Are you a feminist? When men and women are confronted by this question, they are frequently uncomfortable. Most men and some women will deny that they are feminists. In an interview with Makers, a PBS documentary about the women’s movement, Marissa Mayer said, “I don’t think that I would consider myself a feminist.” Other very public figures such as Katy Perry and Taylor Swift have echoed similar sentiments and actively distanced themselves from the “feminist” identity.
I was sipping Bailey’s with some of my closest girlfriends before a Saturday night at Tombs. One is going to Teach for America, another to Germany on a Fulbright, and another to a leading law firm, deferring her acceptance at Georgetown Law School. However, only two of us self-identified as feminists.
When strong, accomplished women purposefully disassociate themselves with the feminist movement, it makes me want to scream. If feminism were not elevated to part of the mainstream conversation, we would not have the opportunities that we do today. Feminism is not a dirty word. Identifying as a feminist does not mean that you hate men or stay-at-home moms or bras. All feminism means is that you believe in equal rights for men and women in the professional and personal spheres. Is that really so scary? Is that something that you want to disassociate yourself with?
“But I don’t want to come off like a crazy, militant man-hater!”
You are apparently in good company. Marisa Mayer does not identify as a feminist because she disagrees with what she perceives to be the movement’s style and believes “there’s more good that comes out of positive energy around than negative energy.” I completely agree with this sentiment. So how can you convey that you’re for equal rights instead of the end of men? SIMPLE. RECLAIM THE TERM. Next time someone asks if you’re a feminist, respond “Yes. By that I mean that I believe in equal rights for men and women. You’re not a feminist by that definition?” If you want to add a few extra caveats like “I’m pro-life,” by all means do so! It is SO IMPORTANT that rational, intelligent, accomplished women regain control over the term so as to inspire other and future women to embrace feminism and not fear the stigma of becoming outspoken and proud advocates of equal rights for men and women.
“But what if identifying as a feminist hinders my success?”
Do you really want to work at a company that is not willing to honestly reflect on how to improve gender equity at the workplace? However, if you are going to be critical of a company’s current policies, you must be able to provide constructive solutions. Management should WANT to hear your opinion on how to make their company a better place for women, and therefore everyone, to work, as they will be able to better attract, develop, and retain talented women leaders. However, these efforts cannot affect your job performance, and you must continue to excel professionally. As one of my friends put it, “The only reason people listen to Sheryl Sandberg is because she is the COO of Facebook.”
Speaking up for what you believe in is always a risk. But we will never be able to pay back the women who created opportunities for us, so we have to pay it forward. You can change the world. Contrary to what some people, both women and men, think, there is still a great deal of work to be done. Universal parental leave. Cross-gender mentoring programs at top firms. Mid-career entry points for parents returning to the workforce. The fact that men dominate the top positions in corporate America, Congress, and academia is not something that will dissipate with time alone. Yes, the new generation of leaders will be more amenable to gender equity but without vocal activism and women AND men willing to identify as feminists, the structural factors inhabiting women’s progress will continue into the foreseeable future.