Feminism is a dirty word in our culture. Tagged with phrases such as “man-hater” and “home wrecker,” fewer people want to attach their name to this phrase as years go by. I understand that—but that doesn’t mean I agree. Lately, I have had people question why I stick with the word. Often times they say, “When you explain the word, I agree completely. However, it has such a negative connotation. Wouldn’t it be better to stay away and use another word altogether?”
I can’t give up on the word. That is because I still believe that it can be redeemed. After all, a significant portion of what feminism strives to do is redeeming society from past wrongdoings and inequalities. It is forgiveness and correction. It is humbling oneself and being willing to learn.
It is not the desire to punish men for the crimes long inflicted on women, contrary to popular belief. For those who tell you otherwise, I am sorry. I am sorry we belong to a society filled with people who think progress comes from perpetuating a sense of hate rather than forgiveness. This is not what feminism is or should be.
With redemption comes love. A true feminist, recognizing the past pains and restrictions that were previously attached to femininity, should want to create an egalitarian world—free of inequality and injustice. Love should be at the core of every feminists’ action and thought. This is true social justice.
In addition, with redemption comes restructuring how we as a society think of a term or phrase. One fundamental shift that must occur is the idea of free will. Feminists are, in theory, all about a woman’s right to free will. However, if a feminist espouses free will, she or he should support it wholeheartedly. With free will comes the freedom to have a career—or the choice to stay at home and raise kids. A feminist who forces women to conform to the traditionally masculine roles perpetuated in our society is, in all actuality, not a feminist at all.
Along with redeeming feminism, we must also restructure the relationship between feminism and entitlement. Feminism is not the idea that, due to decades of oppression, it is time for the roles to reverse. Past actions give no right for the oppressed to become the oppressor. If a feminist enters into a marriage, she is not entitled to a career at the expense of her husband. Neither is her husband. The decision of who will raise a child, who will clean, and who will cook comes from that couple’s decision and that couple’s alone.
So yes, I am a feminist. I am a feminist because I believe women are created equal. I am a feminist because I believe a woman has just as much of a right to stay at home and cook as she has to be the CEO of a company. I am a feminist because I think racial oppression is still prevalent and needs to be corrected. I am a feminist because I am optimistic that we can move past the injustices of the past and create a truly egalitarian society.
Most importantly, I am a feminist because I believe in redemption. Just as we must redeem the past wrongs associated with patriarchal oppression, so to must we redeem the word feminism. If I am truly a feminist who believes in finding the good in the ugliness of society, how can I stand and watch people throw out a word with a good denotation but a negative connotation?
I am a feminist because there are woman who think they have to stay in abusive relationships, settle for lesser pay, or listen to sexual slurs. I am a feminist because there are those who misrepresent the word with their oppressive ways. If I refuse to be a feminist, that would lead others like me to follow suit. That would make it okay to let the word grow ugly and twisted, rather than prune it back to its original intent.
If we seek to redeem our society, can we not also seek to redeem the word? The moment feminism represents the very thing it struggles against [the oppression of any human, whether it be man or woman] the battle will be lost. Until then, though, I will seek redemption: of the word, of the cause, and of our society—because that’s what feminism is truly about.