Feminism 101: Understanding the misunderstood F-word

Feminism 101: Understanding the misunderstood F-word

A brief and gentle introduction to gender equality

Regardless of what anyone has told you, feminism essentially projects an inalienable truth: all people are equal. Traditionally, it stood for the argument that women and men are equal. Now, however, we recognize that gender isn’t described by two absolutes, but rather a spectrum of possibilities.

Feminism seeks to recognize and address the structural frameworks of our society that position men on the powerful end of a binary opposition, with women occupying the inferior position. Men in the power position are typically white, heterosexual, and cisgendered, which means their gender identity aligns with their biological sex at birth.

So, why isn’t everyone a feminist?

Well, some people genuinely believe that men are superior. Some are feminists, but have just never been given the vocabulary.

Some say “feminist” is an ugly, angry word and are reluctant to call themselves one due to a negative misconception about feminism; they think that feminists believe women are superior to men.

While that is categorically untrue by literal definition, it isn’t to say that feminism is perfect.

Feminism is complicated, and it has had its ugly moments.

For so long, we (the privileged members of feminism) have only focused on the issues faced by white, heterosexual, cisgendered women. For decades, feminism actively ignored or suppressed issues faced by women of colour and trans women. The emphasis on white, palatable issues continues today, with popular celebrity feminist campaigns like “free the nipple” and “love your flaws.”

It’s not to say that those aren’t important in their own ways, but there are far more critical issues facing women.

Photo courtesy of Ebony Wilson via Pexels CC0

In this new wave of feminism, we call ourselves intersectional feminists.

Coined by civil rights advocate Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, intersectionality describes the overlapping systems of oppression and discrimination faced by someone with multiple social identity markers (such as gender, sexuality, race, religion, etc.).

In other words, as a cisgendered white woman, I face misogyny regularly. However, the misogyny I experience is never influenced or bisected with racism. Meanwhile, a woman of colour may face discrimination for both her race and her gender. This discrimination can combine both identity markers.

Intersectional feminism seeks to recognize that the systemic institutions that benefit from the suppression of women also benefit from the suppression of non-white individuals.

These discriminatory practices intersect into very dangerous forms of oppression. I cannot face racial discrimination because I belong to the privileged majority that benefits from the social superstructures built to maintain that very privilege. More importantly, I cannot speak to the experiences faced by women of colour or transgender women. So, where does that leave us?

Remember that transparency is at the heart of good feminism.

Maybe sometime in the future, if you don’t already, you’ll call yourself a feminist because you believe that all people are intrinsically equal and worthy of dignity and respect, but you still wonder: How can I be a good feminist?

It’s very simple. The secret is to show up and listen.

That’s it.

If a marginalized individual is trying to address something, listen to them.

Hear what they are saying, understand, and adapt your behaviour. Know that we are all guilty of problematic behaviours because we’ve grown up in a society constructed out of discriminatory practices. Strive to unlearn these thoughts and practices.

What have we learned?

  1. Feminism is the belief that all people are equal.
  2. Individuals face barriers and challenges that negatively impact their lives due to their gender, race, sexuality, and more because our society is constructed by the majority to favour the majority.
  3. If someone of a marginalized group of people is trying to address an issue that they face due to their social markers of race, class, gender, sexuality, or otherwise, listen to them.

Photo courtesy of Ebony Wilson via Pexels CCO.