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‘I don’t hate men’: Understanding the actual vs. perceived definition of feminism

What is the first thing you think of when you hear the word “feminist”? Be honest.

For me, just a couple of years ago I immediately pictured man-hating, butch girls who just wanted to be controversial and offensive. They wanted to turn femininity into something that was greater than masculinity. I never thought I would consider myself a feminist. No way. I hate controversy and didn’t agree that women were superior to men any more than I thought men were superior to women. The only time feminism was really spoken of to me was through the media, about the extreme feminist groups which instantly ingrained in me a stereotype of what a feminist was. To put it visually, someone like Big Boo from “Orange is the New Black” was basically what I believed a true feminist to be. 

To me, being a feminist was defined by what the media portrayed. A group of radical, angry women who believed that their gender entitled them to be better than men. Being a feminist was bad, wrong and intimidating. It was scary to ask questions about it because I didn’t want to offend someone. Personally, I did not know much else about the feminist movement at this time. What I did know, however, is that it was not something I cared to be associated with.

Then one day someone introduced me to the Merriam-Webster’s dictionary definition of  feminism, and it read, “the belief that women and men should have equal rights and opportunities.” That seemed at first too simple. Too broad. 

All of a sudden, being a feminist didn’t mean you wanted to burn all your bras and hate men. When it comes to the extensive topic of gender equality, most people would agree that they are supportive of this. Maybe a lot of people would even go as far to say that they support the feminist movement, but they themselves would not label themselves a feminist. Which is fair. It’s honestly not my goal in life to one day be known as a replica of Big Boo, but it goes to show how the misunderstood meaning of feminism has created a divide for a movement that is fighting for unity. 

I believe that education and clarification of what beliefs fall under “feminism” are vital in creating equality and positive change in society.

In fact, when we look throughout history, it was the feminist movement that brought upon numerous productive advancements in society. The early wave of the feminist movement is what initially fought for women’s suffrage. It was groups of feminists who quietly propelled the civil rights movement, and who first fought against racial discrimination and sexual assault. They made it possible for women to work outside of the house if they so desired. They broke barriers for women who wanted to follow career paths that society said they weren’t allowed to be a part of. Feminists were the people who fought to speak up about rape culture, remove stigmas from victims and give survivors a means to label their sexual assault. Overall, they fought to give the oppressed a voice. They challenged societal norms to empower people and create a better society. Regardless of political preferences or opinions, it is fair to say that historically, the feminist movement has impacted society in some of the most incredible ways. 

When we are able to cut through the clutter, the stigmas and the extreme perceptions of feminism that make the media, feminism is a box breaker. It allows women the freedom of living the lives they want to and providing them the opportunities that their male counterparts have always had. It’s not about women being better but about women being equal.

It’s also a call for women to unify. Working women, mothers and everything in between. It’s a call for women to stop criticizing one another and start supporting one another in their individual callings, dreams, seasons, passions, capabilities, gifts and talents, and treating these things equally despite what they are.

I now believe being a feminist isn’t about neutralizing genders, but celebrating them. It’s about celebrating our strengths rather than criticizing weaknesses. It’s about unity rather than division. Being a feminist doesn’t always have to look like Big Boo from “Orange is the New Black.” It can look like Emma Watson, Ashton Kutcher, John Legend or Beyoncé. Because identifying as a feminist does not mean you are a woman questioning her sexual orientation who no longer shaves her legs. Being a feminist is identifying as someone who believes in equal treatment towards both men

and women.    

True equality is stronger and more powerful than “greater than” ever will be. So that’s what being a feminist stands for. It is so important that we do not let the heaviness of a stigma keep us from backing a cause, a cause that throughout history has empowered oppressed women globally. 

It is so important to educate ourselves and our friends about the true meaning and vision of feminism. Men and women, pushing for a better world. Now that is a definition I can get behind.

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