Feminism has been a hot topic lately, and as important as the movement is, I feel that people in the activist community can unintentionally come off as intimidating to those starting their journey in interests regarding social justice. I remember when I was first starting to understand feminism and felt a little lost with some of the terminology and topics. I felt bad that I wasn’t immediately educated on all that I wanted to know about. This sense of exclusion or inadequacy can be a huge reason people feel uncomfortable bringing up feminism or questions they might have about feminism. I know I had numerous moments where I felt I had to educate myself about an issue because I was too scared of asking the wrong question and starting a discussion with someone “more knowledgeable”. As a reminder, nobody is the “perfect feminist”; the only way to approach a better, more accepting society is to engage in “imperfect” discussion as feminists doing our best to create solutions. Here are a few ideas to help include everyone in constructive and welcoming conversations about feminism.
Intersectionality may be the most important aspect of modern feminism. Intersectionality means that we are looking and recognizing the endless intersections of feminism and race, economic class, gender, sexuality, age, geographic location, disability, religion, and so on. Feminism has had many movements and waves, but the difference in feminism today is its inclusivity of all genders and backgrounds. In the past, there has been controversy over feminism because it has, at times, been an exclusively “white feminism” by ignoring the experiences of women of color and other oppressed groups. These past movements were important and did make some big leaps, but in order to move forward in conjunction, we must move feminism to intersectional feminism. Understanding that these intersections exist, and need to be included in discussions and actions in feminism, is key to creating an accepting society where we are generating authentic change. We must realize the privilege, or lack thereof, associated with each intersection and work to better include each voice in discussion, while additionally speaking for those whose voice is not being heard.
Don’t exclude– listen!
As mentioned when talking about intersectionality, it is important to remember each person’s background and identity in order to include all voices in feminist conversation. Additionally, it’s important to include voices that might feel how I felt when I started getting involved. If someone asks a question, don’t deem it “stupid” or “silly” just because you think the answer is obvious. If someone is less understanding or confused, do your best to educate and talk about the subject in a respectful and welcoming manner. Listen to what they might want to contribute about their experiences and see what you can learn from them. However, this does not mean tolerate forms of hatred; simply try to engage in civil and educational discussion the best you can while still standing up for the acceptance intersectional feminists fight for.
Use correct terminology!
It can feel a little overwhelming to enter a discussion and not understand half of the words people are using. I still find myself having to ask questions and look terms up. Here I put together a few terms that are used very commonly in feminist communities:
Misogyny: A term referring to the dislike or hatred of women. This tends to refer to a more conscious and deep-rooted awareness that is acted upon through specific actions or statements. This is sometimes synonymous to sexism, but is often specifically defined as an obvious and conscious choice to hate women.
Privilege: Describes the situation of having certain advantages at the expense of other people or groups, as well as the lack of disadvantages due to certain characteristics. For example, if you are white (or white-passing), you have certain advantages that come simply from looking this way, whether you realize it or not. All people can have privilege in certain areas and lack privilege in other areas. Having privilege is not something to be ashamed of, but to simply be aware of, so you can better understand your circumstances relative to others’ circumstances. Recognizing privilege, or lack thereof, better helps feminists achieve intersectionality.
Objectification: The concept of treating and seeing women as objects, most commonly as a sexual object. This also plays into the idea of women being the possession of another as their object. We see this concept prominently in today’s media.
Rape Culture: Refers to the way society has normalized and accepted rape as “inevitable”. This plays into the larger cultural issues of sexual violence and victim blaming.
Cisgender: A person that identifies as the gender they were assigned at birth. Some may define this as the “opposite” of transgender, but this erases the fact that gender is actually on a spectrum rather than on a binary “opposite” system. For example, if someone identifies as female, and this is what they were assigned at birth, they may be considered cisgender.
Transgender: This refers to a person that identifies as a different gender than what they were assigned at birth. For example, if someone identifies as male but was deemed female at birth, they may be considered transgender.
Gender Non-Conforming: This is a broader term referring to a person that does not identify with the “typical” stereotypes of gender and may not want to identify as “he” or “she”, but “they”. This can relate to many other terms referring to gender fluidity and other non-conforming gender expressions.
Gay/Lesbian: This refers to a person that is attracted to another person that is not the same sex they as they identify.
Bisexual: This refers to a person that defines themselves as being attracted to people of both of the “typical” sexes.
Pansexual: This refers to a person that identifies as being potentially attracted to anyone, regardless of gender and/or sexuality.
Asexual: This refers to a person that does not feel sexually attracted to anyone. They may wish to be in a relationship, but not participate in any sexual activity.
There are countless definitions and terms that are in constant flux. These are just a handful I feel are important to know when starting out discussions. Never be afraid to ask for clarification, do some of your own research, or explain if you think something is defined incorrectly. We are all learning together!
Be open to correction!
There is always a huge amount to learn about, talk about, and understand, and none of us are perfect. You might know how to talk about some issues or topics more than others, causing you to unintentionally misspeak. This is not something to be embarrassed about; simply be open to correction and respectfully try to understand what you need to be more informed on or what action might be problematic. This could be anything from misgendering someone to using the wrong terminology to refer to someone’s race.
Most importantly, understand that your words matter!
What hurts the most to hear is when people think talking, discussing, and acting on feminism is unimportant because they assume they can’t make a big enough change with their voice. However, coming together to bring attention to social justice is what brings change to our society, even if it seems like small, insignificant discussion at first. Small discussions lead to big change, so being apathetic in today’s world doesn’t seem to be an option anymore. We need to be the leaders of discussion and talk about these tough issues, learning from each other as we lift each other up.
Good luck, feminists!