When I was in college, I randomly took a course in Women's Studies. On Day 1, before the phrase "objectification in advertising" was even a glimmer in my professor's eye, she asked us to raise our hands if we identified ourselves as feminist. Now, at this time, 'feminist' was a bit of a dirty word - a label often associated with man-hating, razor-deprived, fetus-slaughtering, hardcore liberals...or those hermit women you read about in The Enquirer who live with 27 cats (but that's a different term called 'mentally unstable'). Taking the safe route, I held my hand up at half-mast, not ready to be condemned as a flaming political activist, but also not content to be labeled an aspiring baby portal. I ended up learning many things in that class - most importantly, that, despite my preconceived notions, I had been a feminist all along.
As far back as I can remember, we always received mail for a Michele Spring, even though we lived in a Pelcher household. My mom and dad shared many things (giggity giggity), but never a bank account. My mother would tell me horror stories from her first marriage about how she tried to get her own credit card, but was denied until her husband, who had a significantly worse credit score, signed off on it. Oh, and that this was a recurring conversation that happened in her house growing up:
Mom: If two people eat, two people should do the cooking and dishes. If two people dirty the clothes, two people should do the laundry.
Grandma: If you think that way, you'll never catch a husband.
Mom: ...then I don't want one.
Needless to say, feminism is in my DNA. My mom always told me that I could do anything I want in life, and not in a revolutionary "Take Down the Patriarchy!" sort of way, but rather in a "This Is a Normal Human Expectation To Have" sort of way. Because this was how my parents raised me, I was convinced that the horror stories of yore were behind us, that surely - surely- society had come to a consensus that this was the only appropriate way to approach life.
....and then I read about Men's Rights Activists (this is a real thing, guys) accusing Charlize Theron of hoarding all the testosterone in the Mad Max reboot. I hear a belligerent male author tell a successful female commentator that she would be "much happier at home with a husband and kids." I see an entire tumblr devoted to women posting "Anti-feminism" selfies because they like to wear dresses and somehow think the two conflict. And that's when I realize that we are not as far along as I'd hoped.
I can't tell you how many times I've dropped the F bomb in a conversation with a guy and have seen their confidence instantly die behind their eyes. All of a sudden they're afraid to say that boobs are awesome for fear that I'll be offended (boobs are awesome. This is just a fact of life, people) or to touch my arm for fear that I'll call out "rape." Dear Future-Men-That-I-Encounter, know this: I'm not going to castrate you for offering to pay for my meal. I'm not going to make your ballsack into a change purse simply because you held the door open for me. And I will not force you to pursue a Castrato solo career because you told me I looked great in that dress. All I ask is that you act not out of chivalry, but out of basic human kindness. Let me cover the next meal. Keep the door open for the middle-aged man walking up behind me. Tell your bro that that new hipster beard he's growing is coming in nicely. Whatever you do for me, be prepared to do for all other people.
Because here's the thing: the definition of feminism is, quite simply, the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. That's it. No extra clauses. No hidden fees.
It's not about man-hating. If it were, that would be kind of counterproductive, don't you think? I mean, if it is about achieving equality, then wouldn't taking men down a notch just mean that we're purposefully lowering our standards? That's just foolish, now.
It isn't about forcing every woman into the work place, either. You can be a feminist and a stay-at-home mom at the same time (I know, brain just exploded, right?). Feminism isn't about forcing yourself to have a professional career if you don't want one; it's about allowing you the choice to guiltlessly pursue either path.
So, please, my friends, educate yourself, and not just in statistics but also in the act of empathy. As much as I now wear this dirty little F word as a medal of honor, I secretly long for the day when the word Feminism is obsolete- because, hopefully, that will mean that we have stopped seeing each other through the lens of gender and have started seeing each other through the lens of humanity.