"Are you a feminist, Jacob?"
"Because I don't believe that women are superior to men."
"That's not what feminism means... where did that even come from?"
"What? What does it mean? My AP U.S. History teacher told me that's what it was!"
"It just means I'm equal to you. All women are equal to all men, basically."
"Oh. Sure, then I'm a feminist"
The above conversation is one that I had with one of my closest male friends. This conversation happened in 2015. (Insert cliché rhetorical question such as "It's 2015 and men still don't know what feminism is?" Answer: yes.)
Femininity is used to describe the stereotypical actions or mannerisms often performed by women -- the female version of manliness. Why then, wouldn't "feminism" mean the superiority of women? Jacob's insight into the genuine definition of feminism is, in retrospect, very similar to any other time you have thought a word meant something it sounds like it should mean. It is thus unsurprising that people, especially men, do not look at the word "feminism" and infer that it equates to "equality for both genders," but instead complete subordination of men by women.
The word "feminism" itself has made the question "Are you a feminist?" rise in popularity. This is particularly interesting because there isn't a word like "feminist" in the context of race. No one asks an individual if one isn't racist, so why does society feel the need to ask an individual if one isn't sexist? "Feminist" and "feminism" have created an ideological divide amongst individuals. Men in particular seem to feel as if they are surrendering a portion of their masculinity if they publicly support any principle with the prefix "fem-." Racists usually don't want to be identified as "racists." Similarly, sexists don't want to be identified as "sexists."
Yet, not identifying as a feminist is without a doubt a hall pass to perceived sexism. The English language's terminology is slowly becoming more tolerant of sexism, simply because one doesn't have to identify as a "sexist" to be one. If one does not believe in the equality of men and women, this inherently makes the person sexist. If women aren't equal in the work force (which they aren't), or in any other field, discrimination exists on the basis of gender. Discrimination on the basis of gender is sexism. Understand how this works?
The solution to this problem is not to strive towards the elimination of the words "feminist" and "feminism." These words obviously play a vital role in the movement itself, and are not the sole cause of gender inequality in a larger sense. Talking about feminism and opening the door for discussion is the best way to get the ball of equality rolling down the rocky hill that is American society. It's important to make it well known that feminism is for everybody, because equality is for everybody.
Conversations like the one I had with Jacob are important conversations to have. Knowledge can be overwhelming at times; a simple discussion that includes a clarification of what feminism is can prevent confusion and frustration for those who have not come to terms with the logic that is feminism.