By Julieta Rodriguez

What’s my biggest pet peeve? Women who claim they’re not feminists.

Once I had a friend ask me, “Do you identify as a feminist?” And without hesitating I replied, “Of course.” To me, that question seemed so strange—how can one be a woman and not be a feminist? Is there really a woman on this planet who doesn’t care about her own rights, freedoms, and about being considered an equal? I doubt it.

So what does it mean, then, when we hear women say they’re not feminists? I think the answer is simple: women don’t want to be seen as militant man-haters. People tend to think of feminism as a radical movement and decide it is best not to be associated with it. In thinking only about the possible extremes of feminism, though, we ignore the fact that the majority of feminists are not at all extremists or fanatics. They are, in fact, people like you and me.

According to dictionary.com feminism is nothing more than “the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men.” This seems like an innocent enough definition; one that doesn’t risk offending, and is not radical. In fact, it simply appeals to an inherent desire to be treated equally and with respect—and there is nothing extreme about that desire.

Here is what worries me, though: the best way to cripple the feminist movement is to evade it by being too scared to associate ourselves with the word. We shouldn’t be so afraid of the assigned meanings of ‘feminism’.

We should instead focus on what it is supposed to stand for—the equality, not only of women, but also, of anyone who is undervalued.

The only way to truly have equality is to put aside our anxieties about this big bad word and decide, instead, to take it back; to make it ours again.

Of course, it is also necessary for men to embrace this word and realize the importance of women’s equality, but I think it’s even more important for women to come to this conclusion. If we are the ones to tear down the very movement that is concerned with our rights and freedoms, how can we reasonably expect men not to? How can we ever, as women, expect to be seen as equals, if we are constantly and consistently dissociating ourselves from feminism?

And another question: why are we so afraid of a word, anyway? In the end, it’s just a word—nothing more. We assign arbitrary meanings to all words, so why should we be so frightened by one possible meaning of ‘feminism’? I think the fear is completely unwarranted. We must not fear a simple word.

We must own it. If we do so, we will no longer hear people scoff and ask, “You’re not one of those feminists, are you?” as if it were such a terrible thing. It can never be a bad thing to fight for the rights of marginalized groups.

I am a woman and I am a feminist. That word does not intimidate me. I am not afraid of the meanings people assign to it, because I know what it is supposed to stand for. I believe in the equality of all women, and all marginalized individuals.

If that makes me radical, so be it—but I think it simply makes me human.

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