I’ve always shied away from the word “feminist.” The implications of using this word to identify myself sounded much too radical, overtly progressive, the connotation too harsh. As a person who received great joy and validation from being liked and accepted by my peers, I always wanted to be the most agreeable I could possibly be. This meant that I avoided words that had even a possibility of sounding aggressive, and I subconsciously categorized “feminist” as one of them.
Consequently, for most of my teenage years, I did not call myself a feminist. I believed that this term was reserved for only those of the most outspoken and bold nature, and I knew that I was definitely not one of them.
Little did I know that in actuality, I had a twisted misconception of feminism in my head.
Nobody had ever really thought to tell me what feminism truly meant, and I had never thought there needed to be an explanation for it because I believed I already knew exactly what it implied. I had garnered all the information I needed by observation alone.
Growing up, I did not miss the subtle but obvious signs of discomfort and disdain in the faces of others whenever I saw a woman proudly say she was a feminist. Nobody I knew wanted to be a feminist, and they seemed to have so much unexplained reproach towards what it meant to be one. I automatically made the connection between these less-than-enthusiastic responses and the undesirability of identifying with this word. Over time, feminism, to me, became synonymous with the ideas of man-hating and placing women above men, and so I didn’t want to associate myself with that controversial term.
Then one unsuspecting day, I happened to come across a video of Emma Watson’s HeForShe campaign speech. It was perfect in its simplicity, and the message plainly came across to my juvenile mind. However, everything that she said was a contradiction to my long-held beliefs about this matter, and I was hesitant to dive headfirst into suddenly believing that feminism was a good thing. So I sat myself down in front of my laptop and typed up a long-overdue Google search of the literal definition of a feminist. And here it is, in case you don’t know like I didn’t back then: “A feminist is a person who believes in the political, social and economic equality of women and men.”
Nothing too crazy, right? Equality. Not being above men, but simply standing side by side. When I processed the meaning of those words, I was definitely taken aback. The definition sounded so much tamer and more civil than I could have ever imagined, and I realized that I wanted everything that the word really meant: equality between genders on all spectrums.
The discrepancy between my construed definition and the literal definition made me question what had made not just me, but everybody else around me hold such negative and fearful views about feminism in the first place.
Nowadays, it’s become easier than ever to proudly say that you are a feminist, at least in the forward-thinking universities of the blue state of California. You can’t go to class without seeing one of those cheeky “of course I’m a feminist” stickers decorating water bottles all over campus. Although I’m overjoyed that the previously ubiquitous hostility towards this word is fading, I do not want feminism to be something that people identify with just to be cool and modern. Feminism is not the latest trend. It is not a passing fancy you can discard at a moment’s inconvenience. You do not suddenly become avant-garde when you declare yourself a feminist.
It is a real and tangible cause, and people fight for this movement because they cannot stand to tolerate the injustice in discrimination against human beings. If you call yourself a feminist, as you all proudly should, know what you are fighting for and why. The 21st century is not perfect; we have grown closer, and we are making progress little by little, but we are not at the summit of gender equality just yet.
Feminism. Never forget the essence of this word and how much power the message behind it holds. If you believe in equality for all people, be a feminist.
Contact Betty Lee at bitlee ‘at’ stanford.edu.