“Feminism: The theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes” Merriam-Webster Dictionary
The definition of feminism is so broad that it seems almost anybody could call her/himself a feminist except misogynists and man-haters.
The cultural legacy of feminism, however, has negative connotations – partly because of radical rhetoric from separatists and (likely more so) from the backlash that came from conservatives who were dismissive of feminist arguments.
I understood feminism only as a vague concept when I was younger. I admired activists, but never thought to call myself a feminist because I didn’t see myself as part of a political movement. I didn’t know then about Kathleen Hanna, the riot grrrl from the band Bikini Kill who could have been my teen hero. But, as Sara Marcus points out in her book Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl, Hanna – and others like her – were underrepresented in the cultural world. Our history, music, art and literature have been dominated by masculinity.
While the masculine isn’t inherently negative, it is problematic that femininity is degraded or dismissed. How can a person feel comfortable as a girl, if the term “girl” is used in a derogatory way? And it is problematic that women’s productions go largely unnoticed or relegated to the domestic sphere. Girls and women regularly face negative depictions of femininity via the media and language while not having adequate representations of women as strong role-models.
As I grew more frustrated with the limited perception of gender, I also began to grasp how flexible feminism was. It wasn’t just something for women of my mother’s generation – fighting for agendas that no longer seemed applicable. Feminism was continuously evolving and I could be part of the process.
This is when I started identifying with third-wave feminism. The movement that started developing in the nineties espouses an intersectional approach. It suggests that you cannot separate issues of sexuality, race, religion or gender. All issues of oppression are interrelated. To confront sexism we must also confront racism. This holistic approach encourages discussion across diverse groups to solve the broader challenge of oppression.
The idea does make it exceedingly difficult to identify one issue to confront. When we accept that oppression exists and persistently functions as a part of this culture it can be overwhelming to discern how to end that oppression.
Feminism is a method of confronting that oppression. By declaring that I recognize gender inequality I am also making a statement that other inequalities exist and that it is important to address them. I also am making a verbal commitment to take action outside of that declaration – whether it be protests or something as simple as starting a discussion.
So, I am a feminist. I want to dismantle hierarchical systems that demean humanity. No, I don’t want to poke the dominant group with a pointy stick (and, let me be clear, I am also part of the dominant group when it comes to race, class, etc.) Instead, I want to work with people from all perspectives to make a movement that will help us all reach “political, economic, and social equality.”