What is a Feminist and do we Still Need Them?

Recently I had lunch with a 34-year-old son of a friend. He was very interested in my blog topic but was curious about what is a modern day feminist – having had, what he called, less than fun encounters with some strong women.

Similarly, a few weeks back I was chatting with a mid-50’s male lawyer colleague who opined that given all the laws now in place, there is probably no more need for feminists and activism.

Of course, “this got me musing” about feminism of the past and the present and what is a feminist and whether or not we still need them.

My Definition of Feminism

Let’s start with my definition of a feminist . . . . a person (man or woman) who believes the sexes should have equal opportunity notwithstanding the differences between the sexes and works toward that end. 

My daughter, who is 30 and a social justice activist, surprised me by disagreeing with my definition. In her opinion, one can be a feminist without being an activist. She and many of her friends would consider themselves feminists but are not necessarily out there carrying banners – not sure but perhaps this has to do with how relatively easy the Millennials have had it and the current controversy about the “f-word”.

Whether you chose my definition or my daughter’s, the equal opportunities to which I refer in my definition include education, employment, healthcare, politics, sports, the arts, religion, medicine, law, finance, government, corporate governance, film, music, writing, military and every other aspect of life that you can think of.

It’s Not About Man-Hating

Feminism has zero to do with one’s opinion of men – but has everything to do with wanting women to have all the advantages historically afforded to men.

It’s Not About Opening the Door 

Feminism has zero to do with manners. Men opening doors, carrying parcels, walking on the outside of the sidewalk and paying for dinner (not all the time but on a more equal basis), or doing other traditional “manly” chores such as handy-man work around the house, are all fine and in fact, are welcomed my many – including me.

In the Old Days

The feminists of the past focused on obvious disparity in opportunities – such as the right to own property (and not be property), the right to vote, the right to work and receive equal pay. The feminists of the past were the suffragists, the promoters of the failed Equal Rights Amendment to the constitution and other legislation designed to even the playing field. Gloria Steinem and Bella Abzug were leaders of the early feminist movement (the 60’s through the 80’s).


In the New Days

Female feminists of today include some notable artists such as Patricia Arquette, Jane Fonda, Amy Schumer and Jessica Williams. Stand-outs in the political/governmental/global arena include Hillary Clinton, Angela Merkel, Christine Lagarde and Malala.

Let’s not forget contemporary male feminists – some famous such as Jon Legend, Alan Alda, the Dalai Lama and Jon Oliver, and some not so famous such as my boyfriend, my son-in-law, the guys I work with and most of the husbands of my friends. (I guess it’s apparent that I surround myself with like-minded people.)

Current Controversy About the Word “Feminist” 

Until I started this blog, I didn’t realize that the word “feminism” (a/k/a the f-word) was so explosive among many young people. Many do not self-identify as feminists, not because of their beliefs, but because they don’t want to be seen as controversial, man-hating, superior, and bitchy. Others avoid it because of a belief that it is too narrow – connoting a white middle-class older women’s thing. Most agree with equal opportunities and many have enjoyed such opportunities, but nonetheless avoid this moniker to avoid controversy. 

So, Do we Still Need Feminists? 

As my work colleague noted, there is a plethora of laws that prescribe equality – that said, the actualization of equal access still lags. 

For example, let’ s looks at politics and government.

  • Women in Senate – 20%
  • Women in House – 19.3%
  • Women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies – 5.2%
  • Women on Board of Fortune 500 companies – 17%

As an aside, according to a research study by Catalyst, a leading nonprofit organization dedicated to expanding opportunities for women and business, corporations that had more women board members performed significantly better than their counterparts with only male members (40 % higher sales and 50% more return on equity).

As for women in government, the key negotiators in the recent US/Cuba agreement were women on each side of the bargaining table.

Since women make up about half (50.8%) of the U.S. population and now make up over 50% of college graduates, as well as law, business, and medical school graduates, it is likely that, in the not too distance future (another couple generations) women will make up half or more of our governmental representatives, corporate executives and other positions of leadership in education and the arts. Leadership positions for women in the military, religion and sports will likely take a lot longer due to cultural mores and long standing and ingrained male dominance.

Given the numbers and notwithstanding significant progress that has been made since the 60’s, in my opinion, we still need activist feminists (as opposed to the kind that hold the equality beliefs but do not chose to identify) until such time that our numbers are spread evenly in societal leadership – only then will ALL women, both leaders and followers, of color and white have access to true equal opportunity.

For Those Who Like Lists   —— 5 Myths About Feminists 

  • they look down on men
  • they rebuff men’s courtesy
  • they look down on motherhood
  • they are bitchy and without humor
  • they don’t shave, wear makeup or have any style

Song for this Blog Post 

OMG – you’ve got to see and hear this video – talk about being right on the mark!




One thought on “What is a Feminist and do we Still Need Them?

  1. I think you have to agree that while we’ve come a long way baby – there are still gross inequalities across the board in the workplace, board room, government, at CEO level, etc. etc.


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