The F-word

this is what a feminist looks like

It’s hard to believe now, but just a few years ago, I wouldn’t have considered myself a feminist.

I believed in equality. I was into “girl power,” in a Spice Girls sense of the phrase. And I was lucky enough to have had tons of great female role models who inspired me growing up.

So why didn’t I see myself in the word “feminist”?

We’re all well aware of the negative connotations associated with feminism. You’d think most people would understand by now how ridiculously off-base the “angry, hairy man-hater” stereotype is. But too often the comments section beneath articles written by or about a woman makes clear there are a lot of sexist trolls who have yet to die off. (Reminder to self: never read the comments if you want your faith in humanity to remain intact.)

Sadly, the trolls who perpetuate these stereotypes about feminists are pervasive. So is ignorance, which I once blissfully possessed when it came to these things. That unfortunate combination is why I shied away from the F-word. I didn’t think I needed feminism. And that makes me shudder to think about.

I’m the oldest of three sisters. They’re much younger than I am but are growing up fast. I remember the kinds of things girls were talking about when I was my sisters’ ages, and it wasn’t always exactly the most female-empowering language. (Why are 12-year-old girls calling each other “sluts” and “bitches” like it’s a compliment?)

There are lots of words used to put women down. I want my little sisters to know “feminist” isn’t one of the dirty ones.

That means it’s on me and everyone else—male or female—who believes in feminism to talk about it. A lot. The more we do that, the more de-stigmatized the word and concept becomes to those who are as skeptical and hesitant as I once was. Luckily, there are more platforms than ever to help us do just that, and there are plenty of people who get into more nuanced discussions than I can (at this relatively early point in my feminist career, anyway).

It’s a wide-ranging topic for sure, but a few examples of some of the things I’d like to talk more about are:

…and so many more.

Do you consider yourself to be a feminist? Why or why not?

I’d love to know about your relationship with the word and which women’s issues are close to your heart. Leave a note in the comments—or better yet, write your own post about it and send me a link when you do!

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  1. “I didn’t think I needed feminism. And that makes me shudder to think about.”
    I was exactly the same. I used to think Feminists were making a fuss and I was socially equal to a man. I think that was the product of my upbringing in that, relatively, I have a lot of freedom and respect as a white middle class suburban – I have a level of privilege that protects me, mostly. Which is why I try and make sure now, I check my privilege before making judgement.

    I am definitely a feminist! We have a underlying patriarchal tone that runs through our society (though all societies) where women are continually marginalised and objectified. The patriarchy is a damaging social structure to both genders in the way it stereotypes – to name but one of it’s many issues.

    It frustrates me that Feminists are just seen as angry man haters, because finally women are speaking out against restraints – if a man steps up and fights for his views we expect it, when a women does that she is belittled, called shrill/emotional/bossy. The ban bossy campaign was an interesting one, because banning the word doesn’t change the perception.

    Ignorance is the problem, feminism is almost seen as a threat to male autonomy and the comfortable status quo, which it isn’t. If we were all more aware to these issues (to issues beyond feminism as well) the world would be a happier place.

    • Cassie Paton says:

      I’d like to give a standing ovation to this comment. Everything you’ve said here is so spot-on and well articulated. If only more people realized women’s issues are EVERYONE’s issues and that our patriarchal society is holding everyone back—then I think we’d see a positive shift. I do think it’s happening… slowly and subtly.

  2. I didn’t used to consider myself a feminist, either, but that has changed. This article by Sarah Bunting says it much better than I could- the truth is, most of us are feminists:

    Here’s my problem, though: I love feminism, but I HATE feminism on the Internet. There unfortunately are not many feminist websites that don’t piss me off. I wish I could find a site that’s as big as Jezebel (which I loathe with a passion) but 100% less obnoxious and smug. I feel like Internet feminism spends too much time nit-picking pop culture and fighting over semantics instead of focusing on issues like rape or the wage gap. I think most feminist sites spend too much time tearing people, often other women, apart rather than finding reasons to celebrate women doing great things.

    • What Katie said here resonated me with me a lot… I’m most certainly a feminist, but I’ve found myself distancing myself more and more from the feminism I see online because of the frequency that I see women using public shaming as a tactic to prove their point. It doesn’t matter how much I agree with someone… if they’re using shame to prove their point, it kinda causes me to feel sick to my stomach.

      • Cassie Paton says:

        Katie – LOVE that article. Written in 2003 and just as relevant and on-point as ever.

        You and Nikkiana make a great point about semantics—while I think SOME of those discussions are important to have, I agree that many of them hold back the movement as a whole. There are such huge issues to be addressed that could seriously benefit from our collective power, yet we spend so much time bickering about why or why not the word “bossy” is okay to use.

        • Most everything I was about to say has already been summed up in this conversation. I also would have shunned the label of “feminist” just, oh, five years ago? Like you, Cassie, I equated “feminist” with man-hater or bra-burner. There was no word in my vocabulary simply for “someone who thinks all people, regardless of gender (or color, orientation, or any other category, for that matter) deserve equal rights, pay and social status.”

          “I think most feminist sites spend too much time tearing people, often other women, apart rather than finding reasons to celebrate women doing great things” sums it up preeeeeeetty perfectly.

  3. After reading this, I was actually reminded of listening to Lena Dunham’s stance on this covered in Marc Maron’s WTF Podcast a couple weeks ago – I think you might find it interesting (only if you have the time to listen! It’s a long one.)

    It’s hard not to be immensely and overly supportive of feminism. And this is where I would end my reply by using the hand clap emoji in support of your post!

    • Cassie Paton says:

      Weird, I just stumbled across the WTF podcast for the first time earlier this week (I’ve never been a podcast listener but have been meaning to change that), and now you’re linking to it! I’ll have to check it out – thanks for sharing.

  4. I consider myself fundamentally a feminist but it’s just not a title I give myself – It’s not something I go out announcing or introduce myself as, it’s just something I believe we should all be to some degree. Ha I’m the youngest and my sisters used the B word all the time – I use it too – I am called that constantly by all sorts of people and I take it with great compliment and pride because I am one; I don’t tolerate ish and demand respect at all times. Great post Cassie! Have a great one -Iva

    • Cassie Paton says:

      I agree—equality among women and men is something we should all believe in. It’d make the word “feminist” an unnecessary word, because it would just be a given. Wouldn’t that be ideal?

      I fully admit to using the word “bitch,” and I don’t necessarily see it disappearing from my vocabulary soon. But I’m more aware of when and how I use it than I once was. I used to use that word jokingly with my friends more, but fell out of that habit. I never liked when a girlfriend would call me a “bitch” even as a joke. Sometimes, I’d take it personally, haha.

  5. I’m in high school right now and very involved in girl empowerment/gender equality issues. So I constantly hear the word feminist often used against us as criticism. While I personally don’t feel “oppressed by males”, I will continue to fight for all the girls who do. All the child brides, 12-year old mothers, Female Genital Mutilation victims, sex slaves and women who are simply denied an education. But not just girls abroad, I will fight and stand up for girls who can’t speak up even on the national level. Against the rape culture, the domestic violence and the eating disorder-provoking media! I believe so many of these problems are fixed when girls are empowered, when they learn their rights and they are taught that they matter. That’s why I think Feminist/Girl Empowerment/Gender Equality movements are necessary and why I was so happy to read this post!
    Right now, my team/organization/movement is running a Rally Project and I would love if you could help us spread the word!!!

    • Cassie Paton says:

      SO inspiring to hear from a high schooler who is not only all about girl power, but actually doing something about inequality women around the world face. I will happily share this, Giulia! Thanks so much for sharing.

  6. I do NOT like the #BanBossy campaign. Of all words to be banning…! Talk about having bigger fish to fry when it comes to language used in a discriminatory manner to put down women. Ugh.

    I like what Katie said above about separating feminism from Internet feminism. She articulates it better than I can, but I will say that I’m not a fan of sites like Jezebel, either.

    • Cassie Paton says:

      Agreed. Beyonce and Sheryl Sandberg could REALLY be using their powers for something much more important.

  7. I do consider myself a feminist. I try to be independent and figure things out for myself, but sometimes it’s hard. I’m living on my own for the first time and it’s been a huge adjustment/learning curve. I’m walking a fine line between plain old missing my family and wishing I still had the safety and security of my parents.

    • Cassie Paton says:

      Hey, I’m right there with you. Luckily, being a feminist and being completely independent are not mutually exclusive. Your power as a woman is not diminished in any way! I think it takes a looong time for a lot of us to feel comfortable being on our own.

  8. Hi super feminist here.

    It’s actually part of my PhD work, because I study history with feminist methodologies.

    I think people have this narrow understanding of what feminist means, when feminism is so diverse and complex. Not all feminists have the same views, and they have evolved and changed over time. We don’t go around burning bras and punching men.

    I think people view types of people in limited ways in general. If someone says they are Christian, you should not assume they hate gay people (Christians come in all types!). So, when I say I’m a feminist, ask me what that means instead of creating this stereotype in your head.

    • Cassie Paton says:

      100% agree. People like to simplify complex ideas and identities to fit into a narrow, convenient definition. But that’s not how these things work. Opening up a dialogue is absolutely key.

  9. Oh I’m definitely a feminist. But I see no reason to label myself as it very often, in the same way I don’t label myself as anything, but I definitely speak up for women at every chance and do not put up with being treated like a second class citizen.

    I once tore the shit out of this guy for calling me a bitch. We were flirting at a bar and he was drunk and he clearly thought I was awesome, but I was still interviewing him. I wasn’t sure if he was awesome yet, you know? At a certain point, he wanted to kiss me and I still hadn’t decided, so I was like “nah.” And then he said I was being bitchy, but in a way that sort of slipped out as an accident and when he saw my face, he immediately started apologizing. But I let loooooose. Like made him feel two feet tall. Because hell no am I getting called a bitch for having a choice about who I kiss or don’t kiss! Hell. no.

    We eventually boned (because he did turn out to be awesome, despite that slip up.) And in the morning, he had the gall to call himself a feminist at some point during our breakfast conversation. And it was hilarious and I reminded him of the night before and he was all, “I was drunk! I don’t really think like that! Blah, blah, blah, blah! I’m a feminist, I swear!”

    My point is that often people who call themselves feminists tend to have some skewed versions of what exactly the word means. Like they get that it’s a good thing and they want to be it, but they’re not always very good at being it. So I think it… well, I guess I think it’s forward to give oneself the label? Like yes, of course BE one. But don’t necessarily wear the label with too much inflated pride? If that makes sense?

    • Cassie Paton says:

      Ha, I love that story. I can totally picture the “oh shit” look he must’ve had on his face when that slipped out of his mouth.

      I don’t think we should wear ANY label with too much inflated pride, because inflated pride is all-around more damaging than anything else. I’ve read a handful of articles and essays talking about “good” and “bad” feminists and whether there is such a thing as either. I’m of the mindset that anyone who considers themselves a feminist is a “good” feminist. You might not agree with how someone else carries themselves or articulates their points, but I’d rather not shame anyone whose heart is in the right place by calling them a “bad” feminist. We shouldn’t be tearing one another down over petty things like that when the whole point of feminism is to build each other up.

  10. I’m definitely a feminist. I used to shy away from the label in high school because so many of my peers hated feminism (obviously based on an incorrect definition), but now that I’m in university it’s SO much more accepted and I don’t care what misguided, misinformed people think anyway! It is so easy to be a feminist in university, though – most of my classes incorporate feminist theory, and basically everyone I meet is a feminist. It would be harder to NOT be one, honestly. I’m glad about that, because a lot of my American feminist friends face a lot of friction at their schools, whereas for me it’s just a normal part of university life.

    I love feminism because it’s become about more than just women. Intersectional feminism is about anti-oppression in general. Because there are women who are non-white, disabled, queer, etc, my feminism fights for them as well – and that means that it fights against racism, ableism, and homophobia. That’s the feminism I love. It’s impossible to fight just for women’s rights, PoC’s rights, queer people’s rights – all of these identities intersect, and the feminist circles I frequent by and large do a good job of acknowledging this.

    • Cassie Paton says:

      Can I enroll at your university? That sounds like a fantastic place to get an education.

      And you make a really important point about feminism benefiting ALL of us. A movement that is aimed at uplifting half of the population really uplifts the ENTIRE population.

  11. First, I love this post! I’ve been working lately on putting into words my own feelings about feminism and our culture’s feelings surrounding it. It’s a difficult thing to write about because, as you said, it’s rarely well-recieved. So thank you!

    I absolutely consider myself a feminist, and that is something I am enormously proud of. I wish that the stigma surrounding it didn’t exist, because I find it incredibly disheartening how many women don’t identify as feminist just because of the connotation that brings.

    The one thing I do have to disagree on is the #banbossy campaign. I can understand where it may seem trivial, but it speaks to the larger issue of statistically so few women being hired into high-level or leadership positions. By 5th grade, hardly any little girls want to be president, whereas in 1st grade most of them considered it. Boys on the other hand, retain the same general numbers of wanting leadership positions throughout schooling. I think that, like this campaign says, that is due largely in part to girls being told that they are bossy when they take initiative, while boys are told they are strong leaders. I think the campaign is more on the idea of encouraging little girls rather than insulting them for leadership qualities, not being overly sensitive to what is simply a stupid word kids use on one another.

    Thanks for this post!! I just found your blog, and I love it so far!

    • Cassie Paton says:

      I, too, am disheartened by how many women don’t identify as feminists—especially pop stars like Taylor Swift who could make such a positive impression on young girls by speaking out as one. She once said “I don’t really think about things as guys vs. girls” in response to the question of whether she was a feminist, as if that’s what feminism is. Gah.

      I totally understand why #banbossy came about, and I do think it comes from a good place. I just wish instead of “banning” a word, the campaign circled around building girls up. I think #beaboss would be more fitting. But I agree we need to be encouraging young girls to keep those leadership dreams alive.

  12. I’m honestly torn because while I identify with the overarching feminist beliefs, I don’t explicitly identify myself as one. Now this actually translates to various other ideologies as well. I consider myself an independent of any sort and do not wish to be categorized by labels first, if that made sense. [My only exception here is atheism. Then again, atheism involves the absence of religion/religious entities.] I let my views speak for themselves, and they all conveniently align well with left winged and feminist ideologies. 😉 So really, it’s up to the listener. But don’t be surprised if in other topics, I say something that don’t align with listeners’ preconceived notion of my affiliation. 😛


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