Too many young men and women are afraid to call themselves feminists- and they shouldn’t be.
By: Gillian Pegg
Most people I know are feminists, whether they realize it or not.
They want equality, respect for people of all ages, genders, abilities, sexual orientations, races, religions, etc.
They believe that everyone on earth deserves to be treated fairly and kindly, that those who have been oppressed or discriminated against should be given the respectful treatment that they are worthy of- that we are all worthy of.
These beliefs define what it is to be a Feminist- equality in all things, respect, acceptance.
So why, then, do so many of us refuse to call ourselves Feminists? Is it a fear of being thought of as always angry, as overly sensitive, as needing attention? Is it the fear of becoming a caricature who doesn’t shave her armpits, hates all men, and is ‘just mad cause she’s ugly?’
These grossly incorrect, belittling ideas about what it means to be a feminist continue to be perpetuated in our culture.
Of course, some figures in the media champion true feminism, and their voices are invaluable in today’s world. From Emma Watson to Justin Trudeau to Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, there are strong voices from all backgrounds which bolster the Feminist movement.
But still, a few voices in a sea of many is not enough. The collective, global community must accept- and understand– the idea of Feminism for it to take hold.
Think about the people who surround you. Think about yourself. What sort of prejudices- hidden, obvious, or otherwise- do you and your friends have?
One of the hardest things to do is separate yourself from ingrained ideas that you have consistently been fed since childhood.
Sometimes, we don’t even realize that the ideas we seem to have about the world are not our own, and yet we keep them, because that’s what our parents told us, or what we saw on TV, or what our teachers believed.
It takes a lot of self reflection to re-evaluate yourself and unlearn damaging concepts. It even takes courage to look at oneself under a microscope and question what we think, and why we think it.
But it is also something that must be done. We cannot let our egos overtake us- we owe ourselves more than that. We owe each other more than that.
I have known people to question the term ‘Feminist.’ “Doesn’t that mean women over men?”, they say, “Isn’t that reverse discrimination? Why isn’t it called ‘Equalist’?”
Firstly, there is no such thing as ‘reverse discrimination’ or ‘reverse racism’. A minority group who attempt to speak out and bring attention to their oppression are not being discriminatory or racist. A minority group that calls for representation of themselves, alongside the representation of majority groups, are not oppressors. Opening channels of conversation about the difficulties minority groups face and asking for change is not discrimination or racism, and insisting that it is just highlights that our society systemically uses oppression as a tool.
We use the term Feminist, and not Equalist or something similar, because we live in a Patriarchal society, largely dominated and controlled by rich, white, straight men over fifty.
Women have been largely ignored by history. Feminists fight to make women’s voices and perspectives heard, to lift females from below men on the social and political scales, to beside them.
Since the feminist movement understands what it is like to be discriminated against, it has become a movement for all people who are not rich, white, straight males over fifty. It has become a movement of equality through the lens of rights for women.
As I said, many people are already feminists, they just don’t realize it. They misunderstand what it means to be a feminist, and therefore reject it. But much of the power of feminism comes from identifying oneself as such.
In order to make social change occur, we must- as both a local and global community- come together in a unified way. The only way to do that, is to address the problem first hand, by engaging and informing people.
A couple weeks ago, I started asking some of my friends- male and female- if they consider themselves feminists. After considering the question, they all said something along the lines of, “Umm… no, I don’t really think so.”
I am friends with kind, intelligent, thoughtful, compassionate people. So naturally, these answers made me take pause. I decided to re-frame the question and ask them again.
“Do you believe that everyone deserves to be treated fairly and with respect, regardless of race, gender, age, ability, sexual orientation, religion, etc.?” At this, they would look at me as if I had asked something completely obvious. “Well, yeah,” they would answer, “Of course I do.”
I would smile and say, “Well then, you’re a feminist after all.”