5 ways to use the "f" word without being a feminazi
“If you still hate the word, it is not the word that is important. It’s the idea and the ambition behind it."
I was once asked the quintessential first date question, “So tell me, what do you look for in a guy?” After a long moment of thoughtful silence I replied, “I want a guy who has a sense of humor, is ambitious, intelligent, and he has to be a self-proclaimed feminist.” It is at this point that my date literally sputtered. Fortunately, this was not during the dinner portion of our date, and I did not have to dodge possible spit-take projectiles. However, I was forced to face the aftermath of dropping the dreaded “F” bomb.
My date’s sheer consternation that he was on a date with a feminist, in addition to his confusion that this feminist was attracted to her male counterparts, lead me to conclude that the two of us were operating under significantly different understandings of the word. He then expressed that he associates feminism with man-hating extremism, the death of chivalry, rejection of “girly” things, and the single-minded domination of mankind. It is at this point that I invited him back to my place for my nightly bra-burning ritual. He didn’t seem to think that was funny, so I moved on to explain that what he was describing was not actually feminism, and it certainly wasn’t me. Despite this, I spent the duration of our date opening my own doors.
I have come to find that this negative association with feminism is common among both the men and women I interact with on a daily basis. In certain circles, I have found that feminism carries a similar taboo as “F” word profanity. All too often I hear women begin sentences with, “I’m not a feminist but...” before expressing disgust with regard to misogyny or calling for gender equality. It’s at moments like these that I wish I carried around “I’m a Feminist” stickers just so I could slap them on people’s foreheads. However, in support of feminism and not applying labels to others, I will refrain. From my perspective the taboo of being a “Feminazi”—a man-hating, bra-burning, femininity-rebuking extremist –is fostering misinterpretation and disconnection with the feminist cause. In an attempt to address what I regard as a serious problem, I have outlined five tips to help combat the practice of Feminazism and its association with true feminism.
1. Know Which “F” Word You Support
“Simply put, feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression.”
The term “Feminazi” suggests the interplay of feminism and fascism. This association proves contrary to the reality of the feminist cause. Unlike fascists, feminists emphasize subjective choice for the individual. Feminism seeks to support all humans—regardless of sex, gender, sexual orientation etc.—in the pursuit of equal opportunities, in the freedom of self-expression and identity, and in the ability to act as subject, and agent in each of their respective lives. Hopefully, at this point it is clear that we are dealing with two very different “F” words.
It’s necessary to come to a full understanding of what feminism is before either supporting or rejecting it altogether. A complete definition of feminism will allow supporters to understand how to speak about their cause and act in a more effective way. Moreover, this understanding will hopefully deter those who disagree with freedom of choice and gender equality to identify under a more fitting term—like, I don’t know, sexist? Additionally, by making a distinction between Feminazis and Feminists, those skeptical of feminism may be more likely to outwardly support it.
2. Recognize That Feminism Does Not Exclude Men
“I do call myself a feminist. Absolutely! It’s worth paying attention to the roles that are sort of dictated to us and that we don’t have to fit into those roles. We can be anyone we want to be.”
“Though we have the courage to raise our daughters more like our sons, we’ve rarely had the courage to raise our sons like our daughters.”
- Gloria Steinem
I was not exaggerating when I said that I love me a male feminist. Perhaps the name is misleading, but feminism is not just for females and works to benefit men as well. Equality of rights and opportunities is mutually beneficial to the sexes. The freedom to choose and reject gender roles is also mutually beneficial. Patriarchy manages to box men into similarly limiting constraints as women, such as the norms of working outside of the home, rejecting vulnerability, and adhering to other standards of masculinity. Thus, it’s not completely out of the question that men would identify as feminists. In a cause which seeks to undermine patriarchy and sexism, it seems counterintuitive to hate or exclude men. Moreover, men should realize that they have a stake in feminism, even if they do lack bras to burn.
3. Allow for a Multiplicity of Gender Expression
“A huge part of being a feminist is giving other women the freedom to make choices you might not necessarily make yourself.”
- Lena Dunham
Despite its critique and questioning of gender roles, feminism does not attempt to remove femininity from women or masculinity from men. The purpose of feminism is to remove the restraints and standards for what it means to be feminine and masculine and allow for a multiplicity of gender expression. This is furthering the feminist respect for choice and possibility for difference.
Feminists support the choice to reject patriarchal gender norms through appearance and activities, through occupation, and through diverging sexual orientation. However, they also support the choice to embrace traditional norms, such as motherhood, heterosexual marriage, and wearing makeup. The choice of expression does not matter to feminists, it is the ability to choose that is important. It’s okay to be feminine or masculine, but you get to define what that means.
4. Have Reasonable Cause Before Murdering Chivalry
“There’s no chivalry in culture anymore. Sometimes you meet someone who everyone says is polite and you’re like, ‘Wow,’ but then it’s like, ‘Hang on, isn’t everyone supposed to be polite?’”
It is my belief that chivalry and feminism do not have to be mutually exclusive. I understand the argument against chivalry as a form of benevolent sexism, wherein chivalry conveys a regard for women as weak and helpless—despite men’s good intentions.
In this matter, I think that intent needs to be given greater consideration. I regard acts of chivalry, such as opening doors, pulling out my chair, and volunteering to help me with simple tasks as a show of respect and kindness. Moreover, I think respectful chivalry requires reciprocity between the sexes—returning help and kindness in equal measure. Reimagining chivalry to be a reciprocation of kindness and respect is an expression of feminist ideals. Because I know that when I open doors for others, it is not a reflection of the other person’s incompetence. It’s merely a kind gesture and a nice thing to do.
5. Drop the “F” Bomb, Then Stay for Discussion
“Feminism is not a rulebook, but a discussion, a conversation, a process.”
- Tavi Gevinson
“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”
- Winston Churchill
It’s clear to me, that many people are merely unfamiliar with the true definition of feminism. When there is a lack of understanding, conversation is the best way to educate people on differing perspectives. Don’t be afraid to talk about feminism, whether you support it or not. Raise questions and offer critiques. Don’t merely call an individual out as misogynistic, wrong, or offensive, but take a step further and explain to that person why you regard their behavior and speech negatively in light of your feminist ideals.
Most importantly, be willing to listen to your conversational counterpart, especially when confronted with dissenting opinions. Through the act of listening, your voice is more likely to be heard. Do not let a hot topic obliterate the possibility for conversation and mutual understanding. It’s always better to have an honest conversation about your perspective than to fling corrections at people. Feminism isn’t a rulebook that dictates behavior for others, it is more of an attitude and a mindset than a system of behaviors. So allow for the process of discussion and conversation, it’s paramount to the success and clarity of your ideas.
“Feminism is not a dirty word. It does not mean you hate men, it does not mean that you hate girls that have nice legs and a tan, and it does not mean you are a bitch or a dyke, it means that you believe in equality.”
- Kate Nash
As a self-proclaimed feminist, it is my hope that we can distance ourselves away from the taboo of the Feminazi. It is my hope that we can entice more men to join the cause and not distance them through seeming exclusion. I hope to make choices that allow for the full expression of Izzy-defined femininity; to wear make-up, flirt with boys, play fantasy football, and provide competition in the corporate world.
I hope to open as many doors for others as others have opened doors for me. I hope to have plenty of “F”ing-awkward dates where I’m asked those critical questions and am able to provide answers that reveal feminism to not be a dirty word.