The F Word

I’m a feminist.

There, I said it.

For so many (especially young) women, this is–unfortunately–a difficult statement to make, simply because too many people misunderstand the F word.

Take, for example, what happened to me yesterday. I went out for $3 beers and 20 cent buffalo wings with a group of my closest female friends. (Which, by the way, was just as indulgent, delicious, and fun as it sounds.) As the beer flowed, the conversation got livelier. I’m not even sure how it got started, but a comment I made drew this response from one of my best friends:

“Yeah, but you’re the only feminist here.”

I’m not often speechless around my friends, but my jaw dropped. Rather than blow my top in the middle of a crowded bar, I took a moment to digest this ludicrous statement and fired back my definition of feminism.

“So you don’t believe in equality between men and women? Because anyone who does is a feminist. You’re confusing the word with something else. We are all feminists.”

It ended there. But here I am the next day still marinating, because I’m just whole-heartedly tired of the misunderstandings, misinterpretations, and misappropriations of a word that is so important to me.

I remember the first time I got caught up in this issue of linguistics. I had applied for a summer internship with TeenVoices, a feminist magazine for teens, by teens, based in Boston. My resume had impressed the editors enough to interview me over the phone one morning during the spring semester of my sophomore year. One of the interview questions was, “Do you consider yourself a feminist?”

Trying to sound impressively smart, I launched into a tirade about how I was hesitant to call myself a feminist because of what that meant to other people. Looking back, I’m embarrassed I copped out. I like to think I don’t usually look like that much of a tool.

Thankfully(!), a lot has changed between then and now. I know myself better and I’m a heck of a lot more comfortable being myself, for a whole slew of reasons. Hesitant feminism no longer flies. Depending on the topic, context, and the company I’m in, sometimes I’m even a raging feminist.

But no matter how I mean the word, it is always up for interpretation to others. And more often than not, they take the viewpoint my friend did over wings and beer. Feminism, to them, means man-hating, ultra-liberal, Birkenstock-wearing, norm-bashing nonsense, when at it’s core feminism is about the equality of men and women.

None of the people who have taken jabs at my feminism would say, for instance, that women shouldn’t work, or that women shouldn’t get equal pay. Many, if not all, would even agree that women shouldn’t be expected to take their husband’s name should they decide to get married. But even if I present them with all these facts, demonstrating how their sane, normal, calm beliefs line up with the tenets of feminism, they’ll deny the label.

I get that people don’t like to be labeled. I’ve been there, I’ve felt that, and I’ve even asked for that at some points. But as little as any of us want to be categorized and filed away, I don’t see any other way of clearing feminism’s name without promoting what real feminists look like. To accomplish anything, we need to wear the label, and flaunt it.

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