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WHAT IS FEMINISM? Some of us wonder, some of us think we know, some don’t care to ask, some don’t want to get into it. Whether you consider yourself a feminist or not, it’s important to ask yourself if you actually know what feminism is.
To get a glimpse of what people perceive feminism to be, I interviewed four male and four female students here at CU Boulder. I first asked if he or she was a feminist, followed by why or why not. Next, I asked them to define feminism. At the close of each conversation I offered the interviewee one of six definitions written on a notecard with a dictionary definition of feminism.
The following are quotes from the interviews. Names have been omitted to protect the the privacy of the sources. Included are the sexes, ages and direct quotations of each student:
Q: Are you a feminist? Why or why not?
“Yes, because recently I was enlightened that the definition is basically just equality for women as well as men, so it’s not like we’re trying to make women more powerful than men or anything.” (Male 1, 19)
“No, because I’m a guy and the impacts don’t affect me really. Directly.” (Male 2, 18)
“It depends on what the definition is. I believe in equal rights but I don’t consider myself a feminist. I don’t think I’m a feminist personally. I don’t know what your definition is. I think it depends from person to person. It’s an individual definition because there are extremes.” (Male 3, 21)
“No, cause I don’t really know that much about it. I’m going off my perception of what I’ve heard and of what pop culture has made me believe it is.” (Male 4, 22)
“I don’t know — I think I need to think I am. I want to say that I am, but I have to think about it. I don’t think I’m a good person to interview.” (Female 1, 21)
“Yes. Because I think women are equally as capable as men to be in the workplace and they should be treated fairly. And the fact that, in some cases, they’re not paid fairly angers me. I think a lot of times a guy’s comeback will be, ‘Well what if a guy’s better at his job?’, and in that case, of course he should be paid more, but that’s not always the case.” (Female 2, 19)
“I don’t think I would necessarily label myself a feminist, but I do believe that we as a population should be advocating for women’s rights on all levels — but I probably haven’t done much to help that cause. Honestly when I hear the word feminist I think of a bunch of hippie girls standing in a circle protesting. I do think men are very dumb and arrogant about the topic. They don’t understand that it affects them too.” (Female 3, 19)
“No I don’t think so. I don’t know, I’m kind of in the middle. I do think women should have equal rights but I just don’t want to advocate it.” (Female 4, 19)
Q: What is your definition of feminism?
“I recently found out from Emma Watson’s HeForShe U.N. speech that it’s not women trying to take men’s position, but giving more opportunities and fair treatment for women, which makes sense. People are afraid to call themselves feminists because they think that it’s putting women first, I guess, and identify them more than that, but it’s just opportunity. Feminism is, I don’t know, can I look it up?” (Male 1, 19)
“Feminism to me is equality of the sexes. I believe in equality but I guess I don’t participate in it. I just don’t like actively pursuing feminist protests and stuff like that.” (Male 2, 18)
“Feminism is believing that women have just as equal rights as anyone else. No one’s better or worse than the next.” (Male 3, 21)
“Female equality.” (Male 4, 22)
“I think the core of feminism is to just be confident in the fact that you’re a female and, I don’t know, just to be a strong confident woman.” (Female 1, 21)
“The equality of the sexes.” (Female 2, 19)
“I think my definition of feminism is a group of women who share how they feel about equal rights and how they fight for it as well.” (Female 3, 19)
“I guess advocating for equal rights?” (Female 4, 19)
For the people who characterized being feminist as being pro-equality but didn’t identify as feminist, I asked them why not:
“I guess now I am. I don’t know though. I’d say no but, I just believe the way I believe. So am I contradicting myself? I guess I am a feminist.” (Male 3, 21)
“No, just ’cause I believe that everyone is equal to start out with so we don’t need a group of people getting angry because everyone’s already equal.” (Male 4, 22)
“I guess you don’t have to be an activist to be a feminist. I think people can just be a feminist in their everyday lives.” (Female 1, 21)
The following are the definitions I used for the eight interviews:
The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.
The doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men.
The advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.
An organized effort to give women the same economic, social, and political rights as men.
And yes, even Urban Dictionary gets it:
The theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.
The definitions above are not necessarily ideal, nor are they entirely agreeable. What they have in common, however, is apparent: equality of the sexes. At its core, this is the definition of feminism.
We are certainly entitled to our own opinions, but in order to discuss those opinions it is crucial we are well-informed. I have no judgment towards the above responses, only genuine surprise that on a college campus filled with creative and wise young-adult minds, we do not mutually understand a modern-day concept of human rights. It is alarming that on a forward-thinking platform for cultivated intelligence, the concept of equality is so blurry.
In the conversations I had with the eight interviewees, a common discourse was directed at the “ism” itself: feminism. The “fem” of the “ism” is certainly a turn-off for people, because it ostensibly implies the exclusion of masculinity (as opposed to femininity). This is disappointing considering its actual definition proves the contrary. As a matter of fact, feminism is not simply exclusive to the heteronormative binaries (the usual male and female gender identities). It also strives for equal opportunity for all gender performances. The word does, however, contain the “fem” because women have historically been subordinate to men — this does not mean that feminism advocates women over men, but rather, it advocates equality between the two genders.
Many people who I spoke with also shared their embarrassment in being a self-titled feminist, a feeling I have at times sympathized with. This word tends to carry more of a burden than it does the positive idea of “human rights”. This is precisely why the definition is crucial and should be defined and portrayed accurately. Only then can it be used to discuss equality intelligently. The word appears messy, but it doesn’t have to be.
We are all unique and have much to offer as individuals. Equality must be shared, and is not something a single person can insist on alone. It will take an entire generation’s understanding of what it means to be equal in order for things to progress on a greater scale. It will take early understanding and teaching of feminism’s truths in order to extend this positive knowledge to a greater audience.
Many students will leave CU Boulder having a muddled misconception of this term for equality. Realize that this issue is in your control and that you can impact people by sharing the truths about feminism. One does not have to hold up a sign in the street to support feminism, one must simply reiterate the truth and share with others what it is truly about. One must learn to be confident in identifying as a feminist and in its message of equality.
Despite popular belief, advertisement and assumption, feminism is pretty badass and completely universal. There is no right or wrong way to do it. It just requires more understanding. Once we understand the true definition of feminism we can talk about equality more intelligently and actively. Feminism aims to create equal opportunities for all genders, and feminists should aim to do the same.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Dani Pinkus at firstname.lastname@example.org.