THE BLOG
11/01/2013 11:03 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

The Rules of Feminism

Stereotypes equated to feminism: matriarchal society, shun all men, lesbians, no marriage, no chivalry, don't take your husband's name, preach your beliefs, reject the Bible or any other religious teaching, put more women in the military, hate the idea of family, don't shave, pro-choice, are never, ever, under any circumstance, a man.

How many of these are correct? It's impossible to know, because feminism is whatever one wants it to be.

Many more people than we realize are feminists. A feminist is a person who believes that women and men should have equal rights. For example, a feminist believes that women and men doing the same job should receive equal pay. Feminists who are perceived as more radical or intense, however, have been labeled in popular culture as "feminazis."

Stereotypically, women are not supposed to be associated with the word aggressive. When feminists came about and some were more radical or open about their beliefs than others, the whole feminist culture got labeled as "aggressive" and "masculine." They were believed to seek to "exterminate," or rather, be superior to the male race, hence the term "feminazi." Many girls who identify as feminists often do not want to be labeled "aggressive" or "masculine," so many attempt to disassociate themselves from the term, "feminist" by saying that they are not "really a feminist," or that they "just believe that men and women are equal, but it's totally cool that guys open doors for us and stuff." Other times, a woman who does not want to be labeled a "feminazi" will start out a feminist sounding statement with the phrase "I'm not a feminist, but..."

Have we become this shy about asserting our rights? Feminists are often equated with negative connotations, as is anyone who takes their views to the extreme. Many feminists, however, are not asking for women to be superior to men, but rather, to be equals. In fact, they are not asking it, they are demanding it, but not in the way people expect. They are not advocating castration, shunning marriage, or shirking traditional gender activities. They are simply saying that if a woman can bake cupcakes, so can men. If men can use power tools, so can women. Many girls, however, are afraid to speak up about their feminism because of the fear of being labeled as a "feminazi."

Where are the people who are against the term "feminazi" and believe that a woman's rights do not need a label? Where are those who believe that women deserve to speak about their beliefs freely? Suppressing the feminist movement are these labels that women back away from for fear of being shunned. What is wrong with being labeled a feminist? Women are often so afraid of this term because of the stereotypes that come with it. It is a scary thought to think that one's beliefs will determine how well they are accepted into society.

The feminist movement has been active since the 1950s, where it is said to have started. Many say that the catalyst of the reaction was Betty Friedan's, The Feminine Mystique. Friedan discusses "the problem with no name" of the 1950s, where women were having physical reactions, such as rashes, to the stress of feeling unfulfilled in their lives. This was at a time when a woman's role was always in the house and men were considered inherently superior. Sadly, some of these beliefs still exist today.

A recent blog post entitled, "The Case Against Female Self Esteem," by Matt Forney begins with the sentence, "I'm just gonna come out and say it: I love insecure women." He then goes on to discuss how "confident" and "strong" women are instant turn-offs. He goes so far as to say that women should not have self-esteem because they have done nothing to deserve it. Among many points of a fairly similar nature, Forney makes out women to be objects only there for the pleasure of men. "Confidence doesn't give men erections; vulnerability does," he added, giving the line its own paragraph, as if that point answers all of the questions that women have about the male gender. He ends the essay by stating, "At the end of the day, there are no Strong, Independent Women™. There are only shrews pleading for a taming... I say we give them what they want." The most horrifying part of the whole essay is that as of October 19, 2013, 1,307 people commented on the essay, and a vast majority agreed with him. Forney's views are of the 1950s era, where women sat quietly next to their husbands, not speaking until spoken to.

Women are not objects. Women do not need to be told what they want or how they feel. Forney, however, seems to believe that the entire feminist movement is because society makes women feel entitled to self-esteem. Women are people too. Women are CEOs, entrepreneurs and doctors.

What about rape culture? Only fairly recently have rape shield laws come into practice. Finally, more and more people are moving away from the idea of victim-blaming. Asking a woman what she was wearing when she was raped is starting to become unacceptable. The double standard between the female "slut" and the male "player" still exists, but is starting to be broken down. Slut-shaming, although still common, is now starting to be considered more and more of a taboo. Society has shifted a small amount, and is working its way towards equality, however, not without a price. These cultural revisions are not often practiced until at play in a courtroom. Those who still believe in victim-blaming constantly criticize the feminist cause. The war for equality will take a large step towards victory when this stigma is removed.

Feminist-haters are especially harmful to younger feminists, such as those in high school. High school girls who are still trying to figure out who they are can be deeply impacted by social media and advertisements, which claim that teenage girls must look and act a certain way. The world isn't raising a generation of feminazis; it is raising a generation of a wide mix of girls, all still trying to figure out who they are. In order to advance women in society, feminists are necessary. Girls growing up in a world where feminism is considered unacceptable will not learn of the importance of their equality soon enough, if at all. This is why it is important to encourage girls to follow their dreams, in a male-dominated world. Finally, girls are being encouraged to join workforces traditionally only available to men, such as engineering. A woman who is married with a family, is a working mother, or a stay-at-home mom, can also be a feminist.

It should also be kept in mind that men can be feminists too. In fact, plenty of men are. It is often unacceptable for a man to come out as a feminist because often, especially among the high school population, he will be made fun of. In order for feminism to truly prosper, it must be acceptable for anyone to be a feminist, not just women.

So what are the rules of feminism? Nobody really knows. Some say that feminists should quietly practice their beliefs, while others think that women should go out there and preach feminism. Others believe that it is perfectly acceptable for a woman to be a feminist and act as a feminist without trying to actively spread feminism. Is it OK for a feminist to be a housewife? To be a man? To be a CEO?

Feminists cannot be grouped under one large definition. Just like any other civil rights group, they have an extremely large range of beliefs. Hopefully, a label on women's equality will not be necessary, because it will become commonplace. The feminist movement has a long way to go. Stereotypes need to be dispelled, and then women can finally live equally to men, without the fear of being shunned for wanting equal rights.