I have not always been a feminist, at least not to the point of claiming the label as my own that I am at today. At one time not so long ago in my life, I would hear this word and sigh, thinking of the pair of self-identified feminists I knew that was in everyone's face. Now I hear the word and think immediately of empowerment.
Having grown up in a very small, rural community, people tended to be more conservative. Even the average liberal there was more conservative than a liberal from Chicago. Racism, sexism, and homophobia are not as prevalent as they once were, but many of the older folks struggle to understand that their prejudices are not acceptable. The few people that called themselves "feminists" made that their entire identity. I always felt like once they said that they were feminists, they stopped being people and just became this one identity.
When I came to college, however, I met some incredibly strong people who were uplifting and empowered me to be more confident in myself and my beliefs. These people were feminists. Their actions spoke louder than any of the voices I had heard in high school ever did. I started looking at the world around me, with all kinds of people who were not like me, and I began to see oppression. I began to see that I did, in fact, need feminism, despite what I had claimed in high school.
I need feminism because women leaving classes at night should be able to walk as freely and without fear as the men do.
I need feminism because I deserve the same employment opportunities that the men with my qualifications get.
I need feminism because my little brother should not be raised hearing, "boys will be boys," but instead should look for how to treat everyone around him with dignity and respect.
I need feminism because my little sister should not have to wear a sweatshirt to her P.E. class because boys make sexual comments about her body when she lifts weight otherwise.
I need feminism because there are women who are still being denied their rights, and as a woman, I am outraged by this.
I need feminism because not every man is bad and not every woman is a saint, but we deserve to all be judged based on our actions, not by our traits.
Because of where I come from and my first experiences with the word feminism, I did still struggle to find a definition of the word that explained simply what needed to happen without targeting anyone. In her piece "Feminist Politics," Bell Hooks said, "Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression," and I cannot think of a better definition. Feminism is not just women trying to be equal to men - there are ways that women are privileged that men are not, like in our justice system. Feminism is not a one-issue movement trying to get equal pay, it is a movement here to achieve equity for everyone, regardless of one's traits.
Feminism is not simply about gender, but also race and other characteristics that can lead to prejudices and discrimination. We have clearly sexist and racist politicians that think neither is an issue. But oppression exists every day, and with every intersection of non-majority identities, comes even more walls to fight against. I am privileged as a white person. I am not scared I will be beaten when a cop pulls me over for speeding. To be a person of color, feminine, not straight, poor, etc., is not just one cross to bear but many, and feminism is here to help shoulder that burden until we can finally get rid of the weight all together.