During my very first year at university, my housemate and I had a heated discussion about his casually sexist remarks and attitudes towards women. He then angrily scrawled the words ‘dirty feminist’ next to my name on the house noticeboard.
It was the first time that someone had used the word ‘feminist’ as an insult against me. He twisted an empowering and important word into a negative joke. He, surprisingly wasn’t alone in this view.
If you ask a group of 10 people what ‘feminism’ means to them today, you will get 10 different answers.
There are many different interpretations of the word feminism and the movement. This lack of universal definition is what makes some people so hesitant to identify themselves as feminist. They fear being labelled the stereotypical ‘feminazis’ and ‘man-haters’ by those who refuse to educate themselves.
The first time I heard a succinct definition of feminism was in 2014, when Beyoncé released her song Flawless. She makes use of an excerpt from the renowned Nigerian novelist and speaker Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk We Should All Be Feminists. Adichie defines feminism to be ‘the belief in the social, economic, and political equality of the sexes’. It was with this definition that I chose to call myself a feminist, yet I am sure that there are other feminists out there who would prefer to define themselves another way. That is just the nature of feminism.
The anticipated disagreement from some on the right is, ‘women are already equal.’ We have suffrage. We can own property. We can study what we want and where we want. We can work, start our own businesses, hold positions of power and influence, we can do everything a man can do—less than a century ago this would have been impossible. What more could feminists possibly complain of?
Rape culture and sexism remains pervasive across the world. A study by The Independent showed that men still earn 9% more than women in the UK. Women make up only 18% of directors, writers, producers, and cinematographers in the film industry. More than 137,700 girls in the UK have missed school in the last year because they could not afford sanitary products.
Most recently, Dr Christine Blasey Ford came forward, compelled by what she called her civic duty, in an effort to stop Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. She testified before the Senate to make the President and the US Senate aware of an incident in the 1980s, where Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her.
The bravery. The strength it took for her to come forward and relive one of her most traumatic events on a national and global stage, is what defines women, sexual assault survivors, and feminists of 2018. To receive death threats, to be accused of being a pawn for the Democrats, to be mocked by the President of the United States of America. She came forward, told her credible story, and was still not believed.
These are the reasons why we need feminism. While there may be disagreements about how best to go about it and how women should empower themselves, at the end of the day it shouldn’t matter. If you say you’re a feminist, you’re a feminist. And there is nothing dirty about it. If you believe in the equality of the sexes, you’re a feminist.