By Tina Lu
“How many of you are feminist?”
I look up as my (female) teacher scribbles F-E-M-I-N-I-S-M on the chalkboard in big, bold, heavily underlined letters. Surveying the room, I notice one boy and a dozen or so girls raising their hands. A third of the class.
In recent years, feminism has been associated with numerous negative connotations as extremist “feminist” movements plagued the media. Feminism has become the new f-word, with men and women alike afraid to be associated with the “radical” movement. But feminists aren’t all “man-haters”. In fact, most feminists aren’t “man-haters”. Most feminists like men as much as they like women. Most feminists are humanists.
Merriam-Webster defines feminism as “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities”. And gender equality is what feminists have been trying to achieve with their protests regarding the rape culture, unequal educational opportunities, sexual assault, sexual harassment, legal discrimination, etc. The passing of Title IX gave women equal opportunity to athletical and educational pursuits – no more, no less. But feminism is even broader than gender equality; feminists have also been hardy advocates of universal human equality.
From the beginning of the so-called female rights movements, feminism has been linked with countless other social movements, including but not limited to temperance, racial equality, mental health reform, education, child rights, and reproductive rights. In the broad, gender-boundary-free umbrella of feminism, women had a voice to speak out about the causes that mattered to them, free from the suffocating subjugation of males.
Looking back at history, we see many famous, influential males and significantly less famous, influential females. In the United States, when males of all races could vote, women of all races could not. Within each social caste, women were always lower than their male counterparts. And when men organized social movements for civil or worker rights, women were still marginalized within these movements. They were given lesser, menial tasks to work on as the men did the big important stuff and actually made change happen. But women didn’t want to just sit on the sidelines, so they made their own organizations, fighting for women’s rights, but fighting for many other rights as well.
Even today, feminism doesn’t just focus on universal gender equality (though it does focus on that a lot). Feminists are also advocates for racial equality, free sexual preference, and disability rights. Through feminist organizations, women have been able to share their opinions and beliefs about a variety of topics to a receptive audience that can make change happen. Through social media and Internet blog posts, they have been able to force the removal of anti-choice billboards in New York and protest against the Komen foundation for cutting funding for Planned Parenthood. Sure, a lot of the problems that feminists today focus on are female-oriented, but trust me, when women talk about body confidence, physical abuse, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc., they have males in mind too.
It’s a dangerous thing, this label of “extreme” on a concept so important as gender equality and, ultimately, human equality. Many may be unwilling to speak out about female equality and female rights for fear of being seen as, gasp, “feminist”. But being feminist isn’t something to be embarrassed about; it’s something to be proud of, an emblem of your concern beyond just yourself. So the next time someone asks you if you’re feminist, don’t be hesitant to say yes.