What is Feminism? Definition, Connotations and Action

By Pia Johansson

Sometimes when I say that I am a feminist, I get weird reactions. People, including women, seem annoyed, and seem to think that as a feminist I believe that women are better than men, that women deserve more than men, that men’s role in society should be reduced, and that this should be achieved by any means and at any cost. But this is sexism towards men, and has nothing to do with feminism. What I believe is that women should be valued and treated as equal to men. It is also clear that women who do identify as feminists have different definitions of what it means. Some women claim not be feminists. So, what’s going on?
Let’s start at the beginning. So, what is the definition of feminism? Both Merriam-Webster and Wikipedia talk only of equality and the aim or struggle to achieve it.

Definition of feminism
1:the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes
2: organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests

And from Wikipedia: “Feminism is a range of political movements, ideologies and social movements that share a common goal: to define, establish, and achieve political, economic, personal, and social equality of sexes. This includes seeking to establish educational and professional opportunities for women that are equal to those for men.”

So far, so good. But when we look at Urban Dictionary, things start to get interesting. This is the top definition:

The biggest disgrace to my gender.
Feminism used to be about women getting the same rights as men, such as the right to vote and equal pay at work.
Now feminism is a movement full of women who seem to think that their ability to push a baby out of their vagina entitles them to bigger and better everything.

Yes No text with young womanI am a young woman and I disagree with feminism. 

It is pretty hypocritical to expect to be treated special because you are a female(such as tighter laws concerning rape or more leniancy [sic] if a woman becomes pregnant) yet they get upset when they aren’t being treated exactly like a man. The feminists need to realize that women are not better than men. They are EQUAL. You don’t see any laws that provide special treatment for men do you?

Is this really what feminism has become?

I think we are facing two problems here: first, people don’t know their history and in some cases, their surroundings. Many don’t realise that just one hundred years ago, women were not allowed to vote or to own property (or run in marathons!), and that these rights came about through the work of brave, strong and visionary women and not through the sudden insight of inequality from the patriarchy (here’s a link to a History of feminism article). Secondly, and maybe more importantly, if you think that women and men are already equal (i.e. if you are unaware of wage gaps, discrimination in the workforce, etc.) then of course you wonder what feminists are on about. The actual, logical conclusion would be to think that they want more than equality. The second problem is what connotations a word has. Once again Urban Dictionary helps me out:

Way for absolutely ANY girl (be it teacher, classmate, boss, co-worker, hell even the girl who works the late shift at burger king) to give you selfrighteous bullshit for a full halfhour about rights and discrimination when you’ve never done anything to a girl in your life and half the shit she’s talking about never even concerned her and happened before you were even born. This generaly results in everyone within earshot to look down on you when 97% of the time you didn’t even say anything wrong.
Many people are victims of this everyday but can do nothing because the moral highground has been stolen by whichever women pulled feminism on you.
John- “hey gary why the long face?”
gary- “last night I was talking about the olympics with amy and she asked why the men and women had separate events, I just said it was cause otherwise it wouldn’t be fair, but she pulled feminism on me and locked me out of the flat cause she said I was a pig…” [sic]

First, let me pause to roll my eyes here and be quite annoyed. “Things that never concerned her and happened before she was born”. Oh well, if it doesn’t concern me then it’s obviously fine. Please tell me more about what concerns me.

Anyway, here it’s clear that for some men (and women), feminism has become a bad word and a joke. All feminists are bitches and witches and are all radical and militant. Now, I don’t mind being called a witch or a bitch by the guys as quoted above, but I am neither radical nor militant. To tie it in to the other post: I do not want something special because I am a woman, but I also do not want to be discriminated against because of it.

Woman Suffrage. 1920 - 1970. US Postage.
So, what to do? Reclaim the word

Definitely, but it is hard. Comments like “But what about men?” and “Men matter, too!” and “Why isn’t there an International Men’s Day?” (there is, November 19th) will probably not go away. Of course, we don’t need or want men like that on our side, but I do not like the anger feminism seems to fuel But perhaps that is just inevitable, the privileged are often not happy when their privilege is removed. Further, a friend once said that she wasn’t a feminist because she wanted equality for everyone, not just women. Now, I don’t think being for women’s rights means being exclusively for women’s rights, but if one is just pro-equality, then it doesn’t highlight the specific issues with each discriminated group, and as a result we all become smaller, we speak with fewer voices, and we have less impact.

I started this piece thinking it isn’t a fight, it isn’t a battle, but I think it is. And that’s, of course, why there are so many emotions: battles are tough. And we still have a lot of work to do, not only on a global scale (because oh my, here we have a lot do!), but also here in Europe and North America. Just look at everything that came out with #metoo. If young women don’t realise that there is still so much inequality in their world, then we have work to do. If men think that feminism is a joke, then we have work to do. So, I will march and I will fight, for those who fearlessly paved the way, for my sisters, for me and for my daughters.

And maybe that’s what a feminist is – someone who is willing to take the stand.



Research Scientist (neurobiology), mother of two and working-mum. Expat for almost 20 years (Australia and Munich and a short wild stint in Dublin many many years ago). In the throws of being re-patriated to Sweden with my Australian husband.

Likes talking, running and talking about running. And chocolate (although mostly 85% these days, crazy as that sounds). In addition to staying fit and eating healthily and raising happy healthy children I dream of doing something a little bit creative like writing or becoming a photographer. Or at least organise our photos soon.

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