What feminism is and why you should care

Let’s rethink the way we encounter the concepts of feminism and gender roles.

Riley Potter, Staff Writer

The label “feminist” is often used in a derogatory way and most people associate feminism with the hatred of men, bras, lipstick and all things pink. However, feminism is essentially the belief in the social, political and economic equality of women and men. It’s called feminism, not simply humanism, because it is women — not men — who have been oppressed and marginalized for centuries.

Feminists throughout history have fought against the norms of their day and challenged the oppressive structures that have held women subordinate to men. Their names are too many to list fully. Olympe de Gouges in France demanded the same rights for French women that French men were demanding for themselves and wrote the “Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Female Citizen” in 1791.

Frida Kahlo is another notable feminist who played with gender norms and was fiercely independent and bold in all that she did. She embraced her Indigenous identity, wearing traditional dresses that showed her cultural pride, but also posed for a family photo in a pantsuit in the 1920s.

Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani woman, has labored for the feminist cause by demanding education for all girls and resisting the oppressive regime of her homeland. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian novelist and speaker who gave a TED talk on feminism I believe everyone should watch.

In the U.S., Ida B. Wells, a feminist journalist and a key figure in the civil rights work of the 1890s, tirelessly advocated for people – especially women – of color. Frederick Douglass also was a champion for women’s rights and suffrage and worked closely with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Unfortunately, Stanton and Anthony espoused blatantly white supremacist rhetoric around the turn of the century and their error hangs a dark cloud over the feminist movement.

As history often repeats itself, many white, middle-class women made the same mistake during the second wave of feminism of the 70s as they didn’t validate the struggles of women of color. Women did make great strides though, led by Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to Congress, and followed by other leaders such as Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug, Dolores Huerta and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. These women all dedicated their talents and lives to the pursuit of gender equality in all realms of life and we have them to thank for many, many things. I encourage you to learn just a little bit about all of these incredible women.

While most of the people I listed were women, feminism is not exclusive to women. In fact, in my opinion, everyone should be a feminist. If you aren’t one, maybe you should re-evaluate. Feminism is about the freedom to be the best version of oneself. There should be no barriers on the basis of sex that make it more difficult for any person to pursue her or his passions. If a woman wants nothing more than to be a homemaker, a feminist should support that. If a man finds his calling in homemaking, feminists should be equally supportive of that. In the feminist framework, gender norms are equated to cages that box people in.

Ideally, everyone — regardless of gender— could find what they’re good at and what brings them joy, and pursue that. As Adiche highlights in the aforementioned TED talk, “The problem with gender is that it prescribes how we should be rather than recognizing how we are.” Boys are not naturally better at math or more adept leaders or more vocal and assertive; in many cases, society has trained them to be that way.

Equality is centuries late in coming, but it can still happen. (Eva Mo)

Girls are not naturally passive and docile; they’ve been conditioned into submission beginning in elementary school or even at an earlier age. They’ve been labeled bossy and controlling for being just as vocal and assertive as boys. There are some biological distinctions between men and women, but socialization has taken these differences and grossly exaggerated them.
Feminism provides avenues for freedom of expression for women and for men. It’s about equity and mutual respect and support. Feminism demands fair pay, maternity and paternity leave, birth control, and affordable daycare but also recognizes that the system itself needs to change.

Beginning in our elementary schools, the way gender is approached has to undergo some serious reconsiderations. Kids need to learn about women and men who have been key figures in history. Boys need to be told and shown that emotions are not a bad thing and that displaying them does not equate weakness. Girls need to see powerful women who embrace femininity but also command respect in any room they enter. Boys have to learn that girls are people and not sexual objects. The list goes on. This education has to be done throughout all our schools in a way that is holistic and intersectional, that validates unique cultures and approaches to womanhood while affirming that women have the right to be in control of their own lives.
Ultimately, if feminism prevails, greater equality will ensure that all people will have more space to be who it is they truly are without fearing judgement or discrimination. That is a vision we should all actively work towards as we dismantle our own warped understandings of gender roles and seek to encourage one another in our personal journeys of growth, following whatever path that may be.

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Opinions expressed in letters and other editorials, unless otherwise stated, are those of the writers and not of The Horizon staff or the college collectively.

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