What Feminism Means to Me

By definition, feminism is the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men. This definition is often twisted and stretched by people in order for it to be parallel to their own opinions of feminism. The term ‘feminist’ tends to be associated with a negative connotation of women who hate men. I once told one of my guy friends that I was a feminist, and the first thing he replied with was, “But you’re not crazy!” He continued to explain to me that feminists are all delusional man-loathing college women, as well as a variety of insulting remarks. I was taken aback that a young guy from Boston of all places, was still so uneducated on the fight for women’s rights, and had the audacity to say such things to me.

After having been in school for the majority of my life, I can say with confidence that very little focus is put on women’s achievements and influence throughout history. I do not recall ever learning about powerful women like Simone de Beauvoir, Emily Davidson, Jane Austen, or Angela Davis. We notably learn about strong, powerful men such as Napoleon, Aristotle, or Ben Franklin. Contrary to the popular belief, feminism is not about discrediting the important achievements men have made throughout history, but rather allowing both women and men to have their place on the pages of history textbooks. Enforcing old gender ideals and stereotypes in a place meant to be educational is regressive, and frankly, outdated.

The education system fails in other ways as well when it comes to feminism, especially when it comes to instilling a sense of confidence within young girls. The pressure put on them by their peers and school dress codes, sends the message to children that girls have to look a certain way in order to meet a social standard. I have never been to a school where boys are critiqued on the way they dress. They are allowed to bare their shoulders, girls are not. Guys are allowed to show their boxers, girls are not allowed to show their bra straps. For as long as I can remember, it has always been the girls who were torn down, pulled out of class, given detentions, and labeled with shameful words, only for the clothes they came to school in. I can only assume that school is the origin point of a society that feels this scrutiny and  judgement towards girls is completely normal.

When I think about feminism, it is not about tearing men down, but about lifting women up. The picture of a crazed feminist who shuns the typical housewife and ridicules her for making muffins is a bit of a caricature, and not what I believe the feminism movement actually is. As Roxane Gay said in her novel Bad Feminist, “When feminism falls short of our expectations, we decide the problem is with feminism rather than with the flawed people who act in the name of the movement.” Bringing other women down because their ambitions fall under traditional stereotypes, is turning against the group of people that are supposed to feel supported by the movement. Feminism is about women having the opportunity to choose their own path in life, whatever choice they make, instead of having it thrust upon them. The mold in which every woman is supposed to fit into constricts men as well as women. In a world where men and women were truly equal, no one would think twice about men who chose to be stay-at-home dads, cooks, housekeepers, or other stereotypically feminine jobs. This would give men the opportunity to be nurturing figures in their children’s lives, without it being restricted solely to the mother in the family. Feminism, to me at least, means that anyone can choose their own path in life, without it being placed under harsh scrutiny. Feminism is not about defining how your life is lived or conforming to a role in society, but rather about having the free will to express yourself, regardless of gender.

Written by Chloe.  Photos credit Chloe.

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