By JENNIFER SCHNEIDER
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” Nelson Mandela.
I am an advocate for gender equality. I am also a feminist. Believe it or not, those are not contradictory sentiments. I believe men have the right to be vulnerable, while women have the right to be powerful. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines feminism as either “the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes,” or as an “organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.”
Despite this, the general idea that comes to mind when any woman utters the magic words “I’m a feminist” is an image of that same woman with a shaved head and unshaved armpits, holding a big banner with bright red letters that read “DOWN WITH THE PATRIARCHY.”
Currently, any recipient of the “I’m a feminist” statement may bifurcate into three different reactions. The first one might be a positive one: “Great! I’m a feminist, too. Isn’t gender equality so relevant?” The next one might result in a more negative outlook: “Oh, right. So you are one of those man-hating feminazis?” And finally, the most common one: “I get it. But you’re not, you know, that kind of feminist?”
Personally, I have been the recipient of all three of those reactions, which has prompted me to recognize a pattern: People don’t like feminism, or rather, people don’t understand what feminism is really about. In spite of myself, I can’t really blame them, especially taking into account what that word sounds like when compared to its linguistic equivalent, machismo, otherwise referred to as male chauvinism (not to be confused with machism, which refers to the theories developed by the physicist and philosopher Ernst Mach). Machismo is the support of the idea that men are naturally superior to women. Hence, logically, people might interpret feminism as the idea that women are superior to men, so it makes sense that anyone advocating for gender equality might disregard the movement.
Thankfully, machismo is to male chauvinism what feminism is to gender equality. Therefore, in the spirit of social conscience and education, let’s explore what feminism is and isn’t about. First of all, feminism is against the idea that women are superior to men, instead, supporting the “both men and women deserve the same opportunities” paradigm. Second, feminism is all about female feminists being feminine, settling down and having kids, as long as they have the ability to choose to do so. Simultaneously, feminism declares that men can choose to be manly or to show their more vulnerable sides, without any judgement being directed towards them. Finally, feminism says that both men and women can choose to have careers, be stay-at-home parents or defend equal gender rights for all.
And now, the answer to the question you all have been waiting for: What about that other type of feminist? I shall begin my answer by stating, those are NOT feminists! They are not feminazis, either. Those women might be a little sexist, and equate the suppression of women’s rights to something as unobtrusive as someone’s decision to wear a bra or shave. Still, it’s not fair to compare them to a fascist political party responsible for the death of 6 million people. So, what should we name them? The correct terminology is misandry, for which the definition is a hatred of men (Merriam Webster Dictionary).
We must then review the origin of the term feminism, in order to understand its modern use and importance. According to the Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism, the term was originally coined by French social theorist Charles Fourier in 1837. Etymologically, it comes from the world féminisme, a principle which argues for the rights of women and the equality of the sexes.
The popularity of the term grew in the 19th century, prompting three waves of a movement in which men and women alike championed political, social and financial equality for women. The term didn’t appear in the Oxford Dictionary of English until 1895; yet, feminism as a movement for women’s suffrage began in 1789, during the French Revolution. At the time, it was a response to the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen,” which didn’t include women. The anger against that exclusion resulted in the presentation of the “Women’s Petition to the National Assembly.” And the rest, as they say, is history.
Finally, the last question I wish to address is: Why explain such a straightforward term? To quote the book “We Should All Be Feminists” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “I often make the mistake of thinking that something that is obvious to me is just as obvious to everyone else.” So, next time you say you are an advocate for equal rights, remember, that it also makes you a feminist.
Jennifer Schneider is an 18-year-old student who just graduated from high school from the Tecnológico de Monterrey.