Definitions of ‘Feminist’

The name ‘feminist’ is a declaration of interest in women and of open commitment to women’s concerns.

– Lynne Spender, from Intruders On The Rights Of Men: Women’s unpublished heritage

For many women of color, especially young women, the word ‘feminist’ provokes an image that is antiquated, overtly-aggressive, anti-male and white.

Are You Feminist Enough?

In similar fashion, some misguided people think that ‘Feminist Is Not Necessarily A Compliment‘:

Feminism does not hold a monopoly on women’s activism, and it’s time that they start to understand this. If they truly want women to identify as feminist, rather than attempting to force this label on us, perhaps they should address the various issues which have caused so many to take issue with feminist organizing.

– as explained by Womanist Musings.

Do we really need a new word? You can’t go making up words like ‘womanist’ just because you don’t like the word ‘feminist’. Well, you can coin any new word you want. No one’s stopping you. It just seems ridiculous and unnecessary to me.

Feminism isn’t complicated. It is about treating individuals with respect. That’s it.

– from Libertarian Lou’s Blog

Here’s another explanation of a Straw Feminist, from Feminist Frequency.

I have always been a feminist, ever since I felt a simmering annoyance that my grandmother used to call my brother ‘a big girl’ and meant it as an insult. (To his credit, I’m not sure he bothered to take it as one.)

I was a feminist at university, though I didn’t realise it. But I did clean the office of a feminist sociologist as a part time job. The feminist used to came in early to work before I’d left after the earlybird shift, and she shared with me her views on women in the workforce, and noted with interest that although it was the women doing the bulk of the cleaning work, our cleaning bosses were men.

I had a feminist Japanese lecturer — a woman who specialised in Japanese literature, and who found much to shun about her own Japanese upbringing. She asked one day during class if anyone knew that New Zealand was the first country in the world to give women the vote, and of course I knew it, but I nodded quietly. She saw me nod, then asked me personally if I knew what year that was, and I knew full well that women first voted in the 1893 New Zealand election, but I wasn’t going to admit to such knowledge in front of all my peers, so I shook my head and looked at the floor. I looked up and saw the disappointment in my lecturer’s eyes. She said, ‘I would’ve thought you of all people would’ve known that, Lynley.’ I don’t know how I’d emanated the air of a feminist, especially when I wasn’t the type to speak up in class, but it still came through.

And after some reflection and a good number of years, I realised that if I do have feminist interests and feminist views, then it would be disingenuous to identify as anything but. I don’t wear t-shirts with feminist slogans, and I’d no more introduce myself as a feminist than as a reader of books. But it has to be acknowledged. I am what I am, despite the unfortunate connotations of the F-word. I do speak out when I see instances of sexism. I don’t let people get away with calling our female prime minister a childless whore. I speak up when young women are victim blamed for bringing rape upon themselves, whatever they’re wearing, whatever they’ve had to drink, wherever they were in the world. I encourage working female friends to make sure the fathers of their children take equal time off when their children are sick, because child-rearing should not be a women’s responsibility alone.


Many people don’t like the word, even though they do believe in equality between the sexes. I understand that reluctance, because I never used to like the word either. Maybe it’s because we think of Germaine Greer, or whoever. I happen to agree with a lot of what Germaine Greer says. She is the crazy woman who speaks the truth, and only occasionally pisses me off. But that’s by the by.

But ‘feminist’ is neither a compliment nor an insult, anymore than ‘dentist’ or ‘artist’ or ‘idealist’ is an insult.

Is it possible to be quietly feminist? Sure. I don’t think all feminists are open about it, more’s the pity. Likewise, many people are quietly Christian, or quietly atheist. I’m not suggesting that to be quietly feminist is better than being stridently so. It isn’t. If you refuse to stand up and say something when you see instances of sexism in your life, then you are not standing up for what you think is right, and that is what I’d call cowardly.

What if you reject the word altogether? Is ‘feminism’ the very end of a continuum, or is this a binary state? What is the flipside of ‘feminist’?

I’d like to posit that if you’re not ‘feminist’ (whether quietly or stridently), then you must be ‘sexist’. I can’t see how there can be any in between state.

First, you don’t have to be a woman to be a feminist. You don’t have to be shouting from rooftops about feminist issues (even if you are riding on the backs of those who have done so on your behalf.)

If you’re not ‘feminist’ — if you don’t believe in equal opportunity for men and women — then you are by extension, unavoidably and definitely ‘sexist’. Now, if you think that’s an insult, feel free to take it as one. I won’t argue.

Worth Reading:

I Do Not Turn Off My Feminism, from Persephone Magazine

No, but seriously… what ABOUT the Menz? from Freethought Blogs

What No-one Else Will Tell You About Feminism from Jezebel

Feminism Survey: Men on the street from Sociological Cinema

Myths About Feminism from Riot Grrrl

Is Feminist a Sexist Word? from Inside Higher Ed

A collection of high-profile women who have said they’re not feminist… while doing feminist type things and enjoying the benefits, collected by Salon

How To Spot A Feminist from Wom*News

‘Women’s Issues’ Are Men’s Issues from GMP