Redefining Feminism


I’m a feminist. There, I said it. I don’t like saying it though. It scares me. To me, it’s like a murder confession, or yelling “bomb” or “terrorist” at the airport. Maybe less dramatic, but it’s still a dangerous statement to make. Whenever someone says that they’re a feminist, a natural tendency is to immediately recoil in response. We’ve all seen and heard of feminists who don’t shave or who don’t believe in the institution of marriage because they feel this robs a woman of her individuality. When you hear feminist in your head, you do not think of an independent woman standing up for equality. You hear a red alert signal going off in your brain. “Step away from the feminist.”

That’s why I dislike telling people I’m a feminist. I’ve heard stories of feminists who take things too far, and honestly speaking, they’re crazy. I recently read some of the work by Andrea Dworkin, an American radical feminist, who argued that all sex sums up to rape. Similarly, a popular example of feminist graffiti reads, “women have their faults, men have only two: everything they say and everything they do.”

A male colleague of mine recently pointed out that while he considers himself a feminist, he feels uncomfortable vocalizing this because it sometimes feels as though feminists hate men. Another colleague wittily remarked that feminists seem to be able to touch everything, yet no one can touch feminism. Radical feminism has become abrasive, rejecting entirely and aggressively any form of criticism – as a result, feminists are seen as a group of women with double standards whose arguments can be necessarily disqualified. This is the state of radical feminism today.

So you can understand why it’s hard to tell people you’re a feminist. You hear feminist, you think deranged monster who chews up men and spits them back out. The way radical feminists express themselves and their feelings has become problematic, because while their intentions may still noble and justified, their actions are not. The word feminist has developed a negative connotation and, as a result, feminists have become ostracized. The radical words and expressions with which feminists express themselves have backfired and led them to be misinterpreted and criticized. Even Andrea Dworkin didn’t mean to say that all sex is rape. But that’s the way it came out and that’s way it’s interpreted in our minds.

Don’t get me wrong: we need feminism now more than ever. For all the progress that women have made, the poisonous presence of patriarchal structural discrimination ­– a pattern of discrimination ingrained in societal structure for so long that it is continuously perpetuated – persists. We’re not equal in the workplace: with every child we have, we are unfairly penalized roughly 7% in our wage. We’re not adequately represented in government: women make up a scant 21.5% of Parliament despite the fact that women make up 50.4% of the population. And we’re not taken seriously by the popular media, remaining frequent victims of hypersexualization and objectification.

Feminists are angry for a good reason. I’m angry! I don’t want to choose between a family and a career. I want to be judged on my intellect and abilities, not my superficial shell. We need change for the better, but that change can’t be achieved with radicalism, violence, and aggression. Feminist belligerence and hostility will never fix the problem, but instead serve to trivialize feminism.

Radical feminists are feminists who do more harm to the purpose of feminism than they do good. They’re sort of like the overeager kids interrupting a conversation between two adults – they think they’re helping, but they’re really not. There exists in our society a silent systematic inequality that feminists can do much to alleviate, but not all methods are equal. Male bashing won’t help – smart feminism will.

Today, feminists face a challenge far subtler, and therefore more difficult, than our feminist pioneers. We have attained legal equality, like suffrage and control over our wombs. But now we must move beyond simply legal equality – we require social equality between the sexes. As with anything else, however, different circumstances call for different tools. The tried-and-true formula no longer applies: rallies and parades may be most effective at improving legal rights for women, but legal rights are no longer the most pressing inequality for Canadian women. To achieve true equality with men, we need a shift in the public perception of gender relations and gender roles beyond simple governmental policy. Aggression may force change at Parliament Hill, but it does not persuade the masses on Main Street. Civility and compassion are what feminism needs.

Just because our old methods for achieving equality don’t work anymore does not justify feminists fighting hatred with more hatred. In the words of Martin Luther King, “darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.” We need to bring compassion, understanding, and civility back into feminism. We must be kind and ignite meaningful and civil discourse about sexism. We must redefine and reclaim what it means to be a feminist.

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the authors’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Bull & Bear.