Why Every Woman (And Man) Should Be a Feminist

by WiseFool

In recent years, feminism has come to be seen as a ‘dirty word’; only applicable to man-hating, ‘Nazi’, lesbians. However, we’ve lost sight of the essence and purpose of feminism.

Today, there is often a real stigma towards people who identify themselves as feminists. It's used as an insult; a way for some men to dismiss arguments against an individual man's behaviour or, indeed, complaints regarding the objectification of women.

If, for example, you're a person who doesn't agree with half naked women in Britain's most popular newspaper, then you may well be dismissed as a 'feminist, lesbian, b**ch'.

Lots of women don't want to be perceived as such, so many don't speak up about these issues for fearing of being labelled, and fewer and fewer are readily declaring themselves to be feminist.

But this is because the word is being twisted; used as a weapon and a slur. I think it's time to take a look at what 'feminism' really means and to reclaim it for the positive force it is.

What Does Feminism Mean?

The birth of the feminist movement

Feminism can mean different things to different people and has taken on several guises in its lifetime.

However, the core of what feminism actually is is extremely simple: the belief that women should have the same rights and privileges as men. It is the notion that men and women should have equal standing in a society.

Now, as a theory of equality, feminism can be dated back to the naissance of most civilized societies.

However, the term ‘feminism’, only came into being in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Generally, it is divided into ‘three waves’.

A suffragette in London (circa 1910)
A suffragette in London (circa 1910)

The First Wave of Feminism

Perhaps usurpingly, the term ‘first-wave’ was applied to this era of feminism retroactively

First-wave feminism began in the 19th century and centred around women’s attempts to achieve property rights, equal education, selective marriage and to be free from the notion that they were the ‘property’ of their husbands.

As the 20th century rolled around, the campaigns moved onto the right to vote. In Great Britain, women over thirty won the right to vote, in 1918. And, by 1919, the U.S. and most countries in Europe had also granted women the right to vote. So, today, it is considered that this is where first-wave feminism ended.

But, of course, many men and women, including writers such as Simone de Beauvoir, continued to examine women’s role in society and how they were perceived as ‘other’.

The Second Wave of Feminism

What the swinging sixties did for women’s lib

Second-wave feminism existed between the 1960s and 1990s. During this period, women continued to fight for equality, as they realised that a vast disparity between the genders still existed.

And, unlike the first-wave, which tackled legal obstacles to women’s emancipation. The second-wave focused on sexual, moral and workplace inequalities. This was assisted by the oral contraceptive pill, which prevented women from becoming stuck in the, non-stop pregnancy, revolving door.

A rise in technology also meant that communication was made easier and second-wave feminism began to affect the world on a grander scale.

Second-wave also instigated so-called 'radical feminism', which focuses on patriarchal systems of power.

The Third Wave of Feminism

What feminism means today

Third-wave feminism began in the late 1990s and continues to this day. The main aims of third-wave feminists is to challenge the definitions of femininity, the prevalence of sexual harassment and negative perceptions of women.

In addition, third-wave feminists continue to fight for equality in all parts of the world, especially those countries where human rights offences against women are particularly widespread.

Is feminism still relevant in 21st century society?

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Is Feminism Still Relevant?

Has feminism reached its goals?

There is a common misconception that feminism is not needed in modern Western societies. It carries connotations of man-hating, bra-burning, angry women with chips on their shoulders.

Consequently, feminism has become a touchy subject and, strangely, many women would not consider themselves to be feminists, let alone proudly claim to be one.

So, is it true that we really don’t need feminism anymore?

Well, when millions of women are forced into sexual slavery by human traffickers, violence against women is still frighteningly prevalent and a quarter of women have been victim of rape or attempted rape, the answer seems to be a resounding “no”.

And, even when it comes to the workplace, women have still not achieved equality. Despite almost two centuries of feminism, women are regularly paid less than their male counterparts and often run smack into the ‘glass ceiling’.

Very few countries have, or have had, female leaders. The chance of a female U.S. president still seems to be a long way away. And, currently, in the U.K., out of 646 MPs, only 126 are women.

In everyday, Western life, women have, ostensibly, succeeded in getting the worst of both worlds: still bearing the lion's share of childcare and domestic chores, while also attempting to hold down a career. Something tells me, this is not what the Pankhurst girls had in mind.

If we think we have truly achieved equality, we’re deluding ourselves. Of course, things have improved, but it is ridiculous to assume that feminism is no longer necessary. Instead, what we need to do is change how feminism is perceived and, in order to do that, more women (and men) need to embrace the cause for its core beliefs.

The truth is that there’s still a frighteningly long way to go. In this writer’s opinion, we dismiss the importance of feminism at our peril.


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Updated: 07/30/2013, WiseFool
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WiseFool on 07/30/2013

Hello, Cazort. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, I certainly don't disagree with them. For me, the problem is in how the word 'feminism' is used and perceived by the mainstream media and many other people. As far as I'm concerned, feminism is very simple - the principle that both genders should be viewed as equal; different, no question, but equal.

And the hope is that men and women should treat each other with respect. Far too many people think that the feminist aim is to somehow 'overthrow' men. It's not now, nor has it ever been, about trying to suggest women are more important than men - feminists throughout history have fought simply to be afforded the SAME rights as their male counterparts.

So, when I say everyone SHOULD be a feminist, I'm saying everyone should believe in that very, very basic principle: men and women should be treated equally, neither one gender nor the other seen as 'less important' or not deserving of certain rights.

It would all be much simpler if we human beings could live with the 'do as you would be done by' motto; regardless of gender, sexuality, religion, race or whatever else splits us into pigeonholes. Then the label 'feminist' wouldn't be necessary (solving the problem of how it's interpreted), but as we seem incapable of simply being kind to one another, individual calls for tolerance, acceptance and equality still need their own labels.

cazort on 07/29/2013

I don't believe in the word "should", so on that level, I actually disagree with the title of this page, but that's a whole other discussion--and it doesn't mean at all that I disagree with the goals of feminism. I used to identify as a feminist, and I don't think my views or commitments to women's rights and gender equality have changed at all...but I've come to think it is problematic to focus on labels like "feminist" though.

One thing that I've seen a lot lately on the internet is a lot of rhetoric (and it seems like political rhetoric more than real discourse) that paints a picture of "feminists and allies believe / do X, Y, and Z, so if you don't support all these things, you're not a feminist". I don't like this sort of way of thinking and I think it can be unnecessarily divisive. I also think that the all-or-nothing thinking ("You need to believe or agree with every last detail of this ideology, or you're part of the problem.") is very destructive.

Feminism is very complex and diverse and I don't like the idea of dividing people into "feminists" vs. "non-feminists" on the basis of stances on specific issues. I'd rather discuss the issues themselves, and work on building consensus on individual issues and then working to achieve changes in society and culture through this consensus. This is a very different approach than the building of "packaged" ideologies that are advanced through political means.

Personally, I believe that we have a long way to go towards achieving gender equality. Here in the U.S., I see a lot of things that point toward systematic discrimination against women...less representation of women in power structures like the presidency, congress, CEO's, etc., and deeper ways in which women are given a very hard time culturally, like all the twisted messages sent to women about body image, the shaming of women for expressing sexuality, and culture that blames victims of rape and sexual assault. But I also think men face their own unique struggles -- harsher stigmas for deviating from gender roles, and being more likely to be demonized or viewed as predators or aggressors even in the absence of evidence. Yet another reason I shy away from the "feminist" label is that I want to move away from thinking of a gender struggle of men vs. women and instead focus on working together and building a consensus.

JohnTannahill on 10/20/2012

WiseFool - How nice it is to be "fully embraced." That's nearly a hug. It's been a long time since I had a reasonable conversation with anybody about feminism. Back in the day, when I was a student and surrounded by feminists, there was less suspicion about why a white, anglo-saxon, protestant male should support the idea of equality. Now, we seem much more divided. That can only be a bad thing. It's OK to support an idea just because it's the right thing to do. You can write that on my headstone.

WiseFool on 10/20/2012

Hello Hollie, Glad you enjoyed the article. It's always great to hear women loudly and proudly state that they're feminists. I agree with your views on Jeremy Hunt, it's strange that men in power should be debating an exclusive female issue. Indeed, we do have a long way to go and, sadly, if women do not consider feminism relevant, I think true equality is going to remain a long way off.

John, lovely to hear from a man. Personally, I would fully embrace any man who wanted to be involved in the feminist movement. We women need more of you fellas on our side in order to achieve equality, because men, predominantly, remain at the helm. I think any woman who shuns a male feminist would be ridiculous in the extreme. I do, however, accept that there are 'social expectations' that make it hard for men to be openly feminist. I would say, George Bernard Shaw was a feminist (Germaine Greer would disagree with me), and if it was good enough for him, it should be good enough for any man today.

JohnTannahill on 10/20/2012

You absolutely nail it in the title of your article in suggesting that men need to be involved in the Feminist movement. The trouble is that for a man to declare himself a Feminist would be difficult (he would be resisted by female Feminists and seen as an intruder) and somewhat comical in a sexist sort of way. Being a bit "effeminate" or "getting in touch with his feminine side" are a couple of unhelpful stereotypes that get applied. As a result, men are excluded from an important debate about equality which concerns them as much as it concerns women.

HollieT on 10/10/2012

Hi Wisefool,

I really enjoyed this piece. I will unashamedly confess that I'm a Feminist, a Marxist Feminist at that, you have no idea how many eyebrows have been raised when I make that statement :) Personally, I don't believe that we're anywhere near equality. Yes, levels of education are higher amongst women and girls, and yes, in some parts of the world we have greater rights regarding our reproductive decisions, but I also see some regression.

In the UK we now have a Conservative MP (male) who thinks the cut off for the termination of a pregnancy should be 12 weeks (I know termination is a different issue, but it infuriates me that a man feels that this particular issue is one which he should pontificate about) Women and children are also the worst hit by the public spending cuts. We have such a long way to go.

Interestingly, I'm from, and still reside in Manchester, the Pankhurst Centre is just a couple of miles from my house, and one of my favourite places!

WiseFool on 03/26/2012

Hello Cathy, thanks for the comment. You make a very interesting point. French feminism would, of course, take a slightly different view. Rather than trying to be perceived as 'the same' as men, they simply say vive la difference. You're absolutely right, women will never be the same as men, but I'm not sure that means we can't achieve equality. I can't argue that it's men's opinions that need to change, but I also see a worryingly large number of women of my generation (I'm in my late twenties), who don't think of themselves as feminists and that concerns me. Feminism is attached to all kinds of things, but it's only 'meaning' is a very simple one: belief that a woman should have the same rights that a man has. So, the fact that any woman can say "oh, no, I'm not a feminist" baffles me.

TerriRexson on 01/16/2012

We're still not there yet are we. For me one of the most important issues is equal parenting. It's great when men can share childcare equally - and if they're pulling their weight at home then it gives women a fair chance at work!

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