Volume 91, Issue 20

Wednesday, October 1, 1997



The feminist movement

By Sandra Bialystok
Gazette Writer

Feminism. Just mentioning it causes a reaction unique to the word. But what does it really mean? The Oxford dictionary defines feminist as "a supporter of women's claims to be given rights equal to those of men." However, many people would disagree with this very general definition. For some, the word is a call for women to continue the fight in order to ensure their rightful place in society. For others, the word signifies the fact that women should have the freedom to make their own choices and decisions.

For instance, there are those who believe women must ask for greater advantages in order to ensure equality which has been historically neglected. And what about feminists who fight for women's rights in countries that oppress women to the extreme? Some of these people need to cross severe religious and political barriers before women can even be considered equal to men.

At first glance this word seems commonplace, indeed, it is part of our vernacular. Yet even without a clear definition, it is able to arouse strong emotions in many people. This ambiguous state the meaning of the word holds in our language can be used to its advantage.

Until recently, I never considered myself a feminist. I found the word insinuated a kind of aggressiveness that I did not want to be associated with. But then I began to work with many different types of women, each with her own agenda and each, in her own way, a feminist. Because the meaning of the word is so nebulous, I found that people were able to use it for their own benefit, adapting it to fit their lifestyle.

I realized feminists need not be excessively vocal of their opinions or extremist in their ideas. I saw that people defined themselves as feminists if they believed in equal opportunity or pay equity, or easy access to child care. These are all issues I have felt strongly about for a long time – I just never thought to link them to the larger feminist movement. I think this flexibility of the word is beneficial for those who call themselves feminists and for the movement at large. It gives people a common bond so that they can work together to bring some of their ideals to realization.

However, there is still the problem that the word carries negative connotations. Many people still associate feminism with the stereotype of the loud, aggressive woman who hates men and is out to take over the world. This must stop. Certainly, there are those women who, in some way or another, fit the aforementioned stereotype – after all, stereotypes are based on truth. But women such as these only constitute a small proportion of those who call themselves feminists.

Right now, the feminist movement is fractioned with various groups prioritizing their own needs. Admittedly, there is much to be accomplished, but for progress to be made, it is important to first try to rid the word of its negative implications. Then people will be able to realize what it can mean to be a feminist and will unite for a larger, common goal.

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Copyright The Gazette 1997