I'm going to start out by using the big, bad, dirty f-word. I am a feminist.
I give myself this label because of that time I went to go buy a laptop and the sales guy would only speak to the boyfriend who had tagged along, never to me. It's for the plethora of times when I walk by construction sites and get told to "shake it, baby" and any number of other, more offensive invites. I also claim the label for all those movies I've sat through where the female characters have no other role than to cower and hide, in order to be valiantly rescued by a father/lover/man-with-generic-purpose-and-big-biceps (insert appropriate amount of screaming here).
Of course, there are explanations that come from our society: the sales guy was just making sure that I wouldn't get overwhelmed with complicated techy information and instead buy the prettiest model; the construction guys are just using me as a way to build camaraderie between each other, bonds for a solid group work ethic; that character bequeaths the hero something beautiful and good to fight for, so she is just doing her part for the cause. Just. Just. Just. Only in no sense of the word are they "just." I have heard the explanations, loud and clear. I'm just not interested in their versions of the truth.
Beyond the historical significance of what progress feminism has given us, there is a deep, personal connection for me. When you've been made to feel less than, you will always strive for more -- for equality.
I may not have been as vocal in the past, but feminism is constantly coming up in recent news. Celebs like Shailene Woodley, Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood -- all powerful women in pop-culture, serving as role models for many young women -- have made comments about not being feminists. The tumblr site Women Against Feminism showcases photo after photo of girls holding homemade signs that list the reasons they don't need feminism. The hashtag #NotAllMen, which was created as a defense against feminist arguments about a existing culture of rape, led to the avenging #YesAllWomen, an effort to bring awareness to how widespread the issue of sexual assault and harassment is for women. It's a topic that seemingly cannot be ignored. And for good reason.
We live in an age when everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. But what happens when I tell people that I'm a feminist, all proud-like? Some back away very slowly, as if I will rip my bra off at any moment and set fire to the lacy material right before their eyes (I won't). Others ask me when I started hating men (I don't). There are even those that demand to know what right I have to exert power over someone else simply because of my gender (I would never). Most just look at me with confused expressions, like they can't understand why I would align myself with something they see as so negative. My own mother stared at me quizzically when I broached the subject, asking her if she was a feminist. "No," she replied. My heart sank.
Like I said, it's everyone's right to have an opinion. But here is what bothers me: they've got the wrong definition. They are basing their judgment of me, my beliefs and on feminism as a whole, on inaccurate information. Shailene Woodley's reason for not being a feminist is because she loves men and seeks a balance of power. One sign on the Women Against Feminism site reads, "I don't need 'feminism' because I believe that men and women are EQUAL, not that women should belittle men." People thought the #YesAllWomen was part of feminist agenda to make it seem like all women are victims, deserving of special treatment
Let's be completely clear: feminism, by definition, is "the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men." Equal. Not better. Not more powerful. Not keep them in cages and let those estrogen-inclined have a crack at running the world. Just equal.
When I rephrased the question for my mother, asking instead, "Do you believe women should have the same rights as men?" she looked completely taken aback. "Of course," she answered immediately. It was a no-brainer. All people, regardless of gender, race, religion or sexual orientation deserve the same rights. They deserve to be equal. I told my mother she was a feminist, she just didn't realize it yet. She shrugged and smiled. Convincing her wasn't hard. I didn't tie her down and force-feed her my "feminist agenda." I simple gave her the facts.
But the ideas floating around that suggest feminists are fighting for superiority, a foothold for world domination, those stereotypes just muddy up the waters and make progress difficult, here in North America and around the world. If people would educate themselves and others about what feminism fights for (I'll say it again: equality), then the claim of "I'm an anti-feminist," or even "I'm not a feminist," starts to sound silly. You don't believe women should have equal rights? You want to fight against efforts to see gender equality actualized? Really?
This topic is obviously huge and can't be tackled in a single blog post. There's the history of feminism and the opportunity and freedom it's provided for women. There's the issue of modern feminism and why we still need it today. If you want to do research into all of this, great. I applaud you. But this issue starts somewhere very simple: education.
What I am calling for is a re-education of women, and men, across North America. If you take a look at feminism's goal (one more time: equality!) and still want to tote a sign that says, "I'm an anti-feminist," I suppose that is your prerogative. But when you tell others about your position, please be sure to give an accurate explanation of what that label means. Maybe say something like, "Hi there, attractive lunch date. I'm completely fine with the way society treats half the population. I don't want to do anything to make things better. I don't believe in equal rights. I'm an anti-feminist. Oh, and I hear the salmon here is to die for."
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