What does being a feminist actually mean?

September 24, 2014

I wrote this blog a couple of weeks ago after the below post by League co-founder Sarah Riegelhuth on Facebook. Sarah wrote:

I used to hate the word feminist, and actively avoided being referred to as one. I realise now feminism had (and maybe still has) a PR problem. It simply means “to believe in equality for women” – with that reality in mind, I am undeniably a feminist. We should all be feminist, men and women. Anyone else proudly feminist?

I read the post at the time and it struck a chord. I realised that what Sarah was saying is true. Feminism does indeed have a PR problem. If you had asked me, prior to my revelation, if I was a feminist I would have been appalled and offended. Do I look like an angry woman to you? Is my hair short? Am I overly masculine? Do my armpits look hairy? Do I look like a man hater? Have you ever seen me burning my bra and protesting on a picket line? All of these negative “images” would pop into my mind whenever the word “feminist” was used and I would make loud proclamations justifying how in fact I WASN’T a feminist as I certainly was not a man-hating, aggressive, loud, opinionated, politically antagonistic, hairy woman. With these very provocative images in mind, would we agree that if I, a woman who unequivocally supports women viewed the term as such, then possibly the concept might just have somewhat of a PR problem as Sarah had suggested?

I’m writing these words appalled and embarrassed by my own ignorance.

How had I come to this conclusion? I’m actually not sure as the word “feminist” was not used in my household growing up. Perhaps more importantly though, my parents spoke through the way they raised us rather than through the words they used. My sister and I were bought up to be strong women, with strong opinions and it’s stood us in good stead. In fact, in our family, the women have the stronger personalities and voices than the men. This did not mean my father and brother are any less important, it’s just their role is more “supportive” than it is “leading”. Perhaps my parents unspoken support of women has shaped my life choices to this day more than I had previously given it credit for.

As I cannot actually recall how I came up with this appalling assertion, that being referred to as a “feminist” would automatically mean I would become a man-hating, hairy, angry woman, I googled the word “feminist” in the images section. See below for a couple of googles responses:

FeministDebate feminism anti-feminist-robertson

In my ignorance, and potentially learned through the media, I had associated feminists with being political antagonists and being someone who is not particularly interested in politics, this was another nail in the feminist coffin for me. I had not thought that, women in history, out of pure frustration at their lack of equality and opportunity, felt they had no choice but to create a voice. And as women, traditionally, were not encouraged to have opinions, this was seen as unacceptable. As a result, women who spoke up for women (ie feminists) became labelled as “angry”, “aggressive” and “confrontational” and the term “feminist” became associated with the above traits. Who, in their right mind, would want to be associated with these traits? Not many I wouldn’t think. The beginning of a PR problem perhaps?

This is the definition of a feminist:


That’s it. A feminist is someone who believes in, advocates for and supports women.

With my new found knowledge I realised I am indeed a big bad feminist.

I absolutely believe in women, empowering them, supporting them, helping them build the confidence they need to chase their dreams. Absolutely. Without a doubt. And I feel proud of my newfound understanding. Appalled by my ignorance in the past and lost opportunities to potentially help women even more but fuelled with excitement to make a difference going forward.

So here I am, standing loud and proud, saying I am a feminist!

And the biggest issue with this movement currently is, as Sarah rightly pointed out, a PR problem. So we’re going to turn feminism on its head! We are going to debunk a few myths for you:

  • That we hate men. This is DEFINITELY not the case. I, personally, love men. In fact I wish I had more in my life.
  • That we are antagonistic. Again, not the case. We have strong opinions and a voice. This isn’t automatically an antagonistic voice. It’s just a voice. It’s our right. All human beings deserve the right to be heard and their own opinion regardless of gender, sexual orientation, religion and race.
  • That we’re angry. I am not an angry person. All the women I’m surrounded by are some of the happiest, most positive people I know. In fact, I hope you are also surrounded by such amazing people.
  • That we are political figures with a negative agenda. Not the case. Of course there are probably some very strong feminists with some very strong political opinions. Great! Nothing wrong with that. Everyone deserves a say and it’s these women who are probably going to make the biggest change. For me personally, being a feminist is simply about supporting other women and changing the way the word “feminist” is thought of.
  • Only women are feminists. Wrong! Men, who support women, are also feminists. Why? Because they support women and that’s all feminism is. My Dad is a feminist. As is my brother. Most men I know in fact, are feminists and I love them for it.

I chose to share this today as I LOVED Emma Watson’s speech yesterday on what feminism actually means and her open invitation to men to join the party, to also become advocates for equality on a global basis. It’s important for us all to become aware of what “feminism” actually entails so we too can become a part of the changing movement.



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