The Other “F” Word: Feminist

When you ask young people today whether they are feminists, for most, even the young women, the answer is a forceful, assertive, “No!” In the last several decades, that word has taken on a negative—vehemently negative —connotation. Apparently, in this negative view, to be a feminist is be a bra-burning, man-hating lesbian.

But being a feminist does not mean those things. Being a feminist simply means that you believe women have equal rights—socially, politically, legally, economically. While it’s true that there are different strains of feminism, each with their different ideologies and some more radical than others, feminism at its base is simply about equality. And people of both genders tend to agree with equality.

It’s sad, though, that when men claim they are feminists, they are often immediately denigrated as not “real men.” And that there are those out there who claim that feminism is ruining masculinity by turning “manly men” into “feminized men.” It’s almost like those people perceive rights to be finite; to extend some rights to women means fewer for men, which is, of course, silly. To be fair, men (particularly white men) do have reason to feel some anger. The world they have long been promised—the power, the jobs, the money, the women, the privilege of being “manly”—seems to have changed if not vanished altogether, and that seems profoundly unfair to them. It would to me, too. But like the fish who can’t see the water because it’s always there, these men have been unable to see that what they feel they’ve been promised has always come at the expense of others. (For an interesting read about what is “ruining” masculinity, see here. Hint: it’s not feminism.) And those others are no longer content to be sidelined.

That said, it is not that feminism wants to sideline men. Many feminists, like me, are married to men; we have sons. I don’t want the men in my life to be sidelined. Rather, I think most feminists want to be on the same side as men; that is, that men and women work together toward a common goal of a fair and equal society—for all of the people in it. Maybe we don’t always agree on the ways to get there, but I’m hoping that we all can agree that it’s a worthwhile goal that we should meet.

It’s time to cast aside the baggage tied to the word “feminist.” If feminism means equal rights for women, then one who supports such an idea is a feminist. As comedian Aziz Ansari says, “That is how words work.” (See here; relevant section 1:01 to 2:37.)

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Tom Kamenick

    It’s an interesting battle over words, and as you seem to acknowledge in the first paragraph, you’re losing. I wonder if it would be wiser to take on another word for the ideal. The problem I see is that the idea you are trying to put forward shouldn’t put either gender first (they are equal after all), yet the word puts women first. Trying to get more people to adopt the equality understanding of feminism over the women-first understanding of feminism looks like a losing battle.

  2. David Papke

    The denigration of the term “feminist” seems to me to be part of a political reaction. When a regime is seriously threatened, it will use whatever tools it has at its disposal to counter the threat. Language is perhaps the most powerful of these tools. Hence, the tottering patriarchy attempts, among many other steps and strategies, to sully the word “feminist.” And, alas, some of the patriarchy’s most effective spokespeople are women.

  3. Melissa Greipp

    “Rather, I think most feminists want to be on the same side as men; that is, that men and women work together toward a common goal of a fair and equal society—for all of the people in it.”


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