Feminism in Focus: Feminism…what does it mean?

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by Grace Herndon, Contributing Writer

Feminism: a word that holds much social and political charge in today’s society.

The definition of the word feminism and the qualifications of a feminist, however, has long been contested since the words’ origins in 19th century France. Today, variations in their definitions permeates across society, as feminism itself can be defined as a belief, idea and movement. Merriam Webster defines feminism as “the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes,” as well as an “organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.” It sits in the top 1 percent of most search words on the website, and the two definitions illustrates the versatility of the word. The Oxford English Dictionary, on the other hand, defines feminism as “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of equality of the sexes,” while the Cambridge Dictionary defines it as “and organized effort to give women the same economic, social and political rights as men.” Some other definitions of the word include being an advocate for “social, political, legal and economic rights for women equal to those of men.”  Another common definition is an individual who “supports equal rights for women” or simply a supporter of feminism as an idea, theory or movement. Although there are variances and distinct nuances in the popular definitions of the word, common threads carry across each of them: themes of equality and the efforts for equal rights resonates throughout.

By these definitions, the meanings of the words feminism and feminist seem relatively straight-forward; however, misconceptions regarding these terms have run rampant in the public sphere over time, creating incorrect or negative implications and assumptions about individuals who claim to be feminists or supporters of feminist efforts. A trip to the Urban Dictionary website is an excellent example of many of these inaccurate definitions. Some of the key themes within top rated definitions of feminism and feminist include the belief that women are superior to men, that women seek special treatment versus equality, and that feminism is inherently “anti-men.” With these severely incorrect assumptions regarding these words, many women and men alike are hesitant in embracing the label of “feminist” for many years. Recently, outlets like popular media are starting to debunk these false accusations surrounding feminism and feminist movements; being “feminist af” is now becoming more widely understood and accepted for its legitimate definitions and intentions.

Today, there are many terms to define the directions that feminist groups hope to take, although the core of it all still lies in equality of the sexes. Regardless of the specific rights on which groups are focusing, and the methods in which movements are attempting to cultivate and spark those societal, political and economic changes, the core remains the same: equality. Intersectionality m is another key aspect of feminism today, which I will address in a later article in the series, as it has a complex and vital role in the history of feminism and in our society today. With this, the identity of a feminist, at its basics, seems to lie in the question: are you for equality between genders? With a “yes” to the question, one is inherently a feminist. Another essential component in the feminist identity for many, however, may lie additionally in the active efforts for equality for women. That said, anyone has the capacity to be or become a feminist.

With the society accepting and embracing the term, I hope many will not only proudly embrace the idea of being a feminist, but also take action in the community by actively supporting and fighting for gender equality in all realms and situations. As we, as a society, grow more educated and informed of the inequalities in our surroundings, we can work more unitedly towards this equality as a world.

This piece is a part of Feminism in Focus, a series exploring the history, contemporary implications and happenings of feminism.

Featured image by Pitchfork

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