The “F” Word

May 28, 2008

Say what?

Much of the dialogue around AAUW’s latest research, Where the Girls Are (check out “Talking About Where the Girls Are” to get a sample listing) is learned, interesting, and obviously written by individuals who can speak knowledgeably about the subject. As I was reading the comments, however, I noticed that other individuals were criticizing AAUW as “that feminist organization,” appearing to use the term feminist as if it were a dirty word.

Then, of course, I had to remind myself what feminist means today — as opposed to the definition I grew up with in the 1970s and 1980s. Then, in my mind at least, it referred to someone fighting for women’s rights as part of a political movement for equality, whether in education, the workplace, or anywhere issues of gender equity were of concern. What’s so dirty about that?

On further reflection, I realized I have fallen into the “I’m not a feminist, but…” conversational mode in casual talk about issues affecting women today. I have apparently adapted my definition of the word toward how I perceive others view it today rather than using feminist simply as an umbrella term for someone concerned about gender issues with regard to women. My personal evolvement of being a feminist has actually grown to include individuals concerned with any gender equity issue — whether affecting women or men.

Getting back to the definition, I find when I go to those ever-ready Web search engines, there are as many interpretations of feminist as there individuals with opinions. One of the more interesting reads I found (albeit a bit ponderous and not necessarily the definitive explanation) was in the Stanford Encyclopedia of PhilosophyTopics in Feminism” section. As I read it, I ran across the term sexually subordinate and couldn’t resist adding it to the mix. When taken out of context or without definition, it too could definitely be considered another “dirty word” (or phrase in this case).

What does feminist mean to you? Has the definition evolved for you as it did me? What do you think it means to the average person today?

Christy Jones, CAE By:   |   May 28, 2008


  1. Avatar Karen says:

    Christy, I agree that this is a broad scope, but I also believe that is the underlying desire of first wave and subsequent feminists.

    As for acceptance: Isn’t it within our power to define the terms we use for self-reference? I’m not willing to let others define me; I’ll put the expectation out there, and let others decide how they will react, instead. Hopefully we can arrive at a constructive dialog, but if not, it’s really more their problem than mine. As Maureen Dowd said, “The minute you settle for less than you deserve, you get even less than you settled for.”

    Just as we’ve had to contiue the struggle to expand the sphere of women’s action and influence, we must also do so with our language. And if we are truly about equity, then we’ll keep striving in whatever arenas continue to limit our realizing our full potential and power. Because equity is still an issue…

  2. christyjones christyjones says:

    Karen, the broad scope Quindlen describes certainly goes beyond the original intent of the word “feminism”; will others be so accepting of this definition? Should they be?

  3. Avatar Karen says:

    I call myself a feminist, since I believe that it represents the intention to address gender inequities to open opportunities for both women and men to explore. It’s not a zero-sum game, but rather a desired state where each individual can live out whatever life path they choose, without bias.

    I recently came across this quote from Anna Quindlen, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and author:
    “It’s important to remember that feminism is no longer a group of organizations or leaders. It’s the expectations that parents have for their daughters, and their sons, too. It’s the way we talk about and treat one another. It’s who makes the money and who makes the compromises and who makes the dinner. It’s a state of mind. It’s the way we live now.”

    With that definition, I’m certainly proud to be a feminist.

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