I Hate to Break it to You, But You’re Probably a Feminist.

Sep 26th 2011
This is What a Feminist Looks Like T-shirt

(Available at Feminist Majority Foundation)

Ah, Feminist. The new “F” word.

For most of my life, I assumed Feminists were considered “the good guys gals.” I thought women were pretty happy about that whole being-able-to-vote thing. I figured that most, if not all, women thought that stricter sexual harassment, domestic violence, and rape laws helped them and their daughters feel a little safer out in the world. I think we can all agree that voting and personal safety are fairly important human rights. So why don’t we appreciate the women – the feminists – who marched to turn those basic human rights into statutes and constitutional law?

Well, as it turns out, many people are a little confused about what the word Feminist actually means. Last year I sat in a Sex & Gender class when the professor asked a mostly female audience to raise their hand if they believed they were a feminist. Of course, my hand shot straight up… but it was alone.

Then the professor asked, “Okay, who here thinks women should be given equal pay for equal work.” Every hand went up.

Then he asked, “Okay, who here thinks that women should be allowed to own property.” Of course, every hand went up again.

Then he asked someone in the class to define feminism, and one person sheepishly responded, “Umm… man hater?”

Umm, No.

Now picture me, frantically waving my hand like an excited kindergartner. The professor calls on me and I say, “Professor, feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings.” (*Cheris Kramerae)

“So class,” he says, “do we believe that women are human beings? Yes… I thought so. Well then, why didn’t you raise your hand when I asked if you were a feminist?”

People looked around, not quite knowing how to answer that one.

Fast forward to the present, and I recently came across a thread of women commenting on my blog name. Many said they wouldn’t even read what I had to say because they “hate feminists.”  When asked if they like voting, they responded, “Yeah, I like equal rights, I just don’t like feminists.”

There it is again. You like what feminism does, you just don’t want anyone calling it feminism.

So, let’s go over this again:

  • Do you believe that women are human beings*?
  • Do you recognize the full humanity of BOTH men and women**?
  • Do you believe in political, social, and economic equality between men and women^?

Then I hate to break it to you, but you’re a feminist, too.

Note, nowhere does it say that feminism amounts to “man-hating” or “trying to be like a man.” Feminism has never been defined that way by anyone except the Rush Limbaughs of the world, who use terms like “feminazi” to demonize and devalue the men and women who seek social justice. Feminism also isn’t about trying to make women the same as men – in contrast, feminism recognizes the difference between the sexes and asks that both sides be treated fairly and equitably based on their unique needs (if we pretend there exists only a gender binary to begin with). Feminism is just as much about protecting men as it is protecting women. Feminists work to end racism, classism, sexism, ableism, and all other forms of discrimination that exist in our culture. It is a living movement, which tackles new problems as they arise. It is not perfect, because nothing is. Some who call themselves feminists are merely perverting and co-opting the word because they either do not really know what it means, or they want to use its power to advance their agenda (Sarah Palin comes to mind.)

Still, the true definition of feminism is good, pure, and important. No one should be ashamed to be a Feminist. If you believe women are human beings and should be treated as such, then you are a feminist, and there’s no reason to deny the word.

Just remember: when you say you hate feminists, or simply deny being a feminist, you’re telling the world you don’t think women deserve full humanity. Is that the message you want to send?


*Cheris Kramerae, author of A Feminist Dictionary, 1996.
**Gloria Steinem, founder of Ms. Magazine, leader of the Women’s Movement.
^Feminist Majority Foundation

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30 Responses to “I Hate to Break it to You, But You’re Probably a Feminist.”

  1. VN:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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    I am definitely asking for one of those shirts for Christmas! Also, I’m always surprised (though I shouldn’t be) when people react to the word feminist that way. The definition seems to clear cut to me, but like you said, the Rush Limbaugh’s of the world have tried to cloud the definition.

  2. VN:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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    Oh god, YES! I didn’t learn too much about feminism growing up, it’s not featured very strongly in the school curriculum here in Australia so for quite awhile, I was under the impression that feminists were extreme and didn’t shave their armpits. It was such a shock to find out that feminism is about equality … and the freedom to shave your pits if you want 😉 I am a proud feminist, yes I am!
    Good Golly Miss Holly´s last blog post… Why do I feel incapable of being the mother that I so desperately want her to have? Part II.My Profile

  3. VN:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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    See, Gina, this is why you have such a loyal fanbase: you’re funny, honest, and smart. Another great post.
    radicalhw´s last blog post… Abortion & menstruationMy Profile

  4. VN:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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    I had almost the exact same experience during my “Women and Politics” class in college. I wasn’t the only person to raise my hand but it was probably only about 5 out of 40, and this was at a women’s college!

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    Yeah, it’s kind of sad how feminism has become a victim of its own success like that — how what used to be considered feminism back in the day is now just “normality” to today’s generation of women, who largely don’t remember a time before women were considered human beings of equal status with men. I think it’s important to remind them of history, and how hard women had to fight for all the rights they just take for granted.
    Sarah @ Freestyle Home and Life´s last blog post… Our 1st Wedding AnniversaryMy Profile

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    Gina, you need to add a Plus1 button to your blog posts. I want to share it on Google Plus. I love this post and I want to spread the word :)

  7. VN:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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    I think it’s also important to recognize that feminists are not all women. I’m happily married to a self-declared feminist because he, too, believes women are full and equal people. And I can assure you he’s not an angry man-hater.
    outtajo´s last blog post… Celebrating the changing of the seasons.My Profile

  8. VN:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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    dead on. so many people have forgotten (or neglected to learn) just what life was like for women not even 100 years ago. things that women DIED for, we now take without a second thought and claim to *hate* the ideals (and idealists) that brought them to us. it’s sad.

    I feel the same way about labor unions. the irony of workers discussing their disgust of unions while on their lunch breaks, or vacations, or holidays, or hell even just after they got to go home after an 8 hour day. who exactly do you think brought us to this place?!?!?
    jen @ a little barefoot blog´s last blog post… Unexpected Ego BoostMy Profile

  9. VN:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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    Yes!YES!YES! EXACTLY! You have no idea how many times I have been sent into mindnumbing apoplexy whenever I hear people(in particular my mother) say they hate feminists. All I can think is “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” Seriously!
    Succinct as always, I know have something to say besides “arghbargle*headexplode*gahhhh”

  10. VN:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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    What a great post! I hate that feminism has gotten such a negative rep, it does a dis-service to all the proud feminists who have worked hard to get us to this point.

    I am a longtime reader, and I hope this isn’t seen as spam. I am working on a school project for the Chicago Sky (Chicago’s WNBA team). They need help with their marketing and I thought some of you might be perfect types to take this survey. I’d love to see you represented. This is for school – I don’t work for the Sky. Here is the survey link – and there is a prize drawing for a Panera gift card and film festival tickets. https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/chicagoskysurvey

  11. VN:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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    I do consider myself a feminist, but I would argue that maybe this analysis is too simplistic.

    Feminists push ideas that are new and perhaps jarring to someone with a more “conventional” mindset. It’s not like everyone is actually on board with a feminist agenda and it’s all just a matter of changing a few pesky antiquated laws.

    A woman who says “I agree with equal rights but I think modern feminists push it too far” is making a legitimate statement, even if I happen to strongly disagree with it.

    I mean, I’ve had people (including many women) react in less-than-supportive ways to my keeping my name on marriage. Someone like that may hold other feminist ideals, but if she doesn’t identify as feminist, I won’t argue with her.

    And though I know people don’t mean badly by it, I get truly tired of the “not all feminists have hairy legs” kind of comments. Yes, of course that’s true, but why the emphasis on that? It’s not a moral failing to have hairy legs. If feminists DID all have hairy legs, would it somehow nullify their claims?

    • VA:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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      It’s cold in Northern Canada, I like my winter hair legs an added layer under the long johns. I guess I’m a seasonal feminist. 😛

      I agree. There are people who hold many feminist standpoints and yet fail to continue still further. You think keeping your name upon marriage is hard, try suggesting you don’t want to have a ceremony for your now 5 year old common law union (further enforced by two wills and power of attorneys). I would really rather have a bathroom reno. My brother’s mother in law- BOTH times she met me (I was NOT engaged) asked me when I was getting married, without so much as “Nice weather today”.

      The term feminist has been taken from women and demonized in much the same way that midwives were demonized upon the hostile take-over of birth by omnipotent medical professionals. We should not have to defend ourselves against these accusations. Are our claims less valid if we are ugly, man-hating, lesbians? We know that their accusations are wrong and if more of us women: beautiful (BLEH-who decides?), people-loving, homophobe intolerant, embrace the label feminist, others will have to reconsider their stances-seeing as they will likely know at least one (their own mother).

  12. VN:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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    Dear god in heaven, THANK YOU!

    The shitstorm that erupted on my FB wall after quoting your status was so impossible that I just deleted the whole thing.

    Them: “I hate feminsts! They’re crazy man-haters!”
    Me: “That’s a lie perpetrated by Pat Robertson.”
    Them: “I do not like Pat Robertson, therefore it is impossible I could be influenced by his rhetoric!”
    Me: “GAHHHH!!”

    I have gone out on a limb and posted the link to this post with an exhortation that they post their comments here and not on my wall. So far, so good…. (Instead, a shitstorm is brewing over the Stephen Colbert quote about how Christians who don’t support the poor/welfare are shitty Christians…. Ugh).

    In conclusion, THIS.

  13. VN:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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    Thank YOU! I have been struggling lately with some comments of so called friends that say “feminists are ruining the world” and the horrid “feminazi” came up…mind you these words are coming from sad sad close minded people and I bet you can guess their(married couple)political alignment. I have been so frazzled lately that I have not been able to put a coherent definition of feminism to use to back my stance. THANK YOU SO MUCH for writing this!

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    Kudos! Thanks again for stirring up debates, and being the level-headed voice to reign them in.

    It is amazing how people think that you have to be a bra-burning, man-hating lesbian to be a feminist. My mom (mother to 4, housewife, teacher, single parent) was a feminist (I have come to realize), she took control of her reproductive rights in a community that frowned on that sort of thing, she stood up to her doctor who wanted *her husband’s consent* for tubal ligation and was one of the women who test drove the Pill, and IUD’s for us.

    We need to be more thankful to the feminists before us, we need to thank them for affording us the rights we have today. We need to teach our children that feminists are good, and right. We need to raise them to be as grateful as we are.

    • VN:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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      OK, I can see why man-hating is bad. But WTH is wrong with bra-burning? (That it’s bad for the environment?) I realize it’s short-hand for a “type”, but that’s the problem – the complaints are never specific. The “badness” of the kind of feminist you “don’t want to be” – it’s a nebulous concept.

      Who is this awful woman who burns her bra? Why is it awful that she’s burning a bra? Is it that she’s angry? Is it that she’s doing silly? Or, worst of all, she’s getting angry over something silly? Considering that no one ever actually burned a bra, it’s an extremely illuminating stereotype. And I don’t really think it’s so silly. I would love to not have to wear a bra, but I can’t get away with it and still be treated as “normal” by the people I interact with everyday. Sure, it’s minor. Nothing to lose sleep over. But when I think about *why* I’m “required” to wear a bra (to look like I have perky boobs, I guess), it kind-of pisses me off.

      It used to be that people would insult someone by saying “your mother wears combat boots”. Nowadays, it would be odd to consider that an insult. (It might even be true, and an admirable thing.) I would like to see the day when someone tries to use “hairy-legged” or “bra-burning” as an insult and gets the same puzzled reaction. Where no woman worries about being called that or seen that way.

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    Loved this post! It made me think of another piece you (and others here) would probably love: “Yes, You Are” (“The definition of feminism does not ask for two forms of photo ID. It does not care what you look like. It does not care what color skin you have, or whether that skin is clear, or how much you weigh, or what you do with your hair. You can bite your nails, or you can get them done once a week. You can spend two hours on your makeup, or five minutes, or the time it takes to find a Chapstick without any lint sticking to it.”)
    Rebecca´s last blog post… Doulas & social media use – what are your rules?My Profile

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    That could be true, but I think I prefer to think of myself as a human-ist (not to be confused with humanism, in my mind), in that I just want everyone treated fairly and equally.

    Certainly there are still instances of severe inequality (or lack of person-hood) for women (the Trokosi come to mind), but there are just as many children and men who are marginalized.

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    I’m new to your blog, but fell in love with your entry! I’m so happy to know there are other people out there who know the meaning of feminism! Though on the other end, I knew a girl in college who turned feminism into “women being superior.” Why can’t we all just realize we all are equal? Once again, great blog.
    Newz_Muz´s last blog post… Essential Orange Peel OilMy Profile

  18. VN:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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    I consider myself a feminist, but have been told by other feminists that I should not. This would be because at times in my life I have chosen to be “only” a mother and having also chosen to “sacrifice” my career (even when I do have paid employment) in order to be the primary homeschooling parent to my children. Apparently no “real feminist” would make these choices.

    I know that this is a long and ongoing debate in this current wave and I’m pretty sure that it has been discussed here before (don’t have time to read old posts – though I’d like to!), but I didn’t seen it mentioned in the the OP or the comments and I think it is important to remember that there is a contingency of the movement that seeks to marginalize non-wage earners.
    jessica´s last blog post… Play Here NowMy Profile

  19. VN:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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    I love this post.

    I’ve called myself a feminist pretty much forever. I remember being in high school, and everyone around me would make feminist statements and then add, “But I’m not a feminist.” I didn’t understand it then, and I don’t understand it now.

    If you want to see equality for both genders, you’re a feminist. Why deny it?
    Amber Strocel´s last blog post… Phantom Baby KicksMy Profile

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    The other thing people have a hard time understanding is that there is more than one way to be a feminist. There are unfortunately a lot of us who seem to have a narrow definition about what it means to call yourself a feminist. Whether it’s infighting about breastfeeding or something on the other extreme, sex work, I think we could all stand to open our minds and give each other a break.

  21. VA:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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    I’ve called myself a feminist my entire life, but I’ve gotten into a lot of fights with other “feminists” because I’m apparently hurting the cause of women by choosing to be a homemaker and full-time parent. Yes, I love cooking and organizing, I like to take my daughter to her soccer games and girl scouts, and I enjoy spoiling my hard-working husband when he gets home from a long day at the factory; I like being barefoot and pregnant, I wear makeup, and I enjoy charity work. Apparently all of this makes me less of a woman than most of the “feminists” I’ve encountered in my life. I encourage my daughter to be a free-thinker, to explore math and science as well as literature, and I want her to have the same rights as anyone else, male or female. She wants to be a “monkey doctor” and work in a zoo when she’s an adult, and I encourage that by reminding her that it’ll be a lot of hard work but that I have every faith that she can achieve her goals if she keeps trying. Just because I like being a pretty little house wife doesn’t mean that I think it should be forced on a woman, but nor do I think she should be forced into another kind of slavery by being required to pursue a career just to prove her “worth” as a woman.If you’re going to force jobs on women who want to stay at home, you might as well just cram them in a binder like Mitt Romney.

  22. VA:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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    Sorry, but feminism is no longer defined as “the radical notion that women are human beings.”  This isn’t the 1950s.  Nor does it stand for the right to vote (we’ve had that for a long time).  If feminism is a movement, then it should stand for something that benefits women.  And it doesn’t.  Equal pay would be nice.  But feminists aren’t doing jack about changing it — they only complain about it in blogs and those ridiculous women’s mags.  Feminists fight for things that most women don’t want – like abortions.  Get a clue.  Feminism did some good things and some bad things.  But it is no longer a movement and it needs to die.

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