Opinion: What Feminism Actually Means

Written by Abbey Norton |
Featured image via The Washington Post, other photos listed below |

Feminist ideals have existed for ages. Plato, although definitely not the most respectful toward women, argued that women and men should be equal in political and various other terms, including fighting in battles and earning an education. During the Age of Enlightenment, Jeremy Bentham said he chose to become a reformist because of the mistreatment of women in his society. “He argued for an almost total emancipation – for a political freedom that would allow women to vote and to participate as equals in the legislative and executive branches of government,” states Miriam Williford. Marion Reid published A Plea for Womenwhich highlighted the issues that women faced in their society. But this was just the beginning – as the world population began to rise, it was harder to keep half of it in an inferior situation.

Feminism’s “first wave,” as named by Martha Lear, began in the late 19th century. Most of us tie this first wave with suffragettes, the women who fought for their right to vote with both radical and peaceful demonstrations. Some famous suffragettes are Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Most suffragettes were white and had little to no regard for the black women around them since this was pre-civil rights (which is, of course, still no excuse). The first wave was a rough sketch of what feminism is today. It fought for very basic rights, yet definitely paved the road to the second and third wave. To see what the first wave was like, watch the films Suffragette and Iron Jawed Angels.

Feminism quickly became much more inclusive as the 60’s rolled in, leading to a second wave. Some feminists joined civil rights movements and fought for equal rights for other races, while others fought against being stuck in the home (aka “women’s liberation”). Because of this second wave, “multiple feminism’s” were created. Some feminists fought for all people, while others fought for the rights that they, specifically, did not have. The second wave truly focused on white privileged women – the ones who had access to an education, and therefore had a voice.

Then came the 90’s. We all know the 90’s so well. Even those of us who weren’t born in the 90’s like to act as if we were. This is when feminism made its third (and, so far, final) comeback. This wave dealt with feminist issues that were so terribly left out of the second wave, such as the LGBT community, racial issues, and the binary of femininity versus masculinity. By no means was the beginning of this wave perfect. Listen to Bikini Kill and you’ll know the vulgarity of this beginning. Lead singer Kathleen Hanna is essential to understanding the first wave. Her riot girl attitude inspired many other women to become as vulgar as she was (she’s grown up since then, I promise). Sophomore Chris King says a stereotypical feminist is “a crazy fat woman with short dyed hair” and this stereotype began because of groups like Bikini Kill. Many of their followers dyed their hair, did not shave, and bragged about being a man-hater.

Although the third wave is seen as cruel and, in some ways, unnecessary, the “riot girl” attitude did not last long. The same issues, such as reproductive rights and abuse, were carried on in the conversation, but not with as much intensity. Feminism became more of a word that people identified with. Women became artists, politicians, teachers, and everything else imaginable. Reproductive rights are still in the works, but for quite a while Planned Parenthood was a much-loved tool for females. The LGBT community was looked on in a much better light. In fact, the world was – and is – looking pretty good for the XX family.

But is feminism still necessary?

Before we carry on, let’s take a break and look at some statistics, thanks to Google Forms.

Out of 89 students, 47 girls, 38 boys, and 4 nonbinary students answered.

  • 41 out of 47 (87.23%) girls said they identify as a feminist. Freshman Ella Driscoll defines feminism as “someone who fights for equality for both men and women.” Mary Kate Staunton says she is a feminist “to protect my rights as a woman and fight for the rights of women in places where they are extremely disadvantaged (no education, forced child marriage).”
  • 2 out of 47 (4.26%) girls said they do not identify as a feminist. Freshman Natalie Novarro defines feminism as “pro-Hillary, all for woman’s rights.” Freshman Cassidy Shepard says she is not a feminist “because everyone is equal.”
  • 4 out of 47 (8.51%) girls said they are not sure if they identify as a feminist. Sophomore Caitlin Turner defines feminism as “equality for women alongside men. That doesn’t mean that female power is greater than male power because then you’re doing exactly what men say. Both were created equally as the Bible states, and we should portray this in our lives.” Freshman Emma Iovene says she is not sure if she is a feminist because “I’m not too familiar with the concept and how to practice being a feminist.”
  • 5 out of 38 (13.16%) boys said they identify as a feminist. Junior Wyatt Reu defines feminism as “women’s empowerment/equality.”  Freshman Logan Cummings says he is a feminist because “I agree with the ideals of feminists (though I don’t actually do anything).”
  • 26 out of 38 (68.42%) boys said they do not identify as a feminist. Freshman Charles Whelan defines feminism as “a fight for what they say is equal rights even though they have nothing to fight for and all laws are equal. They also are very good at making up false stories and lies about not being equal.” Sophomore Matt Koziy says he is not a feminist because “it’s not our biggest problem.”
  • 7 out of 38 (18.42%) boys said they are not sure if they identify as a feminist. Freshman Tyler Manemeit says “I would define feminism as the act of promoting and working for equal rights for women.” Junior Brett Martin says he is not sure if he is a feminist because “I agree with rights for women but many feminists are super extreme and that rubs me the wrong way.”

Now, let’s introduce some famous stereotypical feminists.

This is Chanty Binx, aka Big Red. She is famous for a video uploaded to YouTube of her screaming at a street preacher and arguing her beliefs with swears and angry faces. Junior Katie Kozak states, “I think that people get misandrists and feminists confused, so a ‘stereotypical’ feminist to some people might be one of those crazy ladies who screams about how all men are awful.” Binx is one of these women. Many people argue they do not support feminism because of people like her, but this feminism is not real feminism. Most feminists attempt to avoid people like this – the people who use the word feminist as an excuse to be rude.

Next is Lena Dunham, who is famous for the show Girls. She has also written a memoir, Not That Kind of Girl, in which she describes what it was like growing up as a teenage girl. But there’s one slight issue – in the book, Lena recalls abusing her sister. Both she and her sister claim it is not abuse, and it is definitely a gray area between OK and not OK, but it is disturbing to read how lightly she approaches the subject. She also very much represents white feminism (something we will talk about in a second). Not to mention she loves making money off of feminism, as do many “marketplace feminists.” Marketplace feminists love to make money off of the feminist label and do so with t-shirts probably made by factory workers who are abused and are not paid enough. (If you want a feminist t-shirt, make your own or shop on Etsy.)

Here’s the issue with these ‘feminists.’ These feminists are white feminists. White feminism chooses to only include white females in their fight. This ‘feminism’ represents an off-brand of the term, one that promotes abusing their male counterparts or downright ignoring the issues that lie outside of being a white female. Most of these types of feminists do not include transgender people in their feminism and choose to ignore the issues that men have, such as not getting time off of work when having a child (or adopting) and having to hide their emotions to be ‘tough’ and ‘manly.’

A great example of white feminism is the women’s march on Washington. Yes, I am a feminist who does not (wholly) support the women’s march. Most of the people who participated were white feminists, only really joining to complain about Trump. Some even wrote on unused pads and stuck them on a wall (which both was an absolute waste of pads that could have been donated to shelters and a stab in the back for trans women). This march and other marches like this one do not truly represent feminism. I admire people who protest for their rights, but if these people are in a position of power or authority and have enough money to keep themselves stable, the best thing they can do is find an organization that fights for their cause and donate, or even volunteer!

Now let’s talk about some feminists that actually represent what feminism is all about.

Rowan Blanchard is a 15-year-old girl that made her debut in the Disney Channel show, Girl Meets World. Through her platform, she advocated for issues such as the Dakota Access Pipeline. She also brings light to feminist artists that are not well known. Rowan is one of the sweetest girls out there. She fights for equality for all races, genders, and sexualities.

 

Amandla Stenberg, age 19, is a friend of Rowan’s who also advocates for civil rights through their platform. You probably know them best as Rue in the Hunger Games. Amandla recently revealed she is non-binary and is helping the media to recognize transgender actors. They have starred in a few recent films, such as Everything, Everything.

There are, of course, many other feminists I admire, such as Zendaya Coleman, Tavi Gevinson, and Willow Smith. To me, all of these people represent intersectional feminism. This form of feminism fights against all sorts of discrimination, including transgender bathroom rights, Native American rights, immigrant rights, and, yes, even male rights.

Why even have feminism? Women in the United States have equal pay; we are allowed to fight in the military; we can vote. Constitutionally, all of our rights are the same. But there is a difference between the ‘perfect world’ the Constitution represents and the society we live in today. Today, we as a country are still fighting over whether or not females should have reproductive rights. Planned Parenthood may no longer be federally funded. Females still have to purchase pads and tampons with a ‘luxury’ tax (as if menstruating is a luxury), but men can go online and get free reproductive protection. Women are still told they have to “dress appropriately” when going out, in fear of getting attacked. 1 in 3 women are victims of abuse by their significant other, according to NCADV.

Besides, it isn’t just about women. In most cases, men cannot take leave from work if they have just had or adopted a child. They grow up being told that showing emotions make one weak or feminine. They are taught to despise any sort of femininity. They cannot wear “girly” clothing. According to National Parents Organization, when it comes down to divorce or separation, all rights over the child usually go to the mother, even if the father is better suited to take care of the child. Male victims of sexual assault are told to get over it. Some men are denied jobs if the company they work for wants to promote diversity in the workplace, even if the man is more suited for the job. Men are also expected to be muscly and tall. Some women will not date men that are shorter or the same height as they are.

Not to mention women outside of the country are treated unfairly. According to The Washington Post, in some parts of India, road safety rules don’t apply to women, which makes them more likely to be killed in accidents. In Yemen, a woman is considered half of a witness, and they can’t leave their house without their husband’s permission. In Ecuador, you can’t get an abortion, unless they consider you mentally ill.

Even if you, in particular, do not suffer from any of these injustices, people around you do. Feminism is essential to the progression of our world toward a more positive and inclusive climate.

In no way am I demanding everyone become a feminist, or anyone should feel shame for not identifying with the feminist label; everyone has a right to their own opinions. This happens to be mine. I believe everyone should be a feminist or think about being a feminist. Before dismissing feminism entirely, research it and what it truly means. Most of all, don’t be afraid of the label! The more people that use the label, the more accepting others will be.

I call myself a feminist. I am not afraid of this term. Are you?

One response to “Opinion: What Feminism Actually Means

  1. I loved this post but as a disabled woman who is not ashamed to admitt she is a Feminist was a bit upset that you did not include the disabled community in your definition of ” intersectional feminism”. Other than that spot on. 💜💜💜✌

    Like

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