I am a feminist.
Why is this simple sentence so hard to say for some people?
Throughout my interactions with several of my friends and family members on the topic of feminism, I noticed a sort of pattern with the responses I got from them. Nearly all of them completely agreed with the basic ideas of equality that I presented in my arguments, yet when asked “So would you call yourself a feminist?”, nearly all of them replied with “No”.
“I believe in equality, but not in feminism” they would say.
But feminism literally means equality.
Despite my textbook definition of feminism, several of them had legitimate reasons for refusing to call themselves feminists.
Let's start with the infamous “If feminism means equality for all genders, then why does the label itself only address females”. Understandably some people may associate feminism with a movement that only deals with female rights and female issues simply because of what it’s called. What people fail to understand is the evolution of feminism as well as the roots of feminism. Feminism has the syllable ‘fem’ in it purely because its initial purpose was to address the female rights or lack thereof in the marginalized section of our society that consisted mostly of women.
While in today's age people argue that women have come a long way since then and that there is no need for feminism anymore, we must understand that feminism has evolved over the ages to adapt to the specific needs of each generation. Modern feminism today has branched out to be more inclusive of all people, gender, caste, race, sexuality and so much more through the realization of intersectional-feminism.
In addition to this, feminism not only focuses on the issues that limit women, but also the issues that limit men such as toxic-masculinity and other stereotypes that force men to act and be a certain way, just like the stereotypes that pressure women into being society's false ideal.
Regardless of feminism being an inclusive and broad concept that works towards equality for all, people still have issues with the word itself, arguing that perhaps a term like ‘equalist’ would be more fitting towards the societal issues of today's generation. While I partially agree with that because women are in a much better position today than they were before, I also feel like there is so much more to it.
The deep-rooted patriarchy that this society is built on doesn’t allow women to be completely equal in all aspects of society whether it be through the form of the sexualisation of the female body, rape culture or even male-gaze among many others that still exist now. I think it is because of this that we should completely embrace the term ‘feminism’ until systemic sexism itself is abolished.
By using alternative terms such as ‘equalist’ instead of ‘feminist’, I feel as though it neglects the years of endured patriarchy and suffering that women have been through all these years. In fact a perfect parallel to this is the BLM movement. People argue whether All Lives Matter is a better slogan than Black Lives Matter simply because it seems more inclusive. However, this is countered by the argument that by saying All Lives Matter instead of Black Lives Matter you are failing to address the issue of oppression that is being faced by one particular marginalized society.
Using the same logic, the term ‘feminism’ is an important identification for several people because of how it emphasizes the struggles of one particular oppressed gender while still, by definition, advocating for equality of all genders.
Another reason I heard for not calling yourself a feminist is because “some women have ruined the title of feminism by being radical feminists who are man-haters and who treat the issue of sexism with violence”. Firstly in response to this, we must understand the true distinction between liberal feminists and radical feminists. At its core, liberal feminists aim to abolish sexism in our every-day society that has already been created. However, radical feminists essentially recognize that the system itself is unfair from within and hence aim to remove the root of sexism in our society by creating a new, more equal societal system.
Radical feminists are often stereotyped by this image of a woman who defies all social expectations, responds violently to mildly sexist comments, doesn't shave her body hair, hates men, and goes on and on about the same old boring issues. However, in reality, all radical feminists are trying to do is erase the deep-rooted sexism in our society. Although, if some women feel like this is how they want to tackle social issues then why not? If you don’t call yourself a feminist because of stereotypes like this, then perhaps you need to reconsider your decision. Feminism means equality, and you can choose to promote equality by being whatever kind of person you wish to be.
Ultimately, what matters is not ‘if’ you choose to call yourself a feminist or not, what matters is ‘why’ you choose call yourself a feminist or not. Because you must choose to label yourself with whatever you identify with most. Or you may not choose to label yourself if that's what you want. But don’t choose to avoid the word feminist for the wrong reasons.
I think a core quality of being a feminist is being open-minded. This is also why I am most certainly open to all other alternatives to the term ‘feminist’ such as ‘equalist’ or ‘humanist’. I believe that feminism teaches women (and all other genders) to be able to recognize their freedom of choice. Which is why if you choose to call yourself an ‘equalist’ rather than a feminist I completely support you.
At the end of the day, I hope that this opinion piece may have changed your view on why people feel like the term ‘feminist’ is important to our history as well as our future. I also hope all of us out here, regardless of what we label ourselves, are working towards a better world with equal opportunities for all people of all genders, races, sexualities etc.
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