Take a deep breath – it’s probably not her fault.
I took an Introduction to Feminism course my sophomore year of college, and let me tell you, it rocked my world. I knew vaguely of the women’s rights movement and would probably have told people that I was a feminist, but I was not enlightened to the extent of which I realized that prejudice based on gender affects nearly every aspect of our lives. I am very vocal in advocating for feminism, but I have noticed since taking the class that many of my friends shy away from or directly reject identifying themselves as a feminist. Now I totally understand that not all of us have the opportunity to take an introductory course, but it is something that should be discussed openly and we as women (but also everyone) should be educated about. If you have a similar situation or simply want to know more about the topic (hell yeah), here’s my way of introducing and talking about it:
Firstly, don’t get angry with your friend. You might want to call her uneducated or ignorant, but that is not a successful way to communicate. She has a different set of experiences and backgrounds (and probably has not been given a complete history in gender studies), so do not judge. First ask your friend, “Do you believe in equality?” or even just “Do you want to own your own body?” If they answer yes to either of these questions, surprise! That’s what a feminist believes in. Now you can get to specifics.
Feminism is defined as “the theory of political, economic, and social equality of the sexes” by Merriam-Webster. That’s literally what it is: equality between genders. Since the movement’s public emergence in the 60’s, opponents have been quick to jump on and point out the most radical version of it. Stereotypes of feminists are often portrayed as men-hating “feminazis.” The negative portrayal of feminists in our society has most likely contributed to your friend’s idea of what feminism means. (Like, for example, if we all judged the Bachelorette solely based on her giving the rose to the WhaBoom! guy, we probably would not have such high opinions of Rachel.) Remind them of this, this is the reason it is so important to reclaim feminism for yourself and all women, to show them its more than okay to do so and you’re not going to stand by idly.
Then, give her an example of how it is used. The feminist movement is the reason why women can be in the professional field (and be successful in their jobs!). It is also used to call into question why women are not being paid as much as men or why female bodies are continually objectified in media and advertising. Sexism is still alive and well today. Feminism is not a tool for wining or complaining about prejudice, its bringing up legitimate questions on how society is unfairly treating a group of people. Most importantly, its existence is necessary for progress and change. (Check out some dope TED talks on modern feminism here.)
End with this; there is no right or wrong way to advocate for equality (but keep it intersectional, find out what that is here). The most important part is that you are doing so, and knowing that it doesn’t have to be done in an obnoxious way. Simply by beginning to notice and address that guys are usually not the ones being catcalled or that it shouldn’t be normal to not feel safe when walking alone is recognizing the disparity in gender equality. We can all be feminists (hey men! even you!) and we should all be feminists.
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