Feminism has a branding problem. Not the basic concepts or the definition of feminism, which according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary is, “The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.” That’s all that feminism means and you’ll find few people who object to that simple idea. Unfortunately, the word itself has been associated with the most extreme voices within the movement and, therefore, misunderstood and misconstrued.
Some people think it means that men can’t open doors for women or that all feminists hate men and burn their bras, or that feminists believe that women should dominate men. At a recent event where actress Salma Hayak received an award for fighting for women’s rights, she declared that she wasn’t a feminist because, "If men were going through the things women are going through today, I would be fighting for them with just as much passion. I believe in equality."
Um, that’s feminism, Salma. You are a feminist whether you call it that or not.
There is a mainstream feminist movement that is very much alive and well, but because we’ve become tangled up in semantics many fail to recognize it. Or as Kathy Griffin said at that same event, “Let’s talk about feminism. I’m sick and tired of these young girls not owning this word!”
The word itself, if not the concepts, became toxic even as women and men have continued to reap the benefits of the feminist movement. After great progress in the ‘60s and ‘70s many sociologists believe there was backlash in the 1980’s against “2nd Wave” feminism. The defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment and the rise of corporate and religious conservatives are used as examples of this. Although, it’s important to point out that conservative women also fought for and benefitted from an expansion of women’s rights. Perhaps it’s time for women and men who simply believe in gender equality to reclaim the word - to “own it” as Griffin said.
Feminism is a movement. It’s a philosophy. It’s not a hierarchical organization with a specific set of policies or beliefs. There are all sorts of feminists just like there are all sorts of Christians. There may be feminist organizations with a hierarchy that advocate for specific policies or causes, but whether it’s the National Organization for Women (NOW), the Mormon group Ordain Women, the Roman Catholic Nuns on a Bus, Lean In, or the Malala Fund - there are many shades of feminism. One group does not speak for the other, but they are all feminist organizations because they uphold the basic tenets of feminism - equality and opportunity for men and women.
Among our writers and readers at L&P we have a spectrum of feminists. We have women who call themselves “conservative feminists” and conservative women who believe in gender equality, but are hesitant to use the word ‘feminist’ because of it’s sometimes negative connotation.
It’s my understanding that abortion became a wedge between conservative and liberal women who, at one time, were more aligned on issues of gender equality. It’s time we recognize that there is room in the movement for people (men and women) who may not have the same views on women’s health, but who agree that we need better STEM education for girls, greater acceptance of public breastfeeding, less objectification of women in the media, more women in public office and a whole host of other beliefs in common. There is often more that unites us than divides us.
So what exactly qualifies someone as a feminist? It doesn’t take much.
If you’re a parent whose daughter benefits from Title IX, the 1972 law that requires schools provide equally for girls and boys sports -- that’s the direct result of feminism.
If you’re concerned about your daughter’s body image -- that’s feminism at work.
If your daughter wants to be an Air Force fighter pilot, which is now a realistic goal -- thank feminism.
If you’re a stay-at-home dad whose wife is the breadwinner -- your family is benefitting from feminism.
If you’re a stay-at-home mom who made the choice to stay home and it wasn’t automatically expected of you -- that’s because of feminism.
If you take your daughter hunting and you don’t care that your ‘hunting buddy’ is a girl and not a boy -- feminism.
If you allow your little boy to play with princess tiaras and Barbies and you don’t shame him for it -- that’s feminism working with overlapping equality movements.
If your minister is a woman -- feminism.
If a husband and wife trade off shoveling snow, mowing the lawn, doing dishes and putting the kids to bed -- that equity in household chores and child rearing is the result of feminism.
If you’re tired of toys being labeled “girl toys” and “boy toys” -- feminism.
If your company has a woman in a senior leadership position (mine does) -- that’s feminism.
If you’re a single woman who has a mortgage or business loan and you didn’t have to have a male family member co-sign for that loan -- you are benefitting from the work of feminists.
If you believe that women shouldn’t be judged for their sexual choices, whether that means having multiple partners, same sex partners or no partners at all -- that’s feminism.
So...are you a feminist?