The true definition of feminism

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Illustration by Aurelia Jones

Cameron Bessette, Reporter

Partially influenced and driven by the #MeToo movement, feminist movements have been in more and more of a spotlight in recent years. However, as is well acknowledged by many, fame is not everything. In our current culture, the term “feminist” is seen to have a negative connotation for many people. Why?

The primary cause of these negative opinions of feminism today is the current tendency to over-weaponize it.  Celebrities and public figures use marches as access to the front page, which is directly contrary to the actual definition of feminism. Feminism is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.” It’s been around for many years; in fact, the movements we see today are the third wave of feminism.

The first wave occurred in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with the battle for women’s suffrage. The second wave occurred during the 1960s with the battle for reproductive and workplace rights. The third wave is said to encompass the 1990s until the present day.

The focus of the third wave is intersectional feminism. True feminists of today seek to be inclusive of anyone who has been previously excluded from the feminist dialogue. There are many stereotypes and stigmas surrounding feminism that obscure this simple purpose and meaning. So here is what feminism is and what it is not:

Feminism is not a movement that should be defined or shaped by appearance. Pressures to appear feminine is something a true feminist fights against but that should not result in pressures to appear masculine or rebellious. There are many feminists that chose to appear feminine, there are many who do not. They fight for the same cause.

Feminism is not a fight to be superior to men. It has nothing to do with gaining superiority and everything to do with gaining equality. Feminism is also not about hating men. In fact, many feminists love men. Feminists do not hate men but they do hate the patriarchy. Broadly defined, patriarchy is “control by men of a disproportionately large share of power” (Merriam-Webster). Feminists seek to make the shares of power equal. However, “men” and “the patriarchy” are not one and the same.

Feminists aren’t necessarily lesbians or bisexual, although some are. Feminism isn’t a term defining one’s sexuality.

Feminism is about being inclusive to everyone. Feminist movements that do not include people of color, the LGBTQ community, other minority groups, or men, are generally known as “white feminism”, they are not true feminism and they are falling out of favor. This current, third wave of feminism is making efforts to be inclusive, although there is always room for improvement.

Feminism is not something that tears other women down. True feminism has no problems with stay-at-home moms, domestic goddesses, or women who want to have a family. They believe that to be their right to choose. They also believe that it’s okay for women to choose to work outside of the home, never marry, and opt not to have children.

Feminism is not about taking something from anyone else. It’s about recognizing women as fully human and equally deserving of a life that doesn’t include sexual assault just because someone was born (or identifies as) a woman. It’s about having an equal say in government because women should be represented there.

Feminism is a movement that seeks to liberate all women from oppression and inequality. It is a body of individuals all working so that rape culture and misogyny don’t get the final word, so that the rights enjoyed by men freely, can be enjoyed by all.

It is an imperfect movement and it is filled with flawed people, but it is one about working for all women. Working to free men from the constraints left by a history of patriarchy.

Once, feminism gave women the right to initiate divorce. Once, it gave them the right to own property. To attend school. To be represented in government. It gave them control of their own bodies. And it gave birth to so many heroines—too many to name. Today, it strives for rights for women to be able to make all of the same choices that men can. It strives for equality.