What Feminism Means to Me

What Feminism Means to Me May 26, 2012

I don’t know about you, but I get really tired of hearing people equate “feminism” with “man-hating” or with being against pornography or with thinking all heterosexual sex is rape. I get really tired of hearing people quote the most “radical” of feminists as though what they say is what every feminist believes. I get really tired of people who act like feminism is a bad word, or like it’s some sort of backwards philosophy.

A few months ago I read a quote by teen fashion and style blogger Tavi Gevinson that really spoke to me, and has since helped me articulate what feminism means to me:

I wanted to start a website for teenaged girls that was not kind of this one-dimensional strong character empowerment thing, because one thing that can be very alienating about a misconception of feminism in that girls then think that to be feminists they have to live up to being perfectly consistent in their beliefs, never being insecure, never having doubts, having all the answers. . . and this is not true and actually recognizing all the contradictions I was feeling became easier once I realized that feminism was not a rulebook but a discussion, a conversation, a process.

That one idea – that feminism is not a rulebook but a discussion – is central to how I understand feminism. It is also central to why I find all of the “this crazy feminist said this so you must believe it” or “oh, then you all hate porn” comments to be so obnoxious. Anyone who says those things doesn’t understand how feminism works. There is no one spokesperson, no one organization, no one leader. Feminism is organic and free-flowing, and to me that’s what makes it so beautiful and yes, at times, infuriating.

At its most basic level, feminism is pretty simple, really. According to the Oxford Dicitonary, feminism is:

The advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.

In other words, anyone who believes in women’s political, social, and economic equality to men is by definition a feminist, even if they don’t realize it. And if you’ll note, there’s nothing in there about pornography or man-hating.

What happens next is where the “feminism as discussion” part comes in. While feminists advocate for women’s political, social, and economic equality to men, they disagree on what exactly this should look like and how best to achieve it. This is why feminists split on issues like pornography. This is why some feminists think that stay-at-home mothers can’t have egalitarian relationships with their husbands while others say they can. Feminism is a starting point, a discussion, a conversation, a process.

Perhaps one thing that appeals to me about this understanding of feminism is its lack of a strict orthodoxy to which all followers must ascribe. I grew up with enough of that. Being allowed to think outside the box, to ask questions, to ponder, to sift through and compare solutions – that is what I find interesting and inspiring. Just because feminists don’t disagree with each other on everything doesn’t mean feminism is somehow irrelevant or broken. It just means that the discussion is ongoing.

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