Why are we so afraid of it?
I recently heard a comment by actress Helen Mirren in a commencement address to Tulane University that made me sit up and say, “I am a feminist, too!”
“I didn’t define myself as a feminist until quite recently, but I had always lived like a feminist and believed in the obvious; that women were as capable and as energetic and as inspiring as men,” Helen Mirren said. She went on to say that feminism is a necessity “if we –and really by ‘we’, I mean you guys- are to move us forward.”
And that’s when I realized that I have been a feminist most of my life but had shied away from being labeled as a “feminist” as it might interfere with my career. Early in my professional life, we women (the few that were on the management track) didn’t realize the extraordinary value and power of supporting other women—not just on face value- but really getting in there and fighting for the advancement of women in every aspect of life.
I didn’t have many female role models and even fewer “feminist” male mentors. But I always had a belief that women were as capable as men. But, I didn’t begin to advocate for the advancement of women until later in my professional career when I was actually in a position to help make a different.
So what is “feminism?” At it’s core, feminism is about equality of men and women –equal rights and equal access to opportunities. It is about choice!
I listen to the young women of today saying, “Feminism is cool now.” They are fighting against campus sexual assaults, violence against women, and social injustice to name just a few of the issues that have caught their attention. They also have pop culture idols like Emma Watson, Beyoncé’, and Katie Perry who are outspoken activists for gender equality.
But there are still many (women and men) who resist calling themselves “feminists” or supporting the feminist “movement.” Is it because the word feminism is associated with strong, forceful, angry women? Or that feminism will bring about negative shifts in society, culture, power, and authority dynamics as well as job opportunities as women move toward equality with men, both in and outside the workplace?
While it is true that women’s leadership roles in business and government have increased in both visibility and importance in recent years, the pace of that increase could be significantly quicker. And it would be if men put actions behind their words of support for increased numbers of women CEOs, for a woman president, or for female leadership in any number of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields.
We can help feminism remain “cool” by using it to describe positive attributes that could change minds…and attitudes. The more the word is used in a positive way or to describe positive actions, the sooner men – even those who now are “closet feminists” – will be comfortable using it to describe themselves and/or their actions…as Helen Mirren now does.
We can stop labeling women or using loaded words that are often unhelpful. At work, women are more likely to have assessments that label them bossy or aggressive. The men would be called leaders.
All women need support in our efforts to gain credibility and respect in the workplace. So, please step up to publicly recognize and encourage women’s efforts to remove sexism from slowly changing environments, starting with the workplace.
Male feminists are very cool! Embrace that cool and stand up for women’s issues; you can share your positive views of feminism with other men. You can give up or share authority- a true sign of masculine strength and courage. You can change the way you speak about and treat women, not only in the workplace but also in all other venues.
Perhaps most difficult for men, challenge the negative views of feminism held among friends and colleagues.
Women and men, as feminist teammates, have the power to change the patriarchal nature of our workplace. And, that will be a good thing for both genders.
Whether or not you choose to call yourself a feminist, if you believe in the concept, what really matters is how you act. As Emma Watson said, “ If you stand for equality, then you are a feminist. Sorry to tell you.”