Words Matter.

There was a time in my life when the overabundance of “political correctness” frustrated me. It seemed like no matter what was said, someone took offense. I was proud of the fact that I was not easily offended, and thought that we shouldn’t get so uptight over words.

As I’ve mentioned before, it is okay to evolve – and evolve I have.  I now find myself pointing out why certain language, even while said with no ill intention, is still harmful. I’m hyperaware of the things I say and the things I hear, listening for opportunities to point where our cultural biases and societal norms have created negativity.

I myself recently told someone that when I have car trouble, I “turn into a girl”.  Eek.  Did I really just say that?  I immediately self-corrected that problematic language.

likeagirlWhen someone uses the phrase “like a girl” to indicate something that is done in a weak manner, they probably do not intend to offend or belittle an entire gender. (I certainly didn’t when I used it.) Getting called out on using language like this is embarrassing, and we might wonder why the listener is so sensitive to be offended. But the problem is that the phrase “like a girl” is used to indicate weakness because we’ve created a cultural bias to believe that girls are weak. And if we continue to use those seemingly innocuous words and phrases, that cultural bias will persist – and equality of the sexes will continue to elude us.

I’m particularly sensitive when I hear someone tell a boy not to “cry like a girl”. It’s a double-edged offense, both using “like a girl” as something negative and weak, and teaching boys that showing emotion is to show weakness.

So if you hear me say something that perpetuates negative cultural biases, stereotypes or negativity, you have my permission and my encouragement to let me know. Because words matter.

One Direction fans need feminism because…

I have been home sick for the past two days – and in my weakened state, I actually watched the first 15 minutes or so of The View. For a show that is supposed to be empowering to women, I was genuinely appalled by their treatment of One Direction fans. The “ladies” of The View showed a few video posts by teenage girls live on the air, making fun of the emotion they were feeling at the imminent demise of their favorite group.

Is it silly to get so caught up in a musical group? Maybe. But when LeBron James left Cleveland to play in Miami, the network news made it a story for weeks. We heard all about the fans heartbreak. Grown men cry over who wins or loses the Super Bowl and we admire their dedication.  We compete over which city has the most devoted fans to their sports teams.

I’m not saying we should publicly humiliate sports fans – I’m just asking what makes that any less “silly” than being a One Direction fan? The answer is that one is traditionally male and one is traditionally female.

You are a feminist. Yes, YOU. Go ahead and say it proudly.

Gentlemen, please don’t stop reading. I wrote this because of a man in my life who said he wasn’t a feminist, and I think he’s wrong. I’d like to explain why. I wanted to post this for International Women’s Day, but I was a little late.

feministThere was a time in my life when I shied away from using the word “feminist”, buying into the belief that to be feminist was to be anti-male. Not only can I now recognize that I was wrong, but I fully appreciate the need to use the word feminist proudly, loudly and often. We’re allowed to continue to evolve as human beings, and for anyone out there who still doesn’t like that word, let me help you to evolve, too.

Feminism is…

  • Feminism is the belief in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. (Per both Merriam-Webster and Beyoncé.)

Feminism is not…

  • Feminism is not a belief that women are superior to men.
  • Feminism is not a belief that men and women are the same and does not ignore differences in gender.
  • Feminism is not a liberal movement.
  • Feminism is not anti-religion or anti-tradition.

So why do we use the word Feminist instead of Humanist or Egalitarianist?  

First, Humanist means something different entirely. Please stop using it to indicate a belief in human equality. (I am also a humanist and it makes things very confusing.)

Egalitarianism is similar – in fact the definition is almost identical. Egalitarianism is a great word for the belief in equality in a broader context – race, gender, nationality, sexuality, class, and ability. I encourage you to also be an egalitarianist.

The use of the word Feminist is important, because while it means equality, it acknowledges the historical record of global oppression of women and the existence of male privilege in almost every society around the world. Right now and right here at this moment in history, we need feminism. We need to focus on raising up the rights of women so that they are equal to the rights of men.

That’s not to say that feminism is simple or that all feminists are the same.

Some aspects of feminism are so basic and so simple that I hope that they go without question. Female infanticide, child brides, and honor killings are all global epidemics are unquestionably horrific – and highlight in the most awful of ways the need for a global focus on women’s rights. We are still fighting globally for the rights of women to LIVE.

Even in much more female friendly of cultures, women are still battling for equal rights in ways that seem so basic. In the United States, women do not receive equal pay for equal work and a woman’s right to make decisions about her own health care is not guaranteed. Women are far from having equal footing with male counterparts professionally, women are under-represented in technical and scientific fields, and we live in a culture that continues to objectify women as entertainment.

We can go further with feminism to talk about the ways in which traits and characteristics that are traditionally “female” are not valued in the same ways that traditionally “male” traits are valued. Most people view physical strength, for example, as a more valued characteristic than emotional empathy. Traditionally male past times, such as being an avid sports fan, is viewed as more valuable to society than traditionally female past times, such as enjoying fashion. We encourage girls to try out for sports teams and to not get caught up in all things “pink”, but most people wouldn’t dream of encouraging their sons to play with dolls or take dance lessons.

If I started to lose you as those last three paragraphs went on, I’ve made my point about feminism not being simple. Not all feminists see the world the same way – and that’s fine. We are all still feminists – and we need all of our feminist voices (male, female and everything in between) speaking up about the need for equal rights.  We don’t have to be in perfect agreement to agree that things are far from perfect.

You are a feminist.  Say it.  Share it.  Pass it on.

I don’t usually ask my audience to share the things I write, but I’d love to see all of you fellow feminists share with your social media circles. If it’s easy to just share the blog post – go for it. Or just a note about your take on feminism.