Most people have a somewhat old or inaccurate notion of what feminism is about. The meaning of feminism has dramatically evolved over the decades and each generation has developed the term in new directions. By general definition feminism is a philosophy in which women and their contributions are acknowledged and valued. It is based on social, political and economic equality for women. On the other hand, Webster’s dictionary defines feminism as ‘a theory of political, economic and social equality of the sexes.’ According to this anyone in the population can be a feminist; for example men, women, boys or girls. Feminism can also be described as a movement or a revolution that includes men and women who wish the world to be equal without boundaries. These boundaries are better known as discrimination and biases against gender, sexual orientation, age, marital status and economic status. Therefor feminism is based around the idea of men and women being equal.
While feminism began focusing more solely on issues related to being a woman, women do not experience their lives merely as women but also as women of different races, classes, sexual orientations and other groupings. This led to feminism expanding its focus to understanding how essentially everyone, men and women, are mistreated and exploited in socially acceptable ways due to their right status. Just like women in the beginning of feminist movement fought to have their voices and perspective included and valued, feminists today fight to include the voice and perspective of all groups who experience dominance in our society, which is pretty much every single person.
While many feminist proponents focus their campaigns on issues such as reproductive rights, domestic violence, maternity leave, equal pay, sexual harassment, discrimination and sexual violence other group of feminists identify discrimination, exploitation and oppression, and NOT men as the problem. Today feminism also acknowledges how patriarchy and other forms of social hierarchy can hurt men while giving them benefits at the same time. It calls for them to dominate, abuse, exploit and silence women and others in order to maintain superiority and the traditional roles for women and men. However most men in their heart do not want to treat women like this. They do not believe their self-worth and masculinity is tied to how many women they have sexual relationships with, how physically strong they are and how many people they can beat up. In fact they are socially encouraged to do so and fear punishments from other men if they stand up to these beliefs.
Feminism should be as much for men as it is for women in order to free them from the sexist and oppressive beliefs that they do not want to have. Men are also pushed into their conforming to their traditional gender roles, and socially punished when they do not conform. For example, men are expected not to express their feelings because ‘real boys don’t cry.’ They’re socially encouraged to only express their fear, pain and stress in the form of anger and violence. As another example, due to traditional gender roles, society thinks women are automatically better parents than men, despite the numerous examples of bad mothers and great fathers.
Both men and women can try to dominate each other and to be dominated, rewarding and punishing according to how much they fit into traditional definitions of gender, sexual orientation, race and class. In order to create a world where there is no domination, where people are valued for being who they are fully and freely, we need to strive to end the discrimination, exploitation and oppression of people due to their gender, class, race, sexual orientation and other differences. We should not let anyone dictate our lives, our likes and dislikes. We need to free our thoughts and actions to make meaningful choices in how we live our lives and pursue what makes us happy and fulfilling as human beings rather than living up to people’s standards.