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We can all be feminists

| Thursday, March 28, 2019

Today, the word “feminist” is often synonymous with a man-hating, bitter woman who assumes that there is only enough power and influence in the world for half of the population. This misconception is a major problem for us all. As Emma Watson says in her speech for gender equality at the UN HeForShe campaign in 2014, “How can we affect change in the world when only half of it is invited or feel welcome to participate in the conversation?” Feminism is defined by Merrriam-Webster as the belief that men and women should have equal rights; “political, economic and social equality of the sexes.” So why is this word so difficult for us to hear?

Although confusing, the most important thing is not the word that we choose to label ourselves with, but the ideas and passions behind them; the concepts that people are misunderstanding about feminists. Feminism is about a diverse acceptance of who we are. If we stop defining ourselves by what we are not and choose to define ourselves by what we truly are, we open ourselves up to so many more possibilities. Feminism simply entails advocating for us to all have the freedom to be ourselves; the freedom to choose how we are defined. What’s so hard to hear about that?

No one attribute can truly encompass a feminist: You don’t have to be a naturalist, a fashion icon or a woman. Being a feminist is about who you choose to be, not what you choose to wear: You don’t have to have a “p—- grabs back” hat or never wear bras. Being a feminist means “in any authentic sense of the term … to want for all people … liberation from sexist role patterns, domination, and oppression,” as Bell Hooks writes in her 1981 book, Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism. It is not anti-man to want a life free from sexist oppression and limitation for everyone. It is not anti-man to advocate for my right to be paid equally for the same job that a man does. For my right to make decisions about my own body. For my right to be afforded the same respect as man. These are my rights.

Men are included in this goal for equality. It can appear limiting, but it is actually about changing gender roles completely: seeing gender as a spectrum, not two opposing ideals. “Nowhere does [feminism] indicate women should be superior, or that women should hate men … It does not support any kind of notion about how all men are the same or that they are all sexist,” says Pranita Shrestha. The first feminist movement began right around the start of World War I. It started as a means for advocating for property and voting rights for women. But with the war tensions escalating, so did the movement. Men were sent to war, and women — who were previously limited to the home — came into the workforce. After the war, women, enjoying their newfound rights and freedoms, didn’t want to give up their rights again. So, the feminist movement changed to include independence and economic equality. As times changed throughout the century, feminism again changed and adapted. With this came the inaccurate associations and stereotypes of feminism. Shrestha says feminism “is against society’s idea where women are regarded as nothing more than childbearing machines.” Feminists just want society to stop controlling all of our lives based on gender norms. If a man wants to cry, feminists support him. If a man wants to wear makeup, feminists support him. If a transgender person wants to join the military, feminists support them. If a transgender person wants to run for the presidency, feminists support them. Everyone deserves an equal seat at the table, and we are just advocating for this to become a reality.

My goal is to change the stigma around the word feminist. I want people to be able to call themselves feminists without fear of judgement. I want people to not be afraid of a word. After decades of fighting for equal rights, we have finally chosen a word to define ourselves by. Call yourself a feminist because it is a word that you know we have labeled ourselves as — one that doesn’t cap our abilities, but allows us to be free. Call yourself a feminist because you stand for what you believe in. We get to control our narrative. And this is how we choose to do it. By choosing how we are identified. By changing the narrative.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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