I’m always fascinated by the reasons people give for why they aren’t feminists:
“I love men.”
“I don’t like labels.”
“I consider myself more of a humanist.”
“I love being pretty and getting dressed up and wearing makeup.”
“I don’t have the militant drive or the chip on my shoulder that comes with that.”
“I don’t want to work after I have kids.”
In the last week, I’ve found myself in the company of several women who proudly proclaimed that they aren’t feminists — only to find that their definitions of “feminist,” like those of the respondents above, don’t match the actual definition.
A feminist is someone who believes that women should have the same social, political, and economic opportunities as men. End of story.
So if that’s you — if you believe that women and men should be paid the same amount for doing the same job for the same amount of time, or that women and men should have the same access to education and voting and legal protections, or that women and men should both be afforded opportunities to work outside the home (or to stay home, if they choose), then you are, in fact, a feminist.
I imagine that some people may cringe as they read that, because they affirm the definition of feminism but are wary of the label. Because the label carries so much baggage — baggage that has, in many cases, obscured the actual definition of the word.
But contrary to popular belief, a feminist is not, by definition, someone who:
– is angry and/or militant
– hates being feminine or domestic in any way
– hates men or enjoys shaming them
– believes that women should have special privileges that men do not
– believes that women must work outside the home
– thinks that women are the only ones who suffer from things like sexual or domestic violence — or from the more innocuous messages that our society sends about men and women
While some feminists match these criteria, these are not the defining traits of a feminist. A feminist is simply someone who thinks that women should have the same rights as men. And if you believe that, you are a feminist — whether or not you like the term. Because, in the words of Aziz Ansari, “that is how words work. You can’t be like, ‘Oh, yeah, I’m a doctor that primarily does diseases of the skin.’ ‘Oh, so you’re a dermatologist.’ ‘Oh no, that’s way too aggressive a word. No no no. Not at all. ’”
“But Liz,” you may say, “if I think men and women should have equal rights, doesn’t that make me a humanist?” Well, not exactly. For one, humanism is a completely different thing altogether. But even if it weren’t, the word would overlook the fact that women have historically not been given the same rights as men and extra efforts need to be made to ensure that women get those rights.
As frustrated as I get about the fact that it’s 2015 and we’re still debating these things, I have sympathy for these reluctant feminists, because I know that hesitation very intimately. I feel it every time I identify my religious beliefs.
Whenever people ask me what I believe, or find out that I’m a Christian, a large part of me winces. I wince because in our culture, Christianity is inextricably linked with certain adjectives — anti-intellectual, anti-gay, politically conservative — that characterize the most vocal, visible Christians in our society. And I wince because I don’t like being associated with any of those adjectives. In these conversations, I feel an almost knee-jerk impulse to say, “Yes, but I believe in evolution and climate change and the Big Bang and I fully support gay marriage and I’m a Democrat and my feelings toward you have nothing to do with what you believe…”
I despise all the baggage that comes with identifying as Christian, but that doesn’t mean I’m not one. Because when you look at my overarching spiritual beliefs — in a God who loves the world, in Jesus as a revolutionary who brought redemption for the world — they align with the definition of Christian. So I can’t deny label, even if I don’t love what it implies. The silver lining is that even though the term makes me uncomfortable, it gives me an opportunity to change people’s perceptions of what Christians are like.
In the same way, I wish that people who subscribe to the definition of feminism wouldn’t be so reluctant to take on the label. Yes, some of the baggage might be uncomfortable, especially for those who live in certain communities. But if these folks were willing to identify as feminist, they would probably change some minds about what feminists are like. And maybe people would be a little less hostile to feminism. And maybe we’d be able to make progress toward equal rights a little faster than we are at the moment.