It is sharp, biting, and instantly polarizing. For some, it is used to embody the confidence and frankness of the speaker. For others, it is demeaning and full of hatred. No matter who you are, you likely have had a visceral reaction to this word.
My roommate has a sweatshirt that she wears on occasion that says,“Feminism is the radical idea that women are people too.” It’s simple, concise and yet a somehow divisive comment. Perhaps instinctively, feminism stirs up images of white, angry, braless women with flowing hair. At its worst, feminism is seen as a doctrine that emboldens women and leaves no room for men to sit at the table. Men are expendable, merely useful for their reproductive potential rather than societal contributions.
For me, feminism is far more transcendent that that. Indeed, it’s the simple idea that women are people too. It boldly proclaims that women’s rights are human rights. Women deserve the same chances that every man has. Women should be entitled to an education. Women should not be forced to quit school once puberty begins, as is the case in many developing countries. Women should not be child brides. Women should not be relegated to the home. Women should have every opportunity to achieve their goals, dreams, and aspirations. Women should be able to have positions of power. Women should have autonomy over their bodies. Women should not be afraid of assault or abuse. In a nutshell, feminism says that women should not be treated as if they are less than.
Yet, somehow, these noble and awe-inspiring goals have been misconstrued as being the unequivocal hatred of males. In this article, I invite you to re-evaluate what feminism is and how it relates to you. So here are three commonly held myths about feminism, debunked.
- Feminists must look a certain way:
Feminism does not advocate that women look or talk a certain way. You can be a feminist even if you love pink and stilettos. You can also be a feminist if sweatpants and baggy tee-shirts are more your thing. You can be a feminist whether you rock a pixie cut or a Rapunzel-like mane. So long as you believe in (and work for) women’s social, cultural, and economic equality, you can call yourself a feminist.
- Feminists must be white and female.
In the four weeks since the Women’s March on Washington, there has been increasing talk about feminism and intersectionality. Intersectionality is the buzz word de jour; it advocates for the inclusion of marginalized groups within the larger framework of feminist doctrine. Essentially, intersectional feminism advocates that women of color and transwomen, who historically have been excluded from the feminist movement, have their voices heard. Their race and gender identity color how they see the world and thus their associations with feminism. Assuming that feminism only includes voices that are white and female fails to encapsulate the multi-dimensionality and multi-culturalism of the female experience.
- Men cannot be feminists.
In 2014, Emma Watson was appointed a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador. She began a new initiative called “HeForShe” that asks men from all walks of life to be advocates for women and women’s issues. In her first speech, she notably stated “I want men to take up this mantle. So, their daughters, sisters and mothers can be free from prejudice but also so that their sons have permission to be vulnerable and human too—reclaim those parts of themselves they abandoned and, in doing so, be a more true and complete version of themselves.
Indeed, let us all take up the mantle, regardless of sex, gender identity, race, culture, or religion. Let’s strive to be better, to do better; there is probably a hidden feminist inside all of us.
Daphne wrote this piece for Flux, a forum for those of us encountering adulthood. She is a second-year-medical student at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. Aside from her random musings about politics and activism, Daphne has a penchant for baking cupcakes, traveling (four out of seven continents thus far), and supporting the best football club in the world, FC Barcelona.