What is Feminism, Really?

By: Shannon Shull

Shannon ShullThe great Maya Angelou once said, “I’m a feminist. I’ve been a female for a long time now. It’d be stupid not to be on my own side.”

The definition of feminism:

: the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities

: organized activity in support of women’s rights and interests

In going by the true definition of feminism, I am proud to call myself a feminist. I definitely believe that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. Period. Like Maya Angelou, I, too, whole-heartedly believe that it would be stupid not to be on my own side.

But… and here comes the big BUT… today the word “feminist” has been skewed, distorted. People have taken the term and infused it with new meaning – and not in the best way…. Ladies and gentlemen, society needs to be reminded of the true definition of feminism and get back to the core, which is simply based on equality.

Beyoncé was quoted in British Vogue, hesitant to describe herself as a feminist, saying,

“That word can be very extreme. But I guess I am a modern-day feminist. I do believe in equality. Why do you have to choose what type of woman you are? Why do you have to label yourself as anything? I’m just a woman and I love being a woman.”

That was back in 2013. Now, Queen Bey is supposedly standing tall for equality, saying this past January,

“We need to stop buying into the myth about gender equality. It isn’t a reality yet.”

However, according to her 16-minute performance on the MTV VMA’s it may NEVER be a reality. Yea, thanks Beyoncé, nice try, but you’ve missed the mark TOTALLY…unless the official definition of feminism has changed to the belief that women should act as sexual objects, demeaning themselves publically.

Sure, the image of a beautiful, tough woman in front of huge, glowing letters that spell “FEMINIST” is a powerful and even empowering visual. But cut to the earlier visual of her and her half-naked dancers gyrating onstage to highly suggestive lyrics (all while her precious toddler girl is watching on) and well, that tough feminist image is disgustingly tainted and so way off the mark it’s mindboggling. I bet those incredible women from history who risked their lives to stand up for women’s rights are literally rolling in their graves!

Most women are hesitant to speak of feminism, fearful of how people will take it and if they’ll suffer a brutal backlash. That’s because the meaning of feminism has become so skewed. This public display of supposed “feminists” is confusing our generation and the generations to come, I’m afraid. Blogger Mollie Hemingway nails it with this piece, “Feminism or Sexism,” in which she states, “feminism right now is an incoherent mess of double standards.” (Also, here is a link to Hemingway’s interview on Fox News. Start at the 25-second mark.)

I agree. Quite frankly, according to pop culture, being a feminist seems to equate with being promiscuous. Ugh, it makes my stomach turn just typing it, but gosh does it seem true. What it comes down to is knowledge, and right now it seems that our society is lacking that knowledge. We all need to be educated! Not just us women, but men too. We need to educate ourselves on what feminism really means. We need to look back at the women and men of history who fought for equality and stood for the true definition of feminism.

Recently, actress Emma Watson made headlines with a UN speech. She stated,

“Feminism has become an unpopular word. Women are choosing not to identify as feminists.”

It comes down to a fear of seeming unattractive and aggressive, even a man hater. She brings up some pretty crucial points on the issue.

I personally think she is a brave young lady and I applaud her. She has helped to get the conversation going and get people thinking. Unfortunately though, she is suffering the backlash of the ignorant people who choose to attack her. I believe, whether you agree with her or not, that she did not hurt the cause. Was her speech a game changer? I’m not sure. It may not be allowed to be because the media is too busy focusing on the drama instead of focusing on the positivity in her message and how it can empower everyone who is open to listen and take it in.

Freelance writer Clementine Ford brings up some very important points on the topic. She states,


“These are not facts that exist because men have thus far been “denied” entry into feminist debate and activism. They won’t disappear “naturally” when men are empowered to be sensitive. They exist because patriarchal power hinges on the subjugation of women, and anything that distracts from that is a liability to the cause.

I love that Emma Watson has bravely put herself on the line as a proud feminist. It’s wonderful that she may be instrumental in inspiring millions more to consider these issues. Bravo to her. But to be truly game changing, you have to actually change the game. And while it is important for men to choose to be allies, addressing actual systemic inequality through the funding of programs which empower and defend women’s sexual, economic and political rights is the only way to ensure women have a chance at winning.”

Wow. Yet another case of a writer nailing it, I think. Again, what it comes down to is education. And we should not stoop so low as to allow pop culture to define what it supposedly means to be a feminist. We have to truly educate ourselves so that as an individual seeking equal rights, we can empower ourselves to make our own decisions based on facts and truth, and wholly represent the meaning behind feminism.

It goes along with not being too quick to judge, which is an issue I’ve written about before. We must educate ourselves before we condemn or slam others. I will stand with Maya Angelou and say, yes, I choose to be on my own side. As an intelligent, strong woman, it would be silly not to. And I will back up that statement with an educated response, that I stand for, about what the true meaning of feminism is, which is simply the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. I urge you to take the time to check out my links and educate yourself on the issue. I know I am glad that I did.




1 thought on “What is Feminism, Really?

  1. Thanks for writing this! I’ve been fired up about this topic every since Emma Watson’s speech on it. And i’m glad its being talked about more. First of all, Beyonce, in my opinion, is a complete failure when it comes to representing “modern-day feminism” and being an icon for young ladies to look up to. Makes me sick. I’ve never really liked her music anyways.

    Heres’s a story I’ve told you personally, but would like to leave it in a comment on here… after reading/watching all of these latest articles..I posted Emma’s speech on Facebook along with a comment:

    “I just realized how unpopular and negative the word “feminism” has become and I don’t understand! By easy definition its “those who seek equality between men and women”. Its does NOT mean you have to hate men to be an advocate for feminism!
    Exert: “I think it is right that I am paid the same amount as my male counterparts…I think it is right that socially, I am afforded the same respect as men”
    and I can guess out of all the people on Facebook, maybe 3 men will click on this post and watch. And of those 3 ZERO will “like” it. So prove me wrong guys. The topic of feminism should not be threatening to you in any way. We as women are just desperate for the same treatment/pay/respect etc.. as you. I’ve never once considered myself a feminist due to it’s negative connotation… Emma’s speech may have changed my mind.”

    To my surprise. A male actually watched/read and commented this: “I’m all for women having the same rights as men. However, I don’t know of any rights that women don’t have today that men do(not being sarcastic, if they exist please share).”

    Well of course they have the same rights on paper! We can vote and work for cryin’ out loud.. But its not a paper equality a feminist wants.. its the underlying issue of equality thats presented through our actions.

    Our comments went back and forth discussing how people were missing about the point of this message.. he eventually was like “Okay yeah, interesting to see a women’s point of view and how you can put an issue like this into context”

    Of course there are men out there that do treat women as equals. But a grand majority of the time, we have to fight to be heard/respected/not interrupted when we are speaking and even paid the same amount as our male counterpart!!! I don’t make as much money as the guys i work with..and we do the same amount of work with the same work history/capabilities, and its ridiculous. And don’t get me started on basic respect and openness to a women’s perspective and ideas!

    I have PLENTY of other examples i could use to put this idea of “equality” into context. This type of example occurs at work and a LOT outside of work- I’m standing in a group of guys discussing ideas etc. and I am constantly interrupted and/or just not heard when I’m saying the same exact things that one of the guys will say 3 minutes later, and then everyone listens to him and agrees with HIM, and even praises him for his input. I kid you not.

    Excuse me, but what the heck!

    O but then if a women were to stand up for herself and say “umm that was actually my idea, let me elaborate on this for you” in front of a group of men.. she may be categorized as argumentative/too opinionated/too aggressive.. so she must just be difficult and controlling, not sweet and kind and quiet like a good lady should be. A lot of times it’s easier just to back down and shut up. yup.. its insane.

    There’s certainly a way for us women to balance the two as well. We can be sweet and kind and generous and ladylike.. all the things that men find attractive.. but also be smart, and strong willed and respectful about it. And do know that some men find that attractive too. I think this is something women need to focus on is “balance” if they want to shed a good light on the word “feminism” from now on. I know it’s something I can personally work on. Because God knows I’m quick to defend my point of view, and do not like to be pushed around. It probably has to do with the field of work I’m in (male dominant) but its just what i’ve had to adapt to.

    And generally speaking…I don’t think guys even do this to be mean or even realize they are doing it. It’s just normal… second nature to how they grew up seeing the world or things in movies, or stories on the news of how women are to submissive to men because we are depicted as “less” than them. And honestly women don’t do a very good job of proving them wrong either..we are submissive, a lot of the time we let the men make decisions or lead the conversation, we are OKAY with being interrupted, and certainly wouldn’t dream of calling someone out in a group of men. And Emma’s speech, yeah it may not be a game changer. And my comments, yeah may not be a game changer. But its helps right? Change isn’t going to occur by some grand gesture of say, a women running for president or whatever. People need to change their behavior.. It’s each person needing to have a different view on the way men respect women and how women respect themselves.

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