Reclaiming Feminism – The word and the movement

By Stephanie Milam

My progressive Gen-Y peer group is much less progressive than we’re perceived to be when it comes to the “F” word: feminism. Almost every twenty-something (male and female) I’ve had the gender equality discussion with makes the statement, “I’m not a feminist, but I believe in women’s rights.” A crucial disconnect exists within this statement because while the underlying ideal of gender equality is supported, there is an aversion to being identified as a feminist.

So what is a feminist?  Is it a bra-burning, man-hating liberal woman? No. Even amongst the more radical women’s liberation groups of the 1960s and 1970s, this stereotype only applied to a minority of those fighting the good fight toward gender equality.  And that’s what a feminist really is: a gender equality activist. I think part of what creates the fear of feminism in the minds of Gen-Yers is that many of us believe the fight is over – that American men and women are, in fact, equals. And there are a handful of statistics that support the notion that the gender gap has closed: more women are entering the work force than men, more women are getting higher education degrees, and more and more females are requiring an equal partnership in their marriage. Women seem to have more opportunity than ever before to take control of their financial, emotional, and overall well-being.

But I would argue that the struggle for gender equality is not over. Despite these encouraging facts, the opposite side of the coin reveals that women still have lower salaries for the same work and position, only 2.4% of the Fortune 500 have female CEOs, and sexual harassment cases remain a topic of daily news coverage. Women have won many public policy battles, but in both the public and private arenas, equality has not been reached by all . . . or even most. Which is why the feminism movement needs to make a comeback – not as “post-feminism” or “third-wave feminism,” but straight-up FEMINISM.

In order for there to be a comeback, we can’t be afraid of the title. Some groups of young people are leading the way for 21st century feminism by embracing not only the title, but the grassroots action similar to what captured attention for the movement decades ago. SlutWalks, initiated in Toronto, have taken the US by storm with anti-sexism rallies in many major cities including Los Angeles, Boston, and Chicago. This approach to further gender equality has been questioned due to its controversial nature of defending a woman’s right to dress how she pleases, but its controversial nature is part of what makes it a movement. And overall it’s a step in the right direction because it’s a reminder that gender equality has NOT been reached.

So here’s my definition of modern-day feminism: it is an unending movement toward gender equality, not just politically, but socially in our everyday lives.  Such equality requires being continually conscious of the gender gap and where it exists, especially in terms of stereotypes and biases in the workplace and at home. The importance of accepting the word “feminism” is to acknowledge that there is still progress to be made. And by accepting the word, you can support the movement.

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