The true meaning of feminism (and how some in my generation are ruining it)

Over the past few years, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend among millennials who refer to themselves as “social justice warriors.” A trend which, despite its noble origins, has become not only a danger to society, but a blemish on real social justice. This trend I’m talking about corrupts feminism, stifles progress towards true social, racial and gender equality, utterly obliterates accountability on the part of those who are underprivileged and, worst of all, completely ignores and even prohibits open-minded discussions from taking place (without which, no change can ever come).

My mother has been an activist for the better part of her life. In the ‘70s and ‘80s she rallied and protested against war and nuclear weaponry and was part of the “Save the Whales” campaign. She fought hard for environmental awareness and fought even harder for women’s rights and equality. Her and the unbreakable men and women around her worked incredibly hard for change; and they believed that working together was the better option. They were social justice warriors. They were feminists. They still are.

Last year, author and Forbes contributor Bonnie Marcus interviewed Teresa Younger, CEO and president of the Ms. Foundation for Women (a non-profit organization for women in the United States) about the meaning of feminism and gender equality.

When asked how she defines feminism, Younger said, “The definition, as I have spent my life believing it to be, is the belief that men and women should have equal social, political, and economic rights and opportunities.” She continued, “I do think that that is the most inclusive definition of what feminism is about. It’s about equality for both men and women and a playing field that respects the voices of women. True equality, true feminism is recognition of the dynamics that each person brings to the table. And I say ‘each person’ because women will have reached truest levels of equality when men also have truest levels of equality. As long as we stay and assign task and duty, responsibility and opportunity to a particular gender, then we are not actually striving for true feminism.”

I like to think any decent person would agree and happily identify with Younger’s view, but some of the more recent sects of the movement have become so philosophically and ethically tortuous that even some women themselves refuse to associate with feminism.

Some, while not quite disassociating themselves because of certain fanatical elements, prefer to call themselves humanists, rather than feminists, because it’s a more modern and inclusive term.

Susan Sarandon, an Academy Award-winning American actress known for her social and political activism, chooses not to describe herself as a feminist (and she’s one of many). During an interview with The Guardian, she said: “It’s a bit of an old-fashioned word.” She continued, “[humanism is] less alienating to people who think of feminism as a load of strident bitches and because you want everyone to have equal pay, equal rights, education, and health care.”

“In other words, Sarandon’s all for gender equality, but she doesn’t call herself a feminist because she thinks the label is too stigmatized to be taken seriously anymore,” explained Lizzie Crocker of The Daily Beast, in response to the actress’ statement.

While I agree with Sarandon’s critique of feminism, I also understand that many women believe that the movement is solely about the empowerment of women and creating equal opportunity for them (which naturally leads to equality of the sexes). So, it’s not traditional feminism that I have a problem with — it’s the newer, more bigoted feminism that is growing in my generation. It’s the kind of feminism which makes men scoff at and deride it. It’s the kind of feminism which teaches young women how to hate men. It’s the kind of feminism which promotes ignorance.

Anita Sarkeesian, a YouTube personality and so-called feminist, is often criticized for such an ignorance-promoting view of the movement. Some of her points are legitimate, just as many of those who condemn her have a propensity for misogyny, but much of her supposed activism includes laughable thoughts like: “There’s no such thing as sexism against men. That’s because sexism is prejudice + power. Men are the dominant gender with power in society.”

Sure, men generally have more power and influence in society, but the claim that women cannot be sexist towards men is pure lunacy. But, this is one of the prevailing tropes of modern social justice, and it is just accepted without much question for fear of being labeled a misogynist or bigot. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard or read someone say something like “black people can’t be racist” or that members of the LGBT community “can’t rape men” because rape is about power and only the “privileged” have that.

It’s this way of thinking that is destroying the very core of feminism and it’s, unfortunately, what children will now grow up witnessing. Instead of learning about how women have fought tooth and nail for equality and how being a woman doesn’t necessarily mean following stereotypes or generalizations about femininity, they will learn about feminism from bitter, man-hating zealots online who have nothing to complain about other than the fact that someone they barely know didn’t acknowledge their “privilege.” (Before you jump at me, yes, privilege does exist, but it’s not always so clear-cut as people often make it out to be.)

At the end of the day I am a feminist and a humanist, and I will continue to describe myself that way, because, for me, they represent the same ideals. But, for those of us who understand what true feminism is — what true social justice is — we need to not only combat the stigmas surrounding the movements, but also those who tarnish them.

What that will take is honest discussions, not ridicule or reactionary vitriol.

Caitlin Moran, a journalist, author and broadcaster at The Times, wrote in her book, “How to Be a Woman”: “We need to reclaim the word 'feminism'. We need the word 'feminism' back real bad. When statistics come in saying that only 29% of American women would describe themselves as feminist — and only 42% of British women — I used to think, what do you think feminism IS, ladies? What part of 'liberation for women' is not for you? Is it freedom to vote? The right not to be owned by the man you marry? The campaign for equal pay? 'Vogue' by Madonna? Jeans? Did all that good shit GET ON YOUR NERVES? Or were you just DRUNK AT THE TIME OF THE SURVEY?”

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