Do you believe that men and women should have equal rights? If you answered “yes,” then you are a feminist.
A lot of people I have spoken with throughout my life have taken offense to the word “feminist”, citing ideas of anti-men, militant protesters. I believe this is an enormous misunderstanding of what is meant by the word. I’ve even thought about calling myself an egalitarian instead of feminist, but, while I do consider myself to be an egalitarian in many ways, I don’t think it captures the specificity of supporting equal rights for women. So, I consider myself both an egalitarian and a feminist, and feminism simply falls within that egalitarianism (for me, egalitarianism encompasses equal rights for all people, regardless of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, or any other characteristic, but I will not get into that in this post).
Obviously, a lot of work has to be done around the messaging of the word “feminism.” People who support feminism must be careful to be clear about what they mean—that they are not against men, that they simply believe women should share the same rights as men. That is part of why I’m writing this post. The other part is my increasing frustration as I realize just how unequal the world is for men and women. I never thought these things needed to be said, but it’s clear to me now that they do. Here is my definition of what it is to be a feminist, with some key points that I support.
To be a feminist is to support equal rights for women. This extends to all aspects of our society, and goes beyond just legal protections. Of course, legal protections are one critical piece of protecting rights, but it is just as important for our whole culture to embody this. We are not a feminist society until women are not treated differently than men simply due to their gender, and vice-versa. The law will do nothing unless every teacher, police officer, father, mother, coworker, boss, employee, doctor, waiter, bus driver, random guy on the street, and everybody in-between truly believes that men and women are equal, and strives to put this ideal into action.
Here is what is required to achieve equal rights, both legally and socially, and what we should demand now:
Equal protections, rights, and privileges under local, state, and federal laws. This must include proactive laws to protect women’s rights in every realm of society. We need aggressive, fast-acting, clearly-defined laws for the following and more:
- Explicit prohibition of violence against women, including sexual violence, in their homes, communities, schools, places of work, or elsewhere, with their own sentences and punishments attached.
- A mandate to establish justice system and law enforcement resources for women who are victims of violence within at least every local government.
- A mandate to establish outreach for women who are victims of violence within at least every local government, including at least hotlines, resource centers, emergency housing, healthcare, or anything else a person might need to live independently.
- Explicit prohibition of sexual harassment in all forms and in all places.
- A mandate to establish justice system and law enforcement resources for women who are victims of sexual harassment within at least every local government.
- Explicit prohibition of unequal pay based on gender, and the mandated establishment of resources for investigation into claims.
- Explicit prohibition of workplace harassment and abuse, and specific resources for investigating and prosecuting workplace harassment and abuse.
- A mandate to include access to multiple forms of birth control with health insurance plans, including at least birth control pills and IUDs.
- A mandate to create resource centers for birth control outside of health insurance, including free birth control pills, condoms, and IUDs.
- A mandate to provide free access to tampons or other female hygiene products.
- A mandate to create free access to prenatal care.
- A mandate to require maternal and paternal leave at all places of employment.
- A mandate that all women have access to abortions, and establishing resources for women to seek information about abortions, free and confidential abortion services with no strings attached, and support before and after abortion services.
Equal social treatment in everyday life. This is all-encompassing, so I cannot list everything, but here are some major points:
- The ability to walk around without fear of being verbally or physically harassed, taunted, heckled, whistled at, stared at, grabbed, touched, followed, or otherwise threatened or made uncomfortable.
- The ability to dress, act, or otherwise have an outward appearance however one pleases without judgment or harassment.
- Yes, women can wear pants if they want. They can also have short hair. Or not wear makeup. Or not curl or straighten their hair. Or wear normal sneakers. Or not dress up to go out. Or they can do all of these things if they want to. Yes, you are sexist, and not a feminist, if you insist that your female friends “pretty themselves up” before going the bar with you.
- Women, just like everybody else, burp, fart, vomit, and poop. Please don’t try to pretend they don’t, and please don’t try to make women feel ashamed for their normal bodily functions.
- Women are not required to shave their legs, crotches, armpits, upper lips, or anything at all. How would you like it if I said you’re disgusting because of your leg hair?
- Women do not need to behave in a dainty manner or speak in a special way to assert their womanhood. Men and women have the same vocal chords, legs, and arms, and can use them in the same ways, or different ways if they please.
- Women must be able to breastfeed in public.
- No expectation to have children, to want to have children, or to want marriage.
- If somebody tells you she doesn’t want children, do not feel the need to tell her she’ll change her mind.
- No, every woman does not need a man. And every man does not need a woman. Let people be however they want to be, please.
- No expectation to enter certain professions, or to not enter certain professions.
- It is clear that we, as a society, do not encourage women to pursue fields such as engineering or construction. This must stop.
- On a related note, women must be treated equally in our expectations for everyday tasks, such as with hands-on work.
- No sexual suppression, shaming, or pressure.
- Women can seek multiple partners, no partners, or have any kind of sexual preferences they want.
- Many women, like many men, have sexual desires and needs (shocker). It is okay for a woman to want sex.
- Women masturbate. It is time to stop pretending otherwise, and to encourage open and healthy views towards masturbation.
- It is never okay to pressure a person into sex.
- Rape, sexual violence, or otherwise forcing someone to do a sexual act they don’t want to is never okay. This should be obvious, but apparently it’s not to some people.
- No shaming of the female body.
- Women have periods. Get over it. There is nothing disgusting or weird about it, anymore so than there is anything disgusting or weird about the fact that you poop.
- There is nothing disgusting about vaginas. It is just a body part.
- It is okay to not be incredibly skinny.
- As I said before, there’s nothing wrong with body hair. Everybody has it, it’s time to stop pretending otherwise.
A constitutional guarantee to equal rights, privileges, and treatment under the law.
There is simply no guarantee of equal rights except for voting rights within the United States constitution. I find this completely bizarre. In effect, this leaves the onus of guaranteeing equal rights for women (and everybody) to individual lawmakers, and this would not prohibit discriminatory laws from being enacted. Aside from defining the branches of government, our constitution seems to be focused on safeguarding individuals (ahem, men over a certain age) from government abuse, which is great. However, it has completely missed the mark on protecting individuals from each other through guaranteeing equal rights for all.
It is true that at least some state constitutions guarantee equal rights for women. I know the Pennsylvania constitution does, but I’m not sure about other states.
This guarantee should not be left to states to decide, nor should it be left to individual lawmakers. Equal rights for men and women must be a foundational value of our society.
As I said, this list is nowhere near exhaustive, and I see it as just a bare minimum. Also, many of the legal points already exist in most places. Some do not. I’m simply advocating that everywhere should have these types of laws if we truly consider ourselves equal. Where these laws do exist, I believe they do not go far enough. They must be clear, specific, and ambitious, with the resources to back them up for enforcement. Furthermore, we must enshrine our commitment to equal rights within our national constitution in order to prevent any possible abuses of women’s rights and to give teeth to any future laws protecting women’s rights.
Finally, I realize that many of my points are vague, especially the terms of proposed laws. I think the specifics of each proposal are less important than actually having something along those lines in place. For instance, it is much more important that we agree that women should have free access to abortions than agreeing on the specific timeframe of the pregnancy in which abortion should be allowed.
I want to mention that I spent a lot of time thinking about this post—whether there were any points I left out, whether I should elaborate more, and so on. In the end, I decided I need to just publish this, realizing it will never be complete or perfect. What I really want is for others to know that people support equal rights for men and women, to enumerate what I support, and to try to push just a little bit further to obtain these rights for all women.
You are not alone. Keep fighting for people’s rights!