If you had asked me even two years ago if I considered myself a feminist, I don’t know what I would have said. It’s quite daunting when someone asks you to label yourself, as labels often stick and don’t allow for growth and change, and so one should not do so lightly. But now, if you ask me if I am a feminist, my immediate and passionate response would be a resounding ‘Yes!’
I think my reluctance came from the fact that it had always seemed that those people who were deemed ‘feminists’ were looked down upon by others, that they were branded as ‘men-haters’ and that it just wasn’t something that was widely accepted. I also didn’t really understand what being a feminist was, and how it would change the way I looked at the world. But now, in hindsight, I can safely say that everyone should be a feminist. And I wanted to find out if those people who were closest to me felt the same way. I was curious to discover if they agreed with something I felt it vital for every person to agree with. I spoke with a few people, people who I had never broached the subject with before. I knew that some prided themselves in it, revelling in the newfound acceptance in the general air about feminism. But others, I was unsure of what they would say.
Feminism’s first movement came about in the 19th century, as a reaction to the fact that women basically had no political power, which included the fact they were not allowed to vote. They wanted some form of control over their own bodies and minds, and spoke up about issues like sexuality, reproduction, and proved that women can do just as much as men.
The people involved in this first wave of feminism changed the world and started a conversation about what it was that women deserved; which is just as much as men. Many people today (who are both male and female) may not realise that those brave feminists who came before them have shaped their lives.
But feminism is not just about allowing women to have the same political rights as men; it is about all genders being seen as equal in society, the equality of every type of person in this world, regardless of the way they define themselves. It is about trying to get rid of the patriarchy that is so ingrained in our society that we sometimes don’t even recognise it is there. Feminism is about creating a world in which anyone and everyone is free to be who they are, and not be afraid.
This can be hard in a society that has very clear boundaries about what men should be like and what women should be like, with little room for divergence or movement. Men should not cry, they should be strong, they should bring home the proverbial bacon, and they should be the dominant one in any situation. Women should be meek, they should be quiet, they should never be above a man in any respect, they should be mothers, and they should be happy with the way things are. Not to mention the people who do not define themselves by their gender in the so-called ‘normal’ way.
These constructs that make up the toxic masculinity mindset of so many people are dangerous to perpetuate. How must it feel for a small boy to be told that he needs to “man-up” and not cry when he feels sad? Or for him to be told to “not act like a girl”? Both of these ideas make it clear that to be a woman, or to be anything like a woman is demeaning.
What I also discovered when I realised that I was a feminist, was that I stopped hating other women. What I mean when I say this is that I no longer found it necessary to put other women down just because they may have been prettier, was with a boy I liked or was better at something. I didn’t dislike an actress anymore because I was jealous, and I started to celebrate the women around me.
There was such power in that, in choosing not to despise or compete other women because of what society had told me to do. You can support other women, and see them have success, and realise it does not take away from you at all. Filling yourself with love and admiration for others is a wonderful thing that we are capable of, and why should we fight when there is so much more to love?
So, I wanted to find out if this current wave of feminism we are in now where empowering other people to embrace this significant cause. I spoke to three people. Two of them were women and were of a similar age to me (Jane* and Sally*), and the third was a man who was older (John*).
I asked questions that I thought were relevant, and allowed for anyone’s opinion to come through, and what I found was that there were quite a few surprises.
Everyone understood the definition of ‘feminism’ to be in line with the one I mentioned above – that at its core, it is about having equal rights for both men and women. And when I asked if everyone considered themselves a feminist, I received mixed answers. Jane was undoubtedly a feminist, she said. John said that he was too, although in a later question his answers seemed a bit contrary to that idea. Sally said she did not consider herself a feminist, and although she agreed with their core value of equality, she found the label to be overrated and not fitting for her.
What was interesting was that both John and Sally brought up the fact they believed that there were clear differences in men and women, and that obviously the genders had their own strengths and weaknesses. Sally used this as a reason behind her not being a feminist – “There are just certain things men are better at and sometimes feminists – though not all, obviously – just can’t accept that.
In reverse though, there are things women are better at.” John said a very similar thing when pushed to answer if men and women were equal. This brings up a thought-provoking point, that people are equating the word ‘equal’ to mean ‘the same’. Of course, men and women are different – men and other men are different, as are women and other women. No one is the same as someone else. So, many people understand this to mean that because our bodies and hormones are different, that there cannot be equality simply because men and women are not ‘equal’ in the most literal sense. But feminism is not about trying to convince everyone that men and women are the same, but that they deserve the same opportunities, the same decent treatment, the same respect.
This above-mentioned thought process can be quite harmful, and as Jane said, “If people knew the definition of ‘feminism’ and the true wants of feminists, people wouldn’t have to remain dangerously ignorant and immediately despise feminism thereby challenging and opposing feminists.”
If people understood that feminism isn’t a dirty word, and that believing in equal rights for all genders is what feminism is about, then maybe there would be more openness and acceptance towards this movement that only wants to make the world a better place. So, in actual fact, everyone I spoke to technically believed in the core values of feminism, and yet they were still too hesitant or uneducated to understand that there is nothing wrong with the label feminism.
We should all proudly wear the label feminism in a society in which we need as much love and acceptance that we can get. To promote the message of feminism and to stand with so many others who want to change the way things are done now is what everyone should want to do. There should not be one person who thinks that they are better than anyone else, and that a whole group of people should be treated differently. So, now at any opportunity, I gladly and proudly say that I am feminist – and you should be too.
*Names have been changed for privacy