A young girl's perspective

feminism is not a dirty word

The fact that 'feminism is not a 'dirty' word' is something that took me a long time to believe or understand. As a little girl, the issues of gender inequality seemed so far away and irrelevant. Having grown up in a society where the differences between men and women are hidden to such a large extent that the majority blindly believes that there is full equality, feminism was barely relevant to me as a little girl. Little girls like me experienced no need to call themselves feminists or even familiarize themselves with the term. 


The notion that 'feminism is not a 'dirty' word' did not become relevant to my life until it actually became a 'dirty' word. My first experience with the word occurred when I got to high school, where I was called a feminist. However, there was no pride in being called a feminist for me back then. The way that young boys used it meant something completely different from what I believe it to mean now. Back then, the way that they said it made me think they saw me as a man hater, as someone who believes women are better than men. And that is something that is never well received, especially not by young boys. Little me and other little girls like me saw it as being singled out, as being different. For a little girl, there is nothing worse. My first attempt at explaining that something, some inequality, was unfair was met with nothing but contempt, by both boys and girls. They would either laugh or come with counter arguments, they would even go as far as saying that there was no inequality, what I noticed was just a 'coincidence'. I don't even remember what it was, it was probably something really silly like why we girls, always get picked last for the dodgeball team or why we girls, always get made fun of by our male teachers. But it started something in me and possibly in my classmates too, as much as they liked to deny it.


The idea that 'feminism is not a 'dirty' word' became most relevant when it became my identity, when 'radical feminist' was the way that my classmates saw me. Why? Because I pointed things out. I showed them the reality that they didn't like. But, whenever they would call me a feminist, I would cringe and shy away. Little me. Little girls like me. This is what it did to us. I became ashamed. I tried to justify it in every way that was not aligning myself with the feminist movement. No matter how strongly I and we believed in what feminism stood for, identifying ourselves as feminists was the last thing we wanted to do. It made us targets. It was definitely a 'dirty' word. And then, little me, found the definition, the real, official definition of feminism -- "the belief that women should be allowed the same rights, power, and opportunities as men and be treated in the same way, or the set of activities intended to achieve this state" (Cambridge English Dictionary). Therefore, if you agree that women and men are equal and deserve equal rights, you’re a feminist. And a new world of argumentation was opened to me.


The view that 'feminism is not a 'dirty' word' was now wrong in my eyes. But not in everyone else's. I would ask anyone who states, with smugness like they’re some kind of trendy hipster because they don’t buy into the “fad” of feminism, if they support equal rights for all, boys and girls alike. The typical response is eye rolling, like I must be dumbing it down.  But I wasn't, that is all that it is. It involves many complex things, mostly the end of sexism, but the core of any feminist belief is that everyone deserves equality. However, being faced with that truth would mean admitting that they too are feminists, and seeing as it's still a 'dirty' word, that was not going to happen. 


However, they still would not believe that 'feminism is not a 'dirty' word' simply because their view of feminists aligned more with women who burn their bras, or who yell at men who catcall or people who tell rape jokes. When at the age of 17 I shaved my head, I confirmed every suspicion of my classmates that I was indeed a feminist, a radical one at that. They immediately believed that my reason for shaving my head was to break gender expectations. What they did not know however was that me shaving my head was not some radical feminist act (even if it was, I would have stood by it), I did it for a whole other set of reasons. But why should that matter? And why should I bother explaining my reasoning when they have clearly accepted is as a confirmation of an already ignorant understanding of a very simple concept? At this point it didn't bother me anymore though. What scared me most was not the hesitation boys displayed toward identifying as feminists, but the hesitation that girls showed. Let me make one thing really clear: The women who are against feminism because they enjoy cooking for their family, or being a stay-at-home mother, are missing another key point of feminism- the right of a person to choose what they want to do with their life and have that decision respected and supported. 


'Feminism is not a 'dirty' word', and here is why. Yes, it sounds like a word that is female-centric, but that is only because women are the ones who have been the most oppressed throughout history. Feminism means supporting a woman’s right to have a career and a family without being seen as selfish. Feminism means supporting a man’s right to stay at home and raise his children without being seen as lazy or incompetent.  Feminism means supporting rape victims of any gender. Feminism means that same-sex couples deserve the ability to get married. Feminism means that transgender individuals deserve the acceptance and the accommodations they need. Feminism means the elimination of sexism and prejudiced ideas based on gender and the elimination of the gender wage gap. Believing in these things means you have an understanding of what humanity is and you are therefore, a feminist. 


To little me, feminism meant being different. To me, feminism means believing that I am anything but.

Pia Leurs