Feminism seemed to be hanging on the lips of all my teachers in high school. But for whatever reason, I didn’t want that word to touch my lips. In fact I wasn’t a feminist. While my teachers pronounced that they were feminists, the definition of feminism didn’t reach my ears until college.
You might think it reached my ears when I told a friend that I wasn’t a feminist, but an equalist. “How cute,” you might be thinking, “she made up her own word, surely her friend corrected such folly.” But ignorance isn’t cute. I didn’t consider myself a feminist because I didn’t know what it meant and no one had really explained it to me, nor did I look it up. Even sitting on the floor of my dorm room freshmen year, when I proclaimed myself as an equalist, no one told me.
It wasn’t until later that same year, did a professor explain feminism as she advocated for her gender theory class. After a little more Googling, I got it. And my humiliation reached its all time peak.
(n) /ˈfem·əˌnɪz·əm/an organized effort to give women the same economic, social, and political rights as men
I was so embarrassed that I didn’t understand it before. It must have seemed that I was giving lectures on Cézanne when I had never even taken an art class. Because in that moment I realized that I was a feminist, and that being an equalist was my lame way of circumventing any negative connotations that came with the term feminism.
There’s a great article by Tuba Sajjad that nicely encapsulates why the “equalist” frame of mind just doesn’t cut it:
First of all, the history of egalitarianism and humanism shows that women were basically left out of these campaigns. People did not understand that humanism means all people, men and women. […] That is why it is necessary to have a separate movement for women — to acknowledge the fact that equality and empowerment for women are as important as they are for men. A separate movement does not mean that feminists believe women are superior. But it is necessary because women are generally the underprivileged sex.
Secondly, the exclusively equalist beliefs reject all the rights movements that work for a specific group — for example, feminists for women, racial rights groups for people of color, disability groups for the disabled, and men’s rights groups for men. […] Each of these groups has completely different problems and completely different obstacles to overcome, based on many cultural, social and political factors. You can’t make everyone equal without a specific standard to bring them up to. You have to focus on the less equal to bring them up to a level playing field (of the more equal).
Thirdly, a separate movement for a group does not mean exclusivity. Yes, feminists essentially work for women’s rights, but they do believe in equality for all. […] Working for a specific cause doesn’t mean you forget about all other problems. Feminism can be considered a branch of humanism. You can be a humanist and feminist at the same time.
Lastly, feminism isn’t only about women. Feminists know that patriarchy affects men too. […] Feminism is not about making men weak or women strong. It’s about giving everyone the power to be strong, ambitious, vulnerable, caring, aggressive, opinionated — based on their personalities and experiences, and regardless of their gender. So, feminism works directly for women, but indirectly for all people.
There are over three billion women in the world, according to the U.S. census. But not all three billion are feminists. I might be a privileged, educated, young adult in the United States of America, but even with all of my privilege I still need to be educated.
I continue to learn about women empowerment every day.
Think women are equal? Think again. There are countless reasons we need #Feminism today. Here’s just 9 of them. #Poverty #Education #DomesticViolence #RapeCulture #GenderGap #Trafficking #EqualPay #BeautyStandards #Harassment pic.twitter.com/H9gNzcOjPL
— LiveYourDream.org (@LYDorg) December 1, 2017
Recently I was on a flight from San Diego to Oregon, and I heard women empowerment for the first time. I am not talking about a speech, or a dictation about the important of equality. While those speeches are important as well. What I heard wasn’t for a large audience, it was meant for a small audience, in the privacy of an airplane cabin.
The pilot turned on the speaker to prepare the passengers for take off. And while I was fussing around in my bag trying to find my earplugs, the voice over the speaker caused me to pause. The voice was female. Forbes magazine reports that of the 53,000 pilots apart of the Airline Pilots Association, only 5% are female. I was listening to one of them.
Since that moment I see women empowerment every day. From Condolezza Rice’s article in Forbes magazine to Shakespeare women empowerment continues educates me. And for that I am the most grateful. If not for feminism how could I recognize the pangs of Viola in Twelfth Night, or understand the importance of women in the workforce?
To me it is an eternal education, one that I learn from and one that I teach, so that I can help the next person who thinks they are an equalist.
A New York Times poll stated that over 80% of Americans don’t consider themselves feminists. Perhaps, if I can help someone out of ignorance, that number will change, and we can all recognize female empowerment.
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Sarah Brewington earned her BA in Communication Studies from the University of San Diego. After attending college in California, she moved back to the northwest to be closer to the trees and her family. She’s world traveler, a feminist, and an eternal student who’s always eager to understand new perspectives on life.