The Definition of Feminism
an article by Prerna Kulkarni
Dear Asian Youth,
Last week, I was scrolling through Instagram when I came across a video clip from The Daily Show, hosted by Trevor Noah. Noah was interviewing Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a writer and a women's rights activist.
My usual instinct when I come across a video post on Instagram is to watch five seconds of the clip and then skip to the next post. This time, however, my instinct was telling me to watch the whole video—for I recognized Adichie as a renowned feminist. The words that I heard in those few minutes captured the beliefs that I, as a feminist, have been holding very dear to me ever since I learned about the existence of gender oppression from a young age.
When Adichie was asked why she calls herself a feminist, not a humanist or an equalist, her response was:
“But that is what feminism is. Feminism is about justice for everyone, but you have to name your problem. And the problem is, it’s women who have been excluded, so we need to call it what it is.”
Many people are unaware of the true definition of feminism and how misconstrued the term has become. Because of this, many individuals wear the term “feminist” in an attempt to justify their wrongdoings. For example, people use feminism as an excuse to speak in a derogatory manner towards males or to fuel other harmful tendencies. Many women and men show anger towards the feminist movement, and a few of the reasons why include:
the misalignment between the feminist movement and the values of an individual.
the belief that empowering women will undermine the influence of men.
the exposure to “feminist propaganda” by people who wrongly claim to be “feminists.”
disagreeing that females and males should receive equal rights because both genders differ from each other.
the belief that gender equality has already been achieved.
Many of these points are included in the Forbes magazine article, “What is Feminism, And Why Do So Many Women and Men Hate it?”. The author, Kathy Caprino, brings up a crucial point that is directed towards the statements listed above, declaring that “Feminism at its core is about equality of men and women, not ‘sameness.’” So many people offer up the argument that women are not the “same” as men so there can’t be equality. In other words...because men and women have different physical capabilities, these physical differences mean equality is not possible.”
“It’s critical to understand that ‘same’ does not mean ‘equal.’ The issue here is about equal rights and equal access to opportunities. Men and women don’t have to be the ‘same’ in physicality to have the right to equality.”
Everyone has a different view on the world due to different lived experiences. We interpret situations distinctly and have our own perspectives on certain matters, whether we like a certain TV drama or not, or if we agree with the president and his decisions. However, equal rights should not be based on “opinions.” The living quality of a human and the amount of opportunities that we receive should not be based on what another person believes is right. And while humans manipulating other humans might seem unethical to you as you are reading this, this hierarchy is what most of the world currently looks like.
Many people who deny the existence of gender inequality are privileged enough to neither witness nor experience such oppression. Such oppression does exist; however- speaking on a personal level, as colourful as my South Asian culture is—it masks the decades of patriarchies that have confined wives as young as ten years old to the control of their husbands, where the age gap ranges from five to twenty plus years.
While the severity of gender oppression have reduced in more socio-economically stable countries, disparities in gender equality still exist, and have been exposed to children from a very young age. It disgusts me to look at magazine covers geared specifically for girls and seeing, “Wake Up Pretty! ... Fall Fashion You’ll Love!... Quiz! Are you ready for a BF?”, while I see a magazine cover for boys that states, “Explore the Future! Astronaut? Artist? Firefighter? Chef? Here’s how to be what you want to be.” These words were on actual covers of the Girl’s Life and the Boy’s Life magazines, both produced by the same company. I asked my friends’ younger sisters and brothers what they wanted to be when they grew up. And while I don’t believe that any career is inherently inferior, none of the career choices considered by these young girls were in advanced or essential fields. Some have even said to me that they wouldn’t need a job—they will just marry a very rich man.
While such potential career choices (e.g. a housewife) might be jokes in their eyes, I see these choices as a reflection of what these girls have been told that they are good at doing: staying idle. In contrast, boys say they want to be astronauts, surgeons, and engineers because our society has told them that they are capable of these careers. More girls need to be given such encouragement, in order to see a future decrease in gender inequality. And as Cher -an avid feminist- once said, ““My mom said to me, ‘You know sweetheart one day you should settle down and marry a rich man.’ I said, ‘Mom, I am a rich man.’”
Feminism is not the belief that the female gender is superior to the male gender. Feminism is:
Helping girls in countries of poverty receive an education to sustain themselves for the future.
Advocating for no wage gap.
Protesting that feminine hygiene products are not luxury items and therefore should not be taxed.
Feminism is empowerment— equality.
Feminism is not a privilege. Anyone can be a feminist, despite their gender, their race, their religion, or their sexuality. However, the ability to advocate for women’s rights is a privilege only given to those who have the freedom to speak and protest for this emancipation. This is why those with the ability to advocate for these deserved rights, need to continue pursuing the goal of eliminating gender oppression to enable the voices of females all over the world.