I still vividly remember the first time I openly stated that I am a feminist, during a class in high school. My Theory of Knowledge teacher instructed his students, “If you think you’re a feminist, raise your hand.” The question caught everyone off guard — there was a brief moment of silence when my classmates and I just looked at each other, unsure of what to do. As feminism was not a topic that we often discussed in our daily conversations, we were all taken aback. To make sure what I vaguely knew about feminism was correct, I asked, “Isn’t feminism essentially advocating for gender equality?” My teacher smiled and looked at me. Another student said, “Well, if feminism means that, shouldn’t we all be feminists?” That was when people in the classroom started raising their hands one by one, until every hand was raised.
If this open and step-by-step approach were the attitude that most people held when they talk about feminism, the number of people who identify as feminists would be much larger than it is now. Unfortunately, the reality is that the public often has preformed ideas about feminism, misconceptions that hinder them from engaging in informed conversations about this topic. For example, when talking with a group of friends back home in Korea, a peer started to say that he doesn’t really like feminism. Another friend responded, telling the whole group that we should stray from political conversations. These two comments struck me as particularly problematic, for feminism is not something that should be simply “liked” or “disliked,” nor should it be strictly defined as a political issue that people can take sides on.
Misconceptions about feminism vary, but some recurring themes are the association of feminism with the perceived desire of women to bring men down and their ostensible hatred of men. Yet the dictionary definition of feminism is as follows: “The theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes; or organized activity on behalf of women's rights and interests.” Nowhere in the official definition listed does it say that feminism is a vicious movement led by women who hate men and desire to subjugate them.
If so many of the misconceptions of feminism have to do with the bias associated with feminist women, should feminism be called something neutral like a “gender equality movement?” Not only does this seemingly neutral term sound a lot more wordy, it also takes out the emphasis on the female identity that has made feminism so powerful. Yes, some types of feminism such as radical feminism, which emphasizes the patriarchal roots of inequality and aims to dismantle the patriarchy, do have an element of women being angry — not at the entire male population, but at the systems of gender inequality in this world. Whether people like it or not, feminism originated from women who found existing patriarchal societies problematic, and we need to respect that women are core constituents of feminism. Yet, this does not at all mean that feminism should only be for women. In fact, there is a dire need for more, if not all, men to become feminists as well.
On the surface, there seems to be less of an incentive for men to be feminists because they do not have much to risk compared to women. But for the feminist movement to succeed in dismantling patriarchal social systems and giving everyone regardless of their sex and gender equal opportunities, men must become feminist. I believe feminism at its core is the acknowledgement of the fact that the world is not at all fair. Gender inequality is prevalent everywhere, ranging from the pay gap between men and women to work-life balance. This constitutes the first argument for why men should be feminists: The world is problematic, and it is just not right for men to sit back and continue the unjust social structure that discriminates against women.
The next argument is that feminism actually liberates both men and women from social pressures. Some may question this argument, thinking that men already have the power to pursue whichever role in society they want. But in reality, gender stereotypes and social conditioning pressure people to take on or avoid certain jobs. For example, men are told not to be hair stylists or flight attendants, while women are told not to have military careers or take on any “dangerous” work. Feminism can bring us closer to a society with no gender inequality, in which everyone can choose to take on roles they fit best in, not ones they are pressured into.
Finally, feminism has tangible economic benefits for the world as a whole. According to a McKinsey Global Institute report, $12 trillion could be added to global GDP by 2025 by advancing women’s equality. If everyone regardless of gender identity can contribute to the economy and occupy various positions in society, the world can truly become a better place.
I’d like to admit that I still have a lot to learn about the history of the feminist movement and what it means to be a feminist. However, I still believe with confidence that I am a feminist. As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie puts it, “a feminist is a man or a woman who says, ‘Yes, there's a problem with gender as it is today, and we must fix it. We must do better.’” I think the world today is plagued with gender inequality, and I want this to change. Therefore, I am a feminist. And you, especially if you’re a man, should be one too.
Daniel Kim ’21, a Crimson Associate Editorial Editor, is a Government concentrator in Leverett House.