Feminism is a term we are all familiar with. It is the word we use to perceive equality, to give women a voice and to make the world listen. It is a word we should be proud to use, a word with meaning. Or, that is what feminism is supposed to be about, that is what it was created for. However, nowadays, there is great confusion surrounding what feminism means.
Feminism is supposed to be a global movement that shares a common goal. It is supposed to advocate equality between men and women and, even though this has been achieved in many parts of the world, there is still inequality to overcome. Feminism does not mean we should all be the same, it simply means we should all be treated as equals. It does not argue that women should be as big and strong as men, it looks beyond our physiological differences and recognises that, no matter what gender, we all deserve respect. It is about having equal rights, access and opportunities, so that no-one is held back from the life they strive for due to their gender. If you believe in a fair and prosperous world for us all then, frankly, you are a feminist too.
According to the Oxford dictionary, feminism is defined as: ‘The advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.’ Feminism does not require you to hate men and everything they do, or never ask for their help. But luckily, we live in a society where women do not need men, we can do practically anything we desire, completely on our own. Moreover, feminism does not mean that, as a woman, you must to reject every form of chivalry, grow out your body hair, refuse to wear bras and swear off make-up. Unless you want to, of course. Feeling ‘feminine’ and dreaming of knights in shining armour are not incompatible with feminism – you can do and be both. So, if you are one of those girls who like to shave, wear pretty clothes and lipstick, you should be able to do so and still call yourself a feminist.
Unfortunately, the terms feminism and feminist also have numerous negative connotations, which is why I do not use it with pride any longer. Feminism has become a dirty word, associated with so-called ‘feminazis’. The term was coined by politically conservative, American radio talk show host, Rush Limbaugh, in the 1990s. In his mind, a ‘feminazi’ was ‘a feminist to whom the important thing in life is ensuring that as many abortions as possible occur’. But, nowadays, feminazi is used as an insult far more broadly. As Charlotte Proudman states, ‘Women do not need to be radical to be called a “feminazi”. They simply have to challenge sex inequality.’ Not only does this term suggest similarities between feminism and genocide, but it has evolved from describing women who hate all men to any woman who dares to speak out about inequality. It has, in other words, become a catch-all term for describing feminists. Feminazi is clearly an inappropriate and offensive word, dividing, denigrating and alienating those fighting for equality.
Sometimes we get so caught up in blaming the other side, we forget to focus on what it is we are actually fighting for: equality. Both men and women are at fault here. Blaming all men serves to damage the movement for gender equality by making those men who agree with feminism feel as though their support is unwanted or unneeded. But women need as many allies as they can get. To cast a blanket of blame over all men, oversimplifies a complex issue. Yes, we cannot deny the existence of men who rape, grope you on the dance floor (or elsewhere) and believe that women are not fit for positions of power. But we also cannot ignore that many women also hold similar sexist views. The stigmatisation of feminism and fear-mongering in relation to gender equality is generated and encouraged by both men and women. (Take the women who voted for Trump, for example). In terms of men’s retaliation, the creation of the concept of ‘meninism’, in reference to a men’s rights movement, completely misses the point of feminism in the first place. It is ridiculous that we have come so far, yet people still do not understand that feminism demands equality with men, not superiority over them.
So by definition, yes, I am a feminist. I may not approve of its connotations or the actions of every women’s rights group, but I am a feminist, because I believe in equality between men and women, the equal treatment of all genders in the home, workplace and society at large. Being a feminist does not mean you hate men, but rather that if you see inequality, you speak up about it.
Feminism should not be aggressive or violent; it should inspire, not hate. To be a feminist is to take your intelligence, power and attributes as an individual and use it to build the life you want. A woman’s role should no longer be dictated by preconceived ideas of what she can or must do. She should not be obliged to cook for her man, nor bare all the responsibility of child care (it is not babysitting if it is your own child, gentlemen). No matter your gender, you should have the opportunity to do whatever you want, take whatever path you see fit.
We have come so far in this fight, now is not the time to throw it all away in fury and disappointment. We are not yet where we desire to be, but the way to get there is not through blame and hate. Raise the aspirations of young girls, teach children to respect one another, but most importantly, set an example for the younger generations to follow. If we are to achieve gender equality, we need to open our minds, start conversations and finally work together.