminists believe that the average man is stronger than the average woman and that this is a genetic fact), a belief that men are evil or out to harm women (it doesn’t – period).

Yes, there are “radical feminists” who might believe some of these things. I’ve never met any of them, but I’m sure they exist. But this is not a reason to hate feminism. Do you hate Islam because there are “radical Muslims” who commit terrorist actions? You can’t judge a whole group based on the views of extremists.

There are a lot of people who think that they hate feminism because they hear about the extremists. Interestingly, they rarely hear from the extremists. They just hear rumors about what these extremists believe. Again, recall the definition of feminism. It’s just about supporting equal rights for men and women. If you hate feminism, you’re saying that you don’t support equal rights. There are people who don’t support equal rights for women. These often include religious extremists who believe that women are inferior based on their religious texts, people who benefit form women being inferior, people who are opposed to abortion, sex before marriage, etc. 

I call myself a feminist, but I don’t support everything that every feminist thinks and does in the name of feminism. Do you, as a member of the ________ religion/as an atheist/as an agnostic support everything that everyone else of that religious belief does in the name of it? Probably not. It’s okay to be a member of a group and not support everything that group does. 

There are a few things that people find problematic about feminism. They think it divides men and women more; they think it emphasizes women being victims; they’re opposed to certain issues that feminists advocate; they’re frustrated that feminists don’t advocate for male rights; they think that there are bigger problems in the world; they think that in developed counties, women have it pretty good, so feminists need to get over the little issues.

Feminism probably does, in some ways, divide men and women more. It might divide groups in some ways. But, if it makes progress towards achieving its goals, it might bring people together. 

Feminism certainly does emphasize women being victims. It talks about specific times when women (and girls, and boys and non-white people, etc.) were victimized. There is a cost to this, but the benefits of talking about rape, abuse, sexual assault, abortion rights, conception rights, etc. outweigh those costs. The thought that feminists don’t advocate more for male rights is partially valid. They do, however, discuss issues like men being discouraged from being stay-at-home parents. Feminists may not do it enough, but they may also do more than any other group to advocate for male rights. Part of the reason why they don’t do this more is that men have more rights.

Feminism is also addressing the problems of women in Saudi Arabia, India and other countries. It is not just concerned with the issues of Western women. Things are getting better for women. But last I checked, things could be a lot better. Since when is “things are much better than they used to be” a reason to stop trying to make things better? “Hey, Microsoft, Windows7 is so much better than WindowsME. Why not just stop trying?” 

Of course, there are valid reasons to think that feminism causes some problems. So does religion and the lack of religion. So do Democrats and Republicans. So does everything. Just remember: when you say you hate feminists, or simply deny being a feminist, you’re telling the world you don’t think women deserve full humanity. Is that the message you want to send?