noun fem·i·nism \ˈfe-mə-ˌni-zəm\
the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes
There we go. The ever-elusive, often misunderstood and misquoted definition of feminism according to Merriam-Webster. For those who claim to support gender equality but are squeamish or unwilling to call themselves feminists, and therefore don’t know what to call yourselves, worry not. The definition of feminism is nothing more and nothing less than the belief that the sexes should be treated equally. Of course, the textbook definition of a word does not come close to encompassing its connotations, and feminism has gained an ugly one. The association of feminists with bra-burning, man-hating extremists is unfortunate but prevalent. The term “feminazi” has gained traction as a synonym. And men and women alike complain that feminists want too much, are too vocal, and are never satisfied. To those who argue feminism and the gender equality movement aren’t needed, one need only look at these connotations to find proof otherwise.
If feminism was unnecessary, then men wouldn’t have a problem loudly and proudly supporting women’s rights. That would be as easy as announcing pride in voting or democracy or any other personal belief. If gender equality had been achieved, then a word that compares a movement for basic rights and respect to a regime that was responsible for the deaths of millions would not be popular. If said movement was not needed anymore then college rape culture wouldn’t exist and women wouldn’t feel unsafe simply leaving their house after nightfall. If the fight for rights was not needed then women would get equal pay and recognition for their achievements in all fields of study.
Let’s dispel with the notion that gender equality has been achieved. One cannot look at employment and education statistics and objectively come to this conclusion. Women make significantly less income than men, are still pushed away from the hard sciences and into more “feminine” fields such as history or literature, and are not seen as equal employees to their male counterparts because of the possibility of pregnancy. Men and young boys are still derided and shamed for professing themselves to be feminists. Rape culture and the objectification of women still pervades almost every part of our culture. We cannot boast gender equality. Not even close.
So now we have determined there is still work to do until we break all the glass ceilings. But how much? Surely only a very little. We will only have to bear the burden of being called feminists for a short period of time. Think again.
Until every woman feels she is accepted and loved for her intelligence and personality and not judged for her body, we must still be feminists. Until everyone regardless of gender is paid the same income for the same job, we must still be feminists. Until men are unashamed and unabashed to stand for gender equality and women’s and transgender rights, we must still be feminists. Until career women are judged for their achievements and not for their husbands and families, we must still be feminists. And even after all this is achieved, after we put behind us the draconian stereotypes that haunt us daily, we cannot simply leave behind a label that represents the hard-fought battle for equality. Feminism should not be ridiculed or set aside, because it should carry with it the pain and struggle and strength that has brought the movement this far. Like the word democracy, with its original ugly implications, it is a banner that must be waved high and proud even after the war is long won.
So yes, feminism has a distasteful undercurrent. In a bitterly ironic way, it carries with it the sting of misogyny. Like the women and men who try to hold it up, it has suffered unfairly at the hands of the patriarchy, of the subtexts that read that a movement led and heralded by women is undeserving of respect. It is proof in one word that the fight is far from over. Feminism does not equal gender equality, it stands for the distance that must be breached to get there. And when that distance is closed and true equality is tangible and real, then rest assured the word “feminism” will bask in the same glow of respect and honor as is afforded to liberty, freedom, and democracy. The theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes will finally be given the respect is has long since deserved.