What Is Feminism?
In my work in the media, as a therapist and coach, a former corporate Vice President, and one who regularly covers issues about gender equality, leadership, social change, etc., I’ve received thousands of comments from people around the world. They openly share their vast array of beliefs and opinions about gender equality, women and men in life and business, and feminism.
In honor of International Women’s Day today and its theme #BeBoldForChange, I’d like to share my personal take on what feminism signifies at its core, and why so many men and women in our world still hate and resist it fiercely.
• There are millions of people who both inwardly and outwardly do not support the idea that there should be equal rights and equal opportunities for men and women
• There are thousands of people who feel we’ve already arrived at equality for men and women.
• There are also thousands of people who believe we’re not at all there yet, and support continuing efforts to pave the way for equal rights for men and women.
• There are thousands who believe in equal rights but find “feminism” a word and a movement that doesn’t align with their personal beliefs or values
• It’s abundantly clear that our specific views on these issues are rooted deeply in our own personal and direct experiences, rather than on any data, research or science surrounding the issues. (In other words, if we’ve personally faced discrimination, we know beyond doubt that it exists. But if we haven’t faced it ourselves, we often doubt that it happens.)
• Finally, both conscious and unconscious gender bias is rampant within us, but most us aren’t aware of it
So, what would be helpful in this dialogue, or in this situation we find ourselves in today where there is a great divide among men and women, and among the people of our country who see things dramatically differently from each other?
First, let’s understand what feminism is meant to be.
If you look up the definition of “Feminism” in the dictionary, you’ll see these statements:
1. The advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes
2. The theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes
3. The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities
4. The doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men
Feminism at its core is about equality of men and women, not “sameness.” So many people offer up the argument that women are not the “same” as men so there can’t be equality. In other words, because their bodies are different (many say “weaker” and smaller), and because men and women have different physical capabilities, these physical differences mean equality is not possible.
It’s critical to understand that “same” does not mean “equal.” The issue here is about equal rights and equal access to opportunities. Men and women don’t have to be the “same” in physicality to have the right to equality. I’d love to see that argument (that women and men aren’t the “same” so they can’t be equal) disappear forever. From my view, it’s a misguided one.
Here’s an example of why: If there were two young boys in a classroom, and one was physically weaker and smaller than the other, would we believe it’s right to keep the weaker, smaller boy from having the same access – to the teacher, to learning, to the computers, to the books and class resources, to other children in the class — because he didn’t have the same physical strength as the other boy?
So how can we gain a deeper understanding of where we personally stand on the issue of equality?
Asking yourself these questions and answering them candidly will get you closer to recognizing what you truly, honestly believe:
1. Do you believe that women and men deserve equal rights and equal opportunities? If not, why not, specifically?
2. Do you oppose the idea that every human being on the planet deserves equal rights and equal access to all opportunities? If you oppose it, what are you concerned will happen if equality is achieved? What are the downsides, in your way of thinking?
3. Do you believe that only certain groups of people should be allowed to have access to certain opportunities and rights? If so, which groups should be favored and granted this access, and who should decide that?
4. Do you believe that it would be inherently fair to grant women access to only partial rights while men have full array of other rights and opportunities?
5. Think back on what has shaped all your beliefs about these issues. Where did they come from specifically? Childhood, early adulthood? Your personal experiences with men and women, or what you read and watch in the media? Who in your “tribe,” family or peers influences your beliefs today?
6. What makes you mad and agitated to read in the media, about men, women and equality?
7. Do you believe that a world that prevents certain people from accessing full rights and opportunities would lead to a fair, healthy, prosperous world for all?
8. In the end, do your beliefs actually feel right for you? Do they feel aligned with who you really are — healthy, whole, integrity-filled, compassionate, and fair?
The vast majority of people I speak to do believe in equal rights for men and women, but the conflict is about how that equality should be achieved. Many resist calling themselves a “feminist” or supporting the feminist “movement.” In fact, just today, a woman commented on my YouTube channel that “feminism is a cancer.”