Say the word “feminism,” and you’re bound to produce a strong response in whomever is listening. To some, feminism’s gendered root betrays its humanistic meaning. To others, it’s about the power inherent in womanhood, a power some who prefer “traditional” gender roles might label as overbearing, used to alienate or emasculate men. Plenty of women, especially young ones, feel that the whole notion of feminism is played out, that it’s a leftover from a bygone era. Friends of mine who considered themselves feminists a decade ago have developed second thoughts about the feminist aim of “having it all” since becoming mothers.
Even if you’re proud to call yourself a feminist, feminism likely means something different to you than it does to the feminist next to you. To me, feminism is about equality. I think feminism is about dismantling patriarchy, which is the notion that men should have (and still do have) control of society. Feminism, as I cherish it, is about providing the opportunity for men and women alike to be more fully human, each sex embracing the positive attributes of masculinity and femininity. (Though I believe in LGBTQ rights as well, I don’t consider those feminist causes, though some people do.) Unlike the critics who say feminist values are tearing families apart, I believe the movement is about helping families stay together, because the goal of feminism is that every member of the family feel loved, fulfilled, needed and respected.
In honor of Women’s Equality Day (which commemorates the day women were granted the right to vote), and in an effort to grasp the vastness of feminism’s definition and implications, I asked friends and associates what feminism means to them. Here’s what they told me: