March is Women’s History Month in the United States, and this year it feels especially significant since 2020 is the hundredth anniversary of women gaining the right to vote. When I think of this fundamental freedom, a poem by Rupi Kaur comes to mind:
on the sacrifices
of a million women before me
what can i do
to make this mountain taller
so the women after me
can see farther
This month is a time to celebrate this sacred mountain on which we stand. Just in the last few years it’s grown exponentially higher, as women in the #MeToo movement spoke up about harassment and assault; as activists and celebrities showed us how to love our bodies in all shapes, sizes, and colors; and women across many industries drew attention to the fact that we still earn $0.53 to $0.80 for every $1 a man earns.
But Women’s History Month is also an opportunity to acknowledge how far we still have to go and question what we can do to make the mountain taller. As a therapist, I interact with many women who struggle to find their voice because they have been told by society that they need permission to put their needs, desires, and ambitions on an equal playing field with other people’s.
Yet although they believe they should be on that equal playing field, they are hesitant to embrace feminism. A 2018 survey found that a majority of millennials support women’s rights and equality, but less than one quarter of women (and only one tenth of men) identify as feminists.
When I first learned that, I was shocked. How could it be possible that the same people who stand up for women’s rights don’t also raise their hands and say, “I’m a feminist”?
Then I thought about the messages society bombards us with about feminism. At best, feminists are “spinsters” and “crazy cat ladies”; more often, they’re “rabid” or “radical” or “man-hating.” Feminist has become another “F-word.”
It’s no surprise that so few people want to be called feminists if we cast it in such a negative light. Here’s the thing though: I believe we’ve got the definition wrong. To be a feminist, you don’t have to bash men or believe women are better. You don’t have to protest, march, or yell. (Although, you can if you want!)
So this month, on the blog and on social media, we’ll be redefining feminism. I want to encourage us to break these negative associations and celebrate the true intention of feminism. I want us to be able to wear the label “feminist” as a badge of honor, not an insult. But most importantly I want you to work for equality in your relationships, at home, at work and in school.
Let’s start with what feminism actually means. Merriam-Webster defines it as “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.” Notice that the words “men,” “hate,” or “radical” aren’t in there? That’s because feminism is simply about equality. Not less for men and more for women. More for everyone.
So what does equality of the sexes look like in practice?
→ You believe that all doors should be open to everyone
→ You understand that there is not one right way to be a woman, so...
→ You support women’s choices, even if they’re not the choices you’d make
→ You use your voice and societal privilege to lift up women, rather than judging or policing them
Over the coming weeks, we’ll explore how anyone—regardless of their gender or the roles they take on—can be a feminist. We’ll talk about how embracing feminism in your relationship with yourself, your relationships with family and friends, and your workplace can be a potent tool for finding your voice and changing your life.
To get started, think of one person, a man or a woman, who embodies feminism. Think of times when they’ve lifted you up, supported your choices, or seen paths to your dreams when you saw none. If you’re comfortable doing so, reach out to them on March 8th, International Women’s Day, with a text, call, email, or handwritten note, and let them know the impact their feminism has had on your life.