What is Feminism?


Ahhh … the feminist — a concept and term deeply misunderstood by extreme political types.

… I do enjoy watching people’s reactions when someone says the word ‘feminism.’ … and reactions vary from accepting to extreme anger.

BUT, do you know what it is?

Girl Power!

Remember reading about all those old-timey women back in the day who wanted to be able to vote? They were feminists.

Feminism isn’t one thing; rather, it’s an approach, similar to conservatism. And, like all approaches, interpretations can be extreme, moderate, or subtle. So all of those extreme politicos trying to make memes characterizing the typical feminist as a bra-burning hippie is wrong.

Feminism is the same as conservatism, socialism, or any other approach in the sense that feminists emphasize particular principles.

I would say that today, most TV shows and movies have a feminist (however subtle) lens applied to them — look at the Kimmy Schmidt show on Netflix (where the woman navigates New York City and helps another women who is stuck in a hopeless, stereotypical man-cheating relationship), House of Cards (Claire asserts her role as a decision maker, and refuses to follow Frank’s orders), or even Breaking Bad (where Skyler — the least favorite character of fans — tries to assert her decision making power, and is effectually shut down by Walter, but ultimately gets out).

And the list could go on, so feminism is pretty entrenched in popular culture.

Feminist principles:

— Equal political and social rights for women. That’s about the only thing all feminists have in common.

There are lots of shades of feminism (ranging from subtle to extreme — but, like most ism subscribers, most are moderate), but the one thing they all share is they want to develop a culture that embraces, rather than suppresses, female uniqueness and allows female liberty (the right for them to do what they want).

The emphasis on the principle of equality naturally leads to an alliance with the Democratic party — which operates on a liberal platform of social equality.

** Keep in mind that other liberal principles include property rights and the rule of law. **

Also, note that feminism is NOT incompatible with conservatism; rather, conservatism can be interpreted through a feminist lens.


— You can be a conservative who advocates for family values, which is one of the principles of conservatism. But your interpretation of what a family is can be designed such that women in the household are free to do as they please and are treated as equals. … yes, it’s possible for a father to do dishes, a mother to work on a car, for a son to babysit, or have a daughter playing baseball. This may not be in line with Christian conservatism, but it would be in line with contemporary approaches to conservatism.

Make sense?

Notes on ideas, population, and lifestyle:

… But this wasn’t always the case, and I would say that in many traditionally oriented, rural areas, women still are expected to cook, clean, babysit, not wear revealing clothing, and are expected not to have a professional life.

There is a reason for this; Rural areas are pretty insulated from any substantial societal shift — whereas cities are incubators for new ideas, and there is no singular ruling philosophy. So a town of 3,000 people will essentially look and feel the same after 50 years; whereas a city of a million or more will definitely look and feel different after that same 50 years.

… It’s a general principle in politics that as population grows, ideas grow concurrently. So, the larger the population equals a diversification of ideas; the smaller the population equates to less ideas. This means that a lesbian is probably far more welcome in a city than a rural town. This is because the city is forced to adopt new ideas because there’s far too many people for any coherent way of life to exist; however, in rural areas, ideas can be far more constricted, and those with alternative lifestyles will probably be met with increased hostility or skepticism …  because it’s a foreign idea.

Keep in mind this has no bearing on intelligence. People in rural areas are not intrinsically less-intelligent; rather, the ruling social institutions (hardware store, churches, local bars, etc.) in combination with a less-diverse population (all white, black, Asian or otherwise) ensures that a culture is formed. Not to mention that in rural areas, everybody knows everyone else … which makes alternative lifestyles difficult because of gossip.

At the end of the day, there will be far more feminists in urban areas than rural ones.

Pornography and stuff!

OK, there are feminist interpretations of what is morally acceptable for women to do and not to do — and these ideas vary wildly.

There are, of course, the abolitionists who want pornography gone — and perhaps they should ally with religious types, if it’s a socially progressive religion, I suppose.

On the other hand, there are feminists who OK nudity on the grounds of free expression, and generally OK it if it contributes to progressing equality, which is the main goal. So, this logic is where the topless, artistic, or other such movements come from.

Similarly, there are a variety of opinions on the subject of prostitution. Some feminists are OK with specific kinds of prostitution, while abolitionists are on the extreme opposite of the spectrum, and are fully against any form of it.

Bottom line is, just because someone is a feminist does NOT mean that they are an extremist, a prude, anti-religious, wildly liberal, or whatever other stereotypes exist — because there is a WIDE range of feminist opinions, attitudes, theory, art, culture, and even  architecture.

However, keep in mind, they ALL share one common goal — which is to progress the general equality of women.

This means that they want women to have the liberty to go to school wherever they wish (which, to be honest, happened only recently), work whatever job they wish, be a lesbian if they want, vote, hold office, be a writer, or do generally anything else they choose.

However, feminists find that liberty as being hindered by family, friends, religion, overall societal attitudes, or whatever other pressures prevent them from doing what they want. Because of the emphasis on equality, feminists frequently attach themselves to racial minority causes; however, they do NOT have to.

Feminist development:

The most-difficult job for a feminist, like adherents of all isms, is to change minds.

So women can vote, but that doesn’t necessarily equate to social acceptance … as history has demonstrated (I’m thinking specifically about the ’50s). Instead, the goal is to genuinely convince people that women should be accepted, and that’s difficult.

Post suffrage, the goal became getting women’s rights to school and work — which took quite a bit of time. Now feminist agendas focus on a variety of topics: equal pay, anti-spousal-abuse campaigns, redefining female roles within the home, anti-human-trafficking campaigns, and plenty of other issues.

During the ’60s and ’70s is when the stereotypical feminist picture was painted. Recently (like as in starting during the early ’80s), ideas about how to change people’s attitudes towards women took a much more subtle route. Today lots of feminist approaches try to convince women to be empowered through PR campaigns, information sharing, and other cultural avenues.

To highlight a few developments; anti-women attitudes are increasingly shamed on social media; documentaries highlight the problem of human trafficking; and girls sport options are increasing in schools. In addition, as I said before, music, movies, and TV all play a pretty big part in social change — especially in the United States.

So when Mad Men depicts the role of women during the midcentury timeframe, people think “what an awful time to live as a woman.” … And if you’ve ever thought that, then it’s a sign that feminist progress has in fact occurred. Forty years from now perhaps a TV show will depict women’s roles during the 2000s, and people will think the same thing.

Also, if you read movie reviews, you’ll see that there are lots of movies that get hits for having “weak” female characters or leads (like Michael Bay films). Whereas movies like Terminator 2, Kill Bill, or Zero Dark Thirty, for example, are definitely feminist-heavy films.

Most contemporary pushback is coming from extreme social conservatives; BUT, keep in mind, you can be a conservative feminist — perhaps advocating equality in the workplace, but you know that you’re the best one to do laundry and cook at home … because nobody else can. That’s just an example.

If you say to yourself: “I still think women are more apt to staying at home with the kids, cooking, cleaning, and I’ll bring home the money,” then it’s safe to say that you’re socially conservative, and you can have those views. BUT, if I were that person, I would be careful where I said that — because lots of people are feminists, even if they don’t realize they’re feminist, and it’s becoming increasingly taboo to say things like that. Your neighbor, friend, co-worker, or boss could be a feminist, and that’s just the way the United States is going.

I also want to add: If you’re a woman who wants to be a domestic-mother type, that is perfectly within the bounds of liberty, and any moderate feminist would OK that action so long as you weren’t coaxed by external forces to make that decision. There are also times when finances dictate that there can’t be a dual-income family — and that’s where feminists are pushing for increased wages for females, and really increased minimum wages overall (if they’re about social equality). … But income for people below the median will always be a problem — so I would say that’s part of a larger problem.

One more thing … when couples argue about who should take out the trash, wash dishes, make dinner, etc … it isn’t always a feminist issue … sometimes it’s just about people being lazy. So, women out there, don’t make everything a feminine argument, because that’s annoying.

The bottom line is this: Feminism takes MANY different forms.

To the people denouncing feminism: You may be more feminist than you think. The approach is no longer about burning bras, chanting hippie love, and preaching a man-hating gospel. Rather, it’s about achieving the ultimate goal of gender equality — and it seems like that perspective is gaining momentum.

Regardless of your stance, I invite people to really think about why they support or denounce something — especially if it’s before they’ve heard what some of these concepts are. So, it’s probably not a good reason to believe in a position because “that’s where women belong in society;” because that uniform society was gone with the ’40s and ’50s.

But IF you think you have legitimate concerns about the role of women (or minorities), and concerns about that equality, I invite you to really think through that logic — otherwise you’re likely to walk into a minefield of criticism and social shaming.


11 thoughts on “What is Feminism?

  1. Squidge

    Yeahhh! So many people need to read this so they can understand the feminist movement properly before brushing it off (or supporting really degrading, childish tags like #FeministsAreUgly). You’ve summed up the most important point of all: there are a hundred ways to achieve equality therefore feminists opinions may vary, but the main goal is the same. Great post!


    1. Joel Raffety Post author

      Very true. I think there are plenty of movements and intellectual traditions that are simplified, undermined, and used for propaganda these days — and feminism is a prime example. The hardest part is to convince people that a majority of feminists are normal, and not man haters!


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