Individuals explore the definition of feminism and what it means to be a feminist.
2017 was the year women’s voices were allowed to ring loud and free as the #MeToo movement pushed for equality.
It was the year when White House adviser Kellyanne Conway refused to call herself a feminist “because it [seemed] to be very anti-male and very pro-abortion” and the year when “Wonder Woman” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” touched the hearts of many, garnering critical acclaim.
For these reasons, says Merriam-Webster Dictionary, 2017 was also the year feminism became the most searched word.
Merriam-Webster defines feminism as “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes” and as the “organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.” However, in sophomore Krishna Dhulipala’s eyes, modern feminism is a movement pushing for anything but that.
Preferring the Urban Dictionary’s definition of feminism, which states that “feminism is a movement full of women who seem to think that their ability to push a baby out of their vagina entitles them to bigger and better everything,” it is Dhulipala’s belief that being a feminist no longer means being an activist, but rather, being an individual who gets angry at every little microaggression that comes their way. He said he arrived at this conclusion after watching several YouTube videos containing snippets of self-identified feminists.
“The way I see feminists is if you could imagine a fat lady with a few strands [of her hair] dyed blonde and wearing a ton of piercings and a really skanky top with sweats,” Dhulipala said. “And whenever you say ‘he’ or ‘she’ without knowing them first, they’ll get, ‘Oh, that’s wrong — you’re gender profiling’ and they’ll just preach feminism to you.”
What once was a movement striving for equality of the sexes has now become a radical crusade, according to Dhulipala and freshman Alvin Tian. For this reason, both Tian and Dhulipala consider themselves to be strong opponents of feminism, but also ardent proponents of gender equality.
Tian, in particular, expresses his belief that feminists tend to pay more attention to women’s issues and not enough to men’s. Although one out of every 10 rape victims are male, Tian notes that there are no male rights movements occuring — most advocacy efforts seems to be centered around women.
“Feminists are kind of like social terrorists,” Tian said. “I’ve watched too many videos that show how feminists are so attacking towards men. But that guy who’s being attacked, maybe he just has the same ideals of gender equality.”
History teacher Bonnie Belshe strongly disagrees with Tian’s viewpoint. To her, feminism is, as it always has been, a fight for all sexes, both male and female. The actions of a few, in her opinion, do not in any way reflect the sentiment and ideals of an entire movement, especially one as relevant as feminism.
“When people [use the word “feminazi”] or try to show that feminism is pitting [women] against each other or that [it] is radical, we’re missing the larger picture,” Belshe said. “We’re missing the large historical power imbalance that we’ve had between man and women, so those ‘feminazis’ are not on par with the misogyny displayed.”
Indeed, statistics from the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) show that 17.7 million women have been the victims of rape since 1998, that for every 98 seconds, an individual is sexually assaulted in the U.S., and that 1 out of 6 American women have survived rape in their lifetimes.
Knowing the extent of such crimes is why Belshe believes so strongly in feminism. It’s why she traveled to Washington, D.C. last year to attend the Women’s March and why she is heavily involved with Planned Parenthood.
“It is important to interpret feminism in the broadest way possible,” Belshe said. “Feminism advocates for all women, whether that be women of color, transgender women or anyone else.”
For Tian, therein lies the issue of feminism — in his view, it is advocating simply for women, not for men. This, coupled with its oversimplification and one-sided portrayals of sexual assault and other such cases, is why Tian dismisses feminism.
Dhulipala echoes a similar sentiment, stating that feminism does not focus on issues that truly matter. Instead, it focuses on issues that matter only to American women.
“Women in America are probably the most fortunate out of all others in the world,” Dhulipala said. “[Meanwhile], there are people in Uganda and southern Africa that get mutilated and raped, and that’s what we should be fighting for. A guy acting like a girl — I don’t think we should be fighting for the small things. We should be fighting for the bigger things.”
Belshe, who feels that feminism does address the experiences of women worldwide, claims that feminism is not just an American issue, but a worldwide issue, and most importantly, an MVHS issue.
“Feminist issues [are issues] for all schools because for our students going off to shape the world, as well as being shaped by the world around them — they need to be aware of all this,” Belshe said. “And sadly, with the rise of misogyny these days, now more than ever, feminism is a central issue.”
Ultimately, Belshe believes that feminism is an ideology that provides freedom for all people of gender identifications, races and sexual orientations. It creates a world where daughters can fully live their lives without misogyny and a society where sons can be free to express their feelings without being called gender-based slurs.
Conversely, Tian and Dhulipala believe that modern-day feminism is not what it was originally intended to be. As they see it, it is currently a movement that disregards male rights, paying close attention to female empowerment only.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary, addressing both sides of the argument, remains neutral, stating that it is simply glad to have a front-row seat in this ongoing national conversation.
“No one word can ever encapsulate all the news, events, or stories of a given year—particularly a year with so much news and so many stories,” Merriam-Webster said. “But when a single word is looked up in great volume, and also stands out as one associated with several different important stories, we can learn something about ourselves through the prism of vocabulary.”