what does it really mean to be a feminist in 2021?

feminsim _2021

What makes someone a feminist? How have cultural, social, and political standards for being a feminist changed in 2021? What does it mean to be an intersectional feminist after “the age of trump”? And do white feminists count as feminists? I often think about what makes someone a real feminist, when the word “feminist” gets thrown around a lot lately. As cultural and social standards change, maybe we, as feminists, need to raise what we consider to be feminism and push ourselves to advocate for equality that needs to exist in 2021. What comes to mind is the phrase “it’s the twenty-first century” when used in response to an outdated comment. I think I’ve made it more than clear in the last few posts, but the language is extremely important, and so defining such a significant term as “feminist” is just as important. And by reflecting on what it means to be a proactive, productive, and genuine feminist, maybe we will all become better ones.

introduction to “radical feminism”. Yes, I used the “r” word. A lot of people might read this article and think that it is too radical for their liking and their idea of feminism. I use the term white feminist and western feminist a lot, which can be really striking to some people and difficult to confront. As a brown citizen of the US, I have confronted my own western ignorance and bias, and it has made me a better feminist. I wrote a post about confronting western feminism, which I recommend reading, especially if you want to continue to develop your feminist mind. You might consider yourself a feminist, but still, be uncomfortable reading some of this because it might challenge your notion of feminism. First off, good. I think uncomforted is good especially when it means challenging yourself to grow and learn and really engage with things, rather than turn away when it gets rough. Second, please challenge me (respectfully) in the comments or via email. I am not the “perfect feminist”, and I still have a lot to learn. And my perspective is only one, so please share yours if you have something to add or just want to share your perspective, even if it challenges me. Lastly, if what I am writing here is “radical”, then maybe I am “radical”. If demanding that feminism goes beyond gender, to discuss race, privilege, religion, bias, political party, etc. is radical, then I am a “radical feminist”.

what is feminism? The formal definition is “feminism is a range of social movements, political movements, and ideologies that aim to define and establish the political, economic, personal, and social equality of the sexes.” However, I would like to go further to add that feminism and intersectional feminism are not the same things. So, that leads me to my next point.

what is intersectional feminism? Well, I could write an entire article about this – and I actually did. I would recommend reading that too, which you can do by clicking here. I consider myself an intersectional feminist. Intersectionality is feminism that stipulates that true equality between the sexes cannot be achieved without understanding all aspects of identity and inequality, such as race, nationality, religion, gender orientation, etc. For example, one cannot be an intersectional feminist while also thinking that a black woman is not equal to a white woman or that a black man is not equal to a white woman. I believe that intersectional feminism is the only real feminism.

feminist history disclaimer. I am very hesitant to categorize the history of feminism into 1st wave, 2nd wave, and 3rd wave, for multiple reasons. First of all, I think that this limits feminism to the US and the West overall, and denies the fact that feminism didn’t magically appear in the US in the 20th century. The fight for women’s rights is something that is seen throughout history and throughout the world. The literal word “feminist” may have been created by a “westerner”, but that does not mean women around the world, outside the west, have not had feminist tendencies forever.

how has feminism changed over time? To quote one of the articles I read (and included below), “though the [feminist] movement was originally created to ensure basic human rights for women, feminism today is a social movement and belief focused on changing society for the better.” I would recommend reading some of the history articles I included below because not only are they interesting, but they also do a great job of cataloging women’s history. However, I think that if you want a truly global view of women’s history and feminist history, reading some of these books will help.

how have feminist standards changed over time? What I mean by this is how have the criteria for being a feminist changed over time. For example, in Plato’s time, being a feminist may have been just acknowledging that women and men have the same mental capacity and are equal in being. However, in today’s world, we have to go beyond that and recognize that men and women should be equal in all spheres, the social, political, and economic, throughout the entire world (e.i. not just white or western women). Now, feminist movements are also aimed at advocating for more representation of women in government and politics. Even within the past four years, feminism has changed. Things we may not even have been able to fathom before the “age of Trump” like promoting real information, believing in climate change, and demanding accountability for sexual assaulters even when (and especially when) they are powerful figures. If anything, it just showed us how necessary feminism is and what we need to work towards.

is white (or western) feminism still feminism? No, and I think that this is especially important when examining how feminism has changed. First, for some background information on western feminism, click here to read my article on it. Feminist standards in the past are not the same standards we have now, and it can be a larger debate on whether these changed standards should change how we see history or if we should take on a cultural relativist mindset and examine the history and historical figures in their own context. For example, Susan B. Anthony was a major pioneer in the women’s rights movement and was an abolitionist (abolition of slavery in the US). And she was a significant feminist in the time and society she lived in, but some of her other views on race, for example, might not make her a feminist today. I would love to hear your own thoughts on this in the comments. However, this is a larger conversation, so for now, you can read more here from the ACLU’s article on why you should avoid white-washing women’s history, or you can click here to read my article about the actual history of women’s rights in the US. To sum it up, no, by our feminist standards today, white feminism is not feminism, nor does it advocate true equality.

are you a feminist? I wanted to take some time to address some aspects of what a feminist today “looks” like by going over specific principles and examples.

  • There is no equality without equality between races, social classes, and other aspects of identity as well as genders.
  • Women’s rights are human rights and human rights violations are the concern of us all, and not just to the people it directly affects. Because if human rights are being violated, then it is all of our responsibility to speak up and act.
  • Western feminism is not feminism and needs to be expanded to realize that women, around the world experience life differently and feel oppression differently.
  • The woman’s experience is not a set thing and is unique to every individual.
  • I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. If you want to share what makes you a feminist, please do so in the comments!

is it okay that feminism changes? To wrap it all up, I think it is only right that feminism and what it means to be a feminist change. Maybe in 1,000 years, after we’ve had hundreds of female presidents, being a feminist will be something that we can’t even imagine or think of now. As society’s needs change and as our understanding of equality and equity change, feminism will change.

Further Reading and Resources

image via. History

Feminism in the 21st Century – The Washington Post

What it Means to Be A Feminist in 2020 – The Triangle

The History of Feminism – History

Feminism Today: The Fight Has Changed – Independent 

What Feminism Means Today – The American Psychological Association

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