I am a feminist.
I believe in feminism and believe it is necessary and useful for our society.
“Feminism” is a word that became an epithet for a while there (and still is to some), a word spat instead of spoken, a word that needed to be (and is being) ‘reclaimed.’ It is also an essential concept to modern society.
Feminism is, as Emma Watson (United Nations Goodwill Ambassador and HeForShe Campaign spokesperson) defines it: “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes”. Teresa Younger, CEO of the Ms. Foundation, defines it similarly, as: “the belief that men and women should have equal social, political, and economic rights and opportunities.” (and there’s obviously a gender-binary inherent in those definitions that is potentially problematic – a more inclusive phrasing might be substituting “all genders” for the phrase “men and women”)
Some push back on that definition though, saying “If feminism is about equality, why not call it ‘equalism’ (or the something similar)?” or “If feminism is seeking equality for women, then ‘meninism’ is a necessary component to advocate for the male side of the equation.”
My rebuttal to that line of thought is the reason I am a feminist: I believe in equality. I believe in equality and right now the scales are unequal, most often to the harm of non-men. If equality means balancing those scales, then equality means advocating for non-men. Simple as that.
The more complex reason?
I am a feminist because we introduce a critical weakness to our society if we undervalue half of our population. To again borrow the words of Teresa Younger, feminism is “about equality for both men and women and a playing field that respects the voices of women. True equality, true feminism is recognition of the dynamics that each person brings to the table.” Leaving half of our societal resources underutilized, disrespected, and ignored is a gross error.
What does that error look like?
It looks like the lack of female voices in the workplace. As of 2009, only 24% of CEOs in the United States were women. As of this April, there were only 23 female CEOs at S&P 500 companies (4.6%) and only 14.2% of the top 5 leadership positions at those companies were filed by women.
The 114th Congress currently governs in Washington. Of the 435 members of the House of Representatives, only 19.3% (84) are women. In the Senate, there are 20 women and 80 men. In Hollywood, only 17 of the 250 top-grossing films of 2014 were directed by women (6.8%). In the five years from 2009-2013, only 4.7% of major studio films were directed by women.
That’s a severe lack of female voices in business, in government, in media. If female voices were water, the institutions that shape our society would be deserts.
Some may contend that women are more likely than men to prioritize things other than career and thus less likely to advance to the higher rungs of these fields. One, that gender disparity seems to be less than is often believed (if it even exists). Two, even if real, the systemic issues (e.g., entrenched attitudes) are much more significant. And three, that still wouldn’t explain the issues I just mentioned when discussing the highest levels of influence.
I personally don’t find it a compelling argument that there aren’t 250 women in the US Population (of 318.9m and counting) determined to and capable of running an S&P 500 corporation. That there aren’t 268 women in the country willing to make the sacrifices necessary to become members of the House and Senate. That there aren’t 125 women ready, willing, and able to helm major motion pictures. One is free to make that argument, but I personally find it extremely unconvincing (especially in light of all the evidence saying it’s about systematic institutional inequality).
And everything I just mentioned is only to speak of the United States – the inequality described is often much worse globally. As a global society we are even more deeply entrenched in this error.
Diminishing One Diminishes All
I’ll finish on a more philosophical note. There may be no more fundamental harm and no more injustice more grievous than inequality. It is a blow against our essential humanity. For an individual or institution to say (explicitly or implicitly) that one person is less than another isn’t just a harm against that person, it’s a harm against every member of the human race.
Right now, we live in a global system that privileges men and disadvantages non-men, and I have no problem saying that to recognize your privilege and work to maintain it (whether actively or passively) is an immoral act.
That is why I am a feminist.