To all the people out there: if you believe in an equal society, equal rights, and access to equal opportunities, welcome to the club! You are a feminist – own it, embrace it, use it as a badge of honor.
Recently, I met a childhood friend for lunch. It felt great. We were talking, laughing, and sharing all that had happened in each of our lives in the past ten years. But as I spoke about my work as a lawyer, working toward diversity and inclusion at the workplace, fighting against sexual harassment at the workplace, my friend looked at me and said, “Oh! You’re the feminist type!”. This was not a compliment. I could sense the condemnation in his tone. The conversation did not end here. Another friend, a female friend, sitting right next to me, said, “I am all for equality,but I do not believe in feminism. Why do women make such a big deal about it?” This perplexed me. I cannot explain in words how I felt. And believe me, this is not the first time I have heard something like this.
As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says in the Introduction to her similarly titled essay, ‘We Should All Be Feminists’, “the word feminist, and the idea of feminism itself, is also limited by stereotypes.” There are so many preconceived opinions around feminism: feminists are women who use the title just to show-off, feminists hate men so they are trying to take them down, feminists are angry, feminists are unhappy, feminists want to dominate, feminists are uncultured, feminists are intolerant, feminists don’t have a sense of humor because they do not know how to take a (sexist) joke, and feminists are all the negative traits you do not want to see in a woman. It seems to me that we, as a society, are collectively trying to make the ideology of feminism a lot more complicated than it intends to be.
The Oxford Dictionary defines feminism as “the advocacy of women's rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes”. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities''. That is all we are asking for. If you are for equality, you are for feminism. Nothing more, nothing less. When I do say this to people around me, I often get asked “Why do we then call it feminism and not humanism?” By calling it ‘humanism’, we are not only silencing the experiences of women who have been (and continue to be) excluded from receiving equal rights and opportunities in society, but also denying justice to the women who have been fighting the good fight against gender inequality for years. It would be a way of disclaiming that the problem of gender targets women.
When I was in college, I once found myself stuck in an argument with a senior, a male senior. He unabashedly argued that men are better than women in every profession, be it acting, journalism, medicine, law, entrepreneurship, being a chef (even at cooking! he proclaimed). The basis for his articulate argument stemmed from a look at any of the Top Ten Lists of the World. I did not have an answer to this. I was sure in my bones that this was wrong, it felt wrong, but I could not get myself to coherently communicate any response to this argument. Though how I wish that one gender was not so obviously deemed to be superior than the other, that the idea of a man being the breadwinner of the family was not as normalized as it is now, that women were given access to equal opportunities as men, that women were given access to be in all of these Top Ten Lists, that I had more professional women to idolize in my growing-up years, and that the world was a lot more simpler for women.
I am not here to say that the world is only unfair to women. It is equally unfair to men. I have seen men being asked to suppress their tears, fear, weakness, and vulnerability, because it would make them look less ‘masculine’. We rob them of their humanity so they can fit the box of masculinity. The societal pressure around earning money, paying all the bills and being successful, is unfair. Even in a young adolescent relationship, where neither of the partners make money, the boy is expected to bear the cost of the bill, because society has imposed this expectation on them at a very young age. How simpler the world would be, how happier we would all be, if we could all shed the weight of gender stereotypes. It is not necessary for our personality traits, emotions and skill sets to be dependent on our gender, and for these to be on the opposite ends of the spectrum.
Being associated with the term ‘feminist’ carries a lot of negative baggage. I have noticed that a lot of my friends choose to not identify as one, even though they very rightfully believe that men and women should be allowed to work in the same jobs, be paid equally, make their own decisions about their life, have someone represent them in the policy and decision-making, and be afforded the same level of respect. However, since our society spends so much time harping upon the importance of being likeable, the message is getting lost somewhere – even in the 21st century.
To all the people out there: if you believe in an equal society, with equal rights, and access to equal opportunities, welcome to the club! You are a feminist – own it, embrace it, use it as a badge of honor. There should be absolutely no shame in fighting against gender inequality. We are all doing a grave disservice to everyone, and if it takes anger to fight against this, then let us all be angry. I believe that if we all empower ourselves, we are capable of change. So, girl, if you do believe in equality, there should be no ‘but’ at the end of that sentence.