Feminism is a word that can mean different things for different people. Isn’t it fascinating how a single word can create such a variety of emotions? Some find the word offensive other find it an inspiration. But what does Feminism actually mean?
Let’s start from the beginning. According to the Oxford Dictionary, the word means ¨The advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.” The word Feminism has been used by international organizations such as the UN to describe that there still is a significant gap between men and women. This definition of the word is shown in a neutral form. The term Feminism has also been used in other ways and situations with more negative associations, which has changed its original meaning.
Throughout history, the feminist movement has fought for a women’s right to go to university, to vote and to decide over oneself. Back in the day, our grandmothers did not have the same options as we do. All they could do was to get married and start a family. However, thanks to this essential historical movement, young girls today, have more options on how to lead their lives. But the fact that gender equality has improved does not mean that men and women have reached equality in social, political and economics forums all over the world. And even where gender equality has been legally instituted on paper, in reality, in our daily life, that is not always the case.
So what is the problem with the word Feminism? The term itself is not inherently harmful, but depending on what situations the word is being used it suddenly gets another meaning. For some people, Feminism is associated with a man-hating club or a more radical left-wing political stance, which goes beyond equality. Other people, especially men, have a hard time understanding why Feminism is important because they believe that women already have the same rights as men. However, historically it is not unusual that the oppressors cannot understand the oppressed because they have not experienced it.
On the one hand, it is true, YES some feminists can be extreme. Like in any movement some people will be extreme. Some feminists want to gain power by putting men down. Is that the right way? It is considered controversial, even though it that has been the method applied by most men towards women throughout history. Feminists have often been associated with the extreme militant Feminism which has led to a more negative attitude towards the word. The problem is that people tend to forget the real definition of feminism and start to dislike it only because of what the word sometimes has been associated with.
One big misunderstanding of the term Feminism is that only women can be feminists. Like Emma Watson, UN Women Goodwill ambassador said in her speech for the HeforShe campaign that the best feminists she knows are men. Some men have joined the Feminist movement which shows that they believe in the equality of the sexes. Men that are feminists also reject stereotypes. Women do not have to be a certain way, nor do men. Both sexes are humans, and both should be treated equally. One outspoken male feminist is Barack Obama. He is one of many other feminist men that acknowledge the fact that women have been oppressed and that the feminist movement is there to help both sexes reach equality.
Still, there are a lot of people that do not consider themselves a feminist. Some people want to call the fight for gender equality humanism or simply equality. For them, the word Feminism contains the prefix ¨ FEM¨ and is therefore biased. But, as mentioned earlier that is what Feminism means. Just because the word has been misused in other situations shouldn’t change the meaning of the word.
On the other hand, others don’t feel comfortable putting a label on themselves and want to be even more neutral. Such a person is the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. Merkel is seen as gender neutral. When asked back in 2005 about being Germany’s first female Chancellor she was surprised because that’s not how she viewed it. She does not see the relevance in what gender you are.
In conclusion, I hope that I have been able to define the word Feminism more. The word Feminism is actually neutral and only gets a negative connotation when it is put in specific political contexts. Changing the word to humanism or equality is simply synonyms for feminist and would be unnecessary. If you are a feminist or not, it’s up to you. But a feminist is a person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes. If you believe in this—you are, in fact, a feminist.