Posted: Jan 15, 2014 9:00 AM
 
Do you hesitate to label yourself a feminist? Find out why feminism is more important than ever and how modern movements are fighting to support rights for all women.

Even among women, there's a stigma around feminism. Break past misconceptions and find out why every woman living today benefits from feminism, and how feminism needs to be doing more.

Floundering without feminism

When I was a much younger woman, I had no idea what feminism really meant. I figured feminists were angry women who studied women's literature and didn't shave their armpits and I didn't give it much further thought. In the meantime, I lived in a dorm at the end of Frat Row and was frequently harassed by men from the fraternities. When I refused the advances of a male friend of mine, he showed up at my door in the middle of the night and yelled at me for being a tease. I felt guilty and ashamed. This was just one of many instances of harassment and sexism that I experienced in college. An understanding of feminism would have helped me navigate those years, but it wasn't until many years later that I really started to think about feminism and what it meant.

Do we need feminism anymore?

My feminism is about juggling a career with being the primary caregiver at home. It's about the struggle to prove myself in two spheres concurrently.

If you've ever voted in an election, you've benefited from feminism. If you have a job, you've benefited from feminism. But the fight for equal rights isn't over. Today, issues like reproductive rights are critical. Issues like sexual assault rates and rape culture affect women. Women don't experience equal pay in the workplace and fields like engineering and science are still dominated by men. Feminism's front line is always evolving. Women have the opportunity to work, but many are still expected to take on the brunt of responsibility at home. "My feminism is about juggling a career with being the primary caregiver at home. It's about the struggle to prove myself in two spheres concurrently," says working mom Kami Lewis Levin. "It's about being OK with degrees of failure in both. And it's about constantly re-examining what it means to be a successful woman."

Why is intersectionality important?

In plain terms, feminism serves white women more than any other group of women. Social inequality affects different groups different ways. The experience of being a woman of color, a transgender woman or a lesbian is not the same as the experience of a straight white woman. In feminist movements, it's important not to ignore various types of oppression that result from race, class or sexuality. Feminism shouldn't leave anyone behind. If you're a privileged feminist, don't get defensive about it. Listen to what others have to say, and don't expect to be taught. Respect the rights of other women to be angry. Remind yourself that your experience is not the same as the experiences of others.

What does being a feminist really mean?

As a parent, you can embrace feminism in the way you raise your sons and daughters. You can speak up against inequality and you can advocate for populations who continue to be marginalized and discriminated against in our culture.

Is feminism a state of mind or a behavior? What does it really mean to be a feminist? As you think about your beliefs and the change you want to see in the world, consider ways to combine feminism and activism. Online spheres make it easier than ever to listen to what other women have to say. As a parent, you can embrace feminism in the way you raise your sons and daughters. You can speak up against inequality and you can advocate for populations who continue to be marginalized and discriminated against in our culture. You can work with political groups to fight for women's reproductive rights. You can write about your experiences as a woman. You can do feminism your way.

You don't have to burn your bra

black braFeminism isn't about acting or looking a certain way. You can be a feminist and wear a designer handbag. You can be a feminist and have a penis. You can be a feminist and feed your baby with formula. Part of supporting equal rights for women is understanding that women are not a homogenous group and that women don't have to look or act or be born a certain way. Every woman is a real woman. Don't get wrapped up in stereotypes about feminists. "I think that vision was created to make feminism unappealing," says Kirsten Wrye Krienes, a mom and epilepsy advocate. "My right to choose, my body and my right to equality in the workplace are important to me. I respect the women who came before me and paved the way for me to have the freedoms I do today."

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Topics: diversity