Within twenty-four hours I had two separate conversations where feminism came up as a topic. I was quite proud to say I am a writer, and I said I am writing personal essays about love and life, relationships and sex, and equality and feminism.
Wait, are you a feminist?
In both conversations, it came out like a curse word. As if they were asking me, wait, are you kicking puppies for fun?
It made me think. First, what’s wrong with people? Why don’t they get basic notions and terms? How come that intelligent, educated men fail to understand what feminism is about. Then I started to think, whether there could be something wrong with feminism as a word or term.
The term feminism by definition means the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes. It supports the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities in social, political or economic situations.
Feminism is about equality. It’s not about superiority and it’s crucial to understand that it is not about sameness. Many attacks the ideology of feminism on the basis that women are not the same as men. This is beyond the question. Men and women are not the same. They are different in terms of physical and biological attributes, different bodies, different hormonal setup, different physical capabilities. For one, women are able to have babies, men are not. Physically women are usually smaller and weaker, while men are bigger and stronger. Feminism is not claiming that women are the same as men. Feminism claims that despite the existing or perceived differences, both women and men are supposed to have equal access to opportunities.
However, the idea of sameness is used as a narrowminded excuse. If we strip equality from gender differences and just focus on an example of people being different, most would agree that just because one man is stronger and another is weaker, they both should have equal access to the same opportunities — the right to vote and to decide about their bodies, the right to earn the same wage, or treated in the same way
There are several possible reasons why feminism and the feminist movement are meeting such a fierce rejection — equally from women and men. And they are all based on misunderstanding the main definition.
People are afraid that feminism will mean that with women gaining traction men will lose out in the areas where they are dominant. They think that feminists want to take power from men to be able to rule the world without them. They think that feminists want to get rid of traditions and long-standing beliefs, questioning gender roles. They think that giving power to women will mean that the established dynamics and setups will change for the worse, when it comes to marriage, relationships, society, culture and power.
Almost all of the beliefs come from misunderstanding equality and taking it for a shift in power. Feminism is not about taking power away from men, it is about providing equal opportunities to women too.
We have come a long way, but still, in this day and age, there are millions who do not support equal rights for men and women. Many think that we have already arrived at the perfect equality point, and this world is offering enough opportunities for women. Others believe that we are not yet there and there is still a lot to be done. However, supporting equal rights and identifying as a feminist is not the same.
When people are asked whether they support women’s rights and equality or whether they identify themselves as feminists, the two definitions do not overlap. People believe and promote gender equality yet refuse to be identified as a feminist.
First of all, feminism has been associated with strong, forceful and angry women, and our society continues to punish strong women. The rejection of feminism also comes from the stereotype of feminists as not wearing make-up, burning bras, not shaving their legs or being lesbians. Feminists are believed to reject their femininity in their wills of wanting to become the same as men. In her TEDx Talk, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie tells us that in Nigeria a feminist is a woman who is sad because she cannot find a husband. At the very first feminist movements, in the 1920s, feminists were often called spinsters and there were vague speculations about their sexual preferences.
A century later, these stereotypes still hold and make it difficult to identify happily as a feminist. To identify as a woman who rejects her femininity, hates men and is against heterosexuality is less than attractive — and it goes against every belief that feminists hold.
What can we do to improve the image of feminism?
First, we need to understand individually where we really stand in terms of promoting equality.
To gain a deeper understanding of our own position towards equality, we need to ask ourselves a few questions and we need to answer them honestly:
- Do you believe that all human beings deserve equal rights and equal opportunities? If not, why not, specifically?
- Do you believe that men and women deserve equal rights and equal access to all opportunities? If not, what would happen if equality is achieved?
- If you had a son and a daughter, would you want either of them to have more access to opportunities, meaning the other gets less? If so, which gender should be favoured and who should decide about that?
- What has shaped your beliefs about equality and inequality? What did you experience in your childhood and early adulthood? What or who shaped your experience the most? Your family, peers or the media?
- What upsets you in the media, about men, women and equality?
+1 Do you feel these beliefs align with your personality, values and integrity; do they feel right for you?
Second, we need to think whether the associations to the term “feminism” are inclusive enough and whether we reject the ideology or the word itself.
- Is it the idea of feminism that you reject or is it the existing stereotypes related to it?
- Do you think that feminism is a cause for women, so only women should fight for it?
- Would you raise your voice more if it was called differently?
- Why does it really matter what it is called if you believe in it?
Feminism is really about “humanism”. It’s not about women, it’s not about men, it’s about equality. That is something worth to fight for. Could we not get stuck on words and instead get something done?