What Does Feminism Mean?

Last Saturday, I posed the question “what does it mean to be pro-choice?”  Today I want to ask you all what feminism means to you.

I first started calling myself a feminist when I was fifteen.  This was back in 1995, and it was my sophomore year of high school.  In 1995, Hillary Clinton spoke before the Beijing Women’s Conference and boldly declared that women’s rights are human rights.  I remember thinking, “uh, yeah they are.”  And I bravely stepped where no one in my family had stepped before – the feminist movement.

Back then, I defined feminism as equality.  I used to think that equality and feminism were “the radical notion that women are people.”  I still think that, but my interpretation of feminism has expanded, although the definition is still the same.

Let’s limit our discussion for a minute to talk about what feminism means in terms of relationships and housework.  If everyone is equal, everyone in the household should chip in to do the chores.  I think that housework should be negotiated.  No one should default to doing something simply because “that’s what men do,” or “that’s what women do.”  If one partner is a good cook, it makes sense that the other partner should do the dishes.  If someone finds their zen with a vacuum cleaner, then someone else should volunteer to do the laundry.  This is how my partner and I split things up when we decided to move in together.  We negotiated our roles, how our money would be spent, and how we would take care of the house.  Those roles get renegotiated when something isn’t working out right.  And you know what? We never fight.

This is only one example of how feminism makes a difference. In my opinion, believing in equality and calling yourself a feminist means that you have to incorporate it into your daily life. The way you treat people is just as important as having a woman run for president, or having domestic partnership benefits at the federal level.

What’s your opinion about feminism? How do you define feminism? How does feminism get enacted in your life? I’d love to hear from you.

About Serena:
Serena is a freelance writer who enjoys baking, protesting, and playing with little dogs.


  1. OK. I’ve done stupid things. So have we all. Don’t chew me out for it, because I’m ready to learn from my mistakes.

    When I was very young, I used to think that feminism meant equality. Then, as I got older, I went through a phase where I identified as egalitarian but not feminist – to me, feminism meant rejecting things like history and the scientific method on the basis that they promote an inherently male worldview. Being pretty into those things myself, I resented that.

    Now, having actually looked into feminist websites (well, these ones anyway), I’ve come to think that maybe some of the radicals are like that, but that fundamentally feminism means, as you’ve said “the radical notion that women are people” and a willingness to fight for that.

    As for how I enact it in daily life…I’m surrounded by social conservatives. I think I have met perhaps one or two feminists. For me, trying to enact feminism is rebutting the arguments of chauvinists and trying to live my life the way I want to (working hard and generally being academic) rather than living my life in the way that most of my female peers live (girly, focused on make-up and boys).

    One last thing: I’m a teenager.

  2. Lesley Agams says:

    I was described as a feminist long before I accepted the label. Yet I have spent most of my life resisting anything that suggested I was in some way less capable physically, academically or economically because I was a female.

    I hate domestic labor of any sort, I refused to do anything simply because ‘I was girl’, I did everything I was told I couldn’t do because I was a girl. What domestic labor I did engage in I felt all human beings should be capable of, including myself. Like cooking and operating a washing machine.

    I live in Africa, where women defer to their men in public or risk dire consequences including violence. I was the one that always challenged men publicly, I wasn’t afraid to speak my mind. When I eventually and reluctantly got married I expected my husband and I to be ‘equal partners’. I thought we would ‘negotiate’ our relationship.

    I guess you could say we did, I moved out and away with the kids eventually. My African kinswomen all thought I was crazy to abandon my home and turf to other females. Their opinion was I should not abandon the frontlines. Apparently I was in stoic competition with every other women for my privileged and indulged male partner. Leaving was a political act, I was telling my sisters – you don’t have to put up with bad behavior.

    Since then I have been supporting women to end bad marriages, get custody of their children, end domestic violence and rebuild productive lives and livelihoods. I work hard to be financially independent and to be a role model for single mothers facing the temptations of fast men with money. A difficult task in a society that discriminates against single women.

    Its important to remember the cultural diversity that is present even in feminism. I look forward to reading more perspectives. And maybe even adding an insight or two if I have it.

    • “Since then I have been supporting women to end bad marriages, get custody of their children…”

      That’s interesting. If feminists are about equality, then why would the assumption be that women get custody of children? I would think the fight would be towards shared parenting, no child support or spousal support. Each spouse shares equally in the financial, spiritual and emotional needs of any child born from the union be tween a man and a woman. Are we on the same page here?

      • She didn’t say “All women, without question, regardless or circumstance”, your reading isn’t particularly charitable.

  3. I think I have always been a feminist, I just never realized it and never thought of the word “Feminism” and what it means to be a woman, until very recently. I tell my friends “Feminism isn’t something to realize what you are NOT, but who you are as a woman in the 21st century.” Looking back at what feminism represented about 55 years ago is completely different from what I see it in my generation in the aspect of Sex, and Culture.

    I feel I am bettering myself, as a woman, and as a human with rights by being a feminist. It’s self help, to the best extremes :)

  4. Feminism is about women being seen and respected as people, a “radical notion” that really shouldn’t be so radical. I can remember reading an article on The Crunk Feminist Collective about how feminism is more of an action than some sort of fixed identity, and I absolutely agree. Being a feminist is more about what you are doing than who you are, even if all you’re doing is making changes in your own life and your own actions and beliefs.

    I don’t see it as being about being considered equal to men. If we just focus on being equal to men then we’re missing the point.

  5. I love what you all have added to the definition. And hooray for teenage feminists, especially in the midst of social conservativism. I can relate to that – the vast majority of people at my high school were Republican, born again Christians. Just calling myself a Democrat was a radical act. So good luck to you, Vivat. I hope you’re finding some support on the web.

  6. To me, feminism is about the freedom of choice and not being belittled and humiliated by citizens or, worse yet, the very politicians who should be protecting the rights of ALL peoples.

    At a very young age, I noticed that girls were treated differently from boys, in real life and in the media. You know what I mean- the commercials where girls were the ditzy and wimpy ones, and the boys were the ones that were shown doing important things. It struck me rather odd and it even hurt me at such a young age. I wondered “Why should people like me be portrayed as ‘weak’ and ‘helpless’?”. From then on, my feelings grew and became stronger every day.

    I know that such a strong hostility towards women is so deeply rooted in most cultures, it’s impossible to eradicate it- but that doesn’t mean the future can’t be changed. And I’ll be damned if I don’t do everything I can to create a brighter future for myself, my female relatives, future daughters and nieces and for my friends. I don’t know how it’ll happen, but I’m determined to make some kind of difference, no matter how big or small. I’m just glad I’m finally of voting age.

    Signed, a 19 year-old feminist (and I’m damn proud!)

  7. I have been a feminist for over forty years. My favorite definition of feminism is the belief that there is a difference between a woman and a doormat.This may be a mix up between two different quotes, but I still like it. I have been competent and independent since before I entered kindergarten, capable of doing more of most things than most of the boys I knew. As I grew up I found that this independence and competence was more and more surprising to other people. Instead of conforming to expectations, I delighted in surprising people by how good I was at more and more unexpected things. Somewhere during high school I finally learned a name for this pride in my accomplishments. I worked very hard at almost anything that interested me, from sports to target shooting to firefighting. It wasn’t always that I had a natural aptitude for things, but that I was confident that even if I wasn’t gifted at something, I could work at it as hard as the next person until I got it. To me, feminism is confidence that as a human being no one should place limits on my aspirations. I am free to be the best I can in any field if I am willing to work at it, except a sperm donor. I can speak up for my right to challenge expectations and for the rights of other girls to grow up free to be the best self they can be, whatever they aspire to, without anyone being entitled to place obstacles in their path because of gender expectations.

Speak Your Mind