Redefining Feminism

Feminist movements have been gaining a lot of media attention recently, but such efforts to achieve gender equality will be futile if we don't get back to the basics.



Feminist Suffrage Parade in New York City, 6 May 1912

Emma Dessau, Reporter

While going to an all girl’s school is akin to as living in a feminist cocoon for four years, one doesn’t need to be a part of this kind of community for feminism to be a part of his/her life.

Hermits aside, most people are well aware of feminism. These days, the feminist movement feels like a toll free call–we aren’t quite sure what it’s selling, but my god is it persistent.

Feminism has found a place in every part of our culture. From movements like #yesallwomen and the “Free the Nipple” campaign, to mainstream music hits such as Beyonce’s “Flawless” and Colbie Caillat’s “Try,” it is clear that feminism has inadvertently become a major part of our lives.

Most recently, feminism has shown up in Oscar speeches, with Best Supporting Actress winner Patricia Arquette’s demand to eliminate the wage gap that exists between between men and women in our country.

Still, there is an enormous misunderstanding of what the word even means. According to, feminism is defined as “the Doctrine advocacy for the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.” With a definition like this, it’s difficult to imagine that communities such as the the “Meninist” Twitter account and Facebook page even exist.

As a feminist, I get frustrated reading the “We Don’t Need Feminism” Tumblr account, in which women post photos holding signs stating why they and “society as a whole would be better off if feminists didn’t exist at all.”

What’s so upsetting about this definition that it’s received such harsh criticism from so many people?  Is it something we said?

Personally, I don’t think it’s the word itself, but rather the over exploitation of the word in the media. When I typed the word “Feminism” into Google today, the first page of results included various definitions, several news articles about Patricia Arquette, several anti-feminist Tumblr accounts such as “Who Needs Feminism?” and “Women Against Feminism,” pictures of Rosie the Riveter (which by the way, was created as war propaganda, not for the sole purpose of female empowerment), and only one legitimate-looking website called

Feminism, in large part, has become such a bandwagon that it has started to lose its core.

When we say that we are feminists, what do people think of? Is it the students asserting their “right” to wear revealing clothing at school, or is it Malala advocating for equal access to education? Where is she on the Google search?

If people are going to take the movement seriously, we must learn to market our message better. Without the correct context of what feminism is all about, how can we expect newcomers and skeptics to discern the Malalas from the Mileys?

We have to learn to be good marketers if we want our message to be heard. That means refining the message for all the people we are trying to reach–the people who view the anti-feminist Tumblr accounts, the stay at home mom who believes that feminism tells her that staying home holds back the movement, the Nebraskan youth pastor I worked with on a Christian service trip who made 10-year-old boys wait to get in line for meals until every girl got her food, despite knowing that it made all of us uncomfortable.

There is certainly room in the discussion for the “Free the Nipple” campaigns, but these messages probably aren’t the greatest for the people who believe that feminism is just for bra-burning, penis-envying man-haters.

The feminist movement has a long history, rich with the stories of heroines who contributed to the movement with actions ranging from the suffragettes’ marches, to the impactful writing of Maya Angelou, to Hillary Clinton’s career, which has helped pave the road for other women pursuing work in politics.

We must not forget that feminism, at its best, is a movement with a message and a goal. When I say that I am a feminist, I want people to think less of hyped, edgy campaigns and celebrity babble, and more of the men and women who have taken concrete action to advocate for equality between the genders.