What is Feminism?

The F word. No, not that one. “Feminism.” What do we mean when we call ourselves “feminists?” Some people would say that we're advocating for the equal rights of all gender identities. Others will say that we want women to be more powerful, or treated differently, than men. Others still will argue that maybe we hate men! (Spoiler alert: nope). So which of these is accurate?

Let's start with some definitions.

According to Merriam-Webster, feminism is “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes” and “organized activity on behalf of women's rights and interests.” Per Wikipedia, feminism is “a range of political movements, ideologies, and social movements that share a common goal: to define, establish, and achieve political, economic, personal, and social equality of the sexes. This includes seeking to establish educational and professional opportunities for women that are equal to such opportunities for men.”

What phrase do these definitions have in common? “Equality of the sexes.” Equality. Not one sex being more powerful than the other or having dominion over the other. Feminism is *not* about women overpowering men. It's about having equal opportunity, equal rights, equal pay, equal representation…you get the idea.


These definitions both mention sex so it's important here to acknowledge the difference between gender and sex. Wikipedia offers a great explanation: “The distinction between sex and gender differentiates sex (the anatomy of an individual's reproductive system, and secondary sex characteristics) from gender, which can refer to either social roles based on the sex of the person (gender role) or personal identification of one's own gender based on an internal awareness (gender identity.)” Modern feminism – when it's inclusive and representative – acknowledges that gender is a spectrum and everyone – however they identify – deserves equality. So while the definitions might make it sound like feminism is just for those with biologically female reproductive systems and sex characteristics, the reality is that feminism fights for everyone

Everyone? Even folks who identify as men? Yes! Feminism is absolutely also for men. In this Everyday Feminism article, Katy Kreitler writes, “Feminism is about changing gender roles, sexual norms, and sexist practices that limit you and punish you whenever you deviate from them.” There is a whole host of behaviors and social norms that restrict and harm men in our society, from looking down on what have been considered to be traditionally feminine behaviors and hobbies to social stigma for choosing stay-at-home fatherhood or careers in historically traditionally female spaces.

Feminism is about equality. Period. For everyone. Really!

The Importance of Intersectionality

Before we leave the topic of defining feminism, it's important to recognize that the feminism we practice here at Feminists Act! is intersectional. What does this mean? Originally coined by Kimberle Crenshaw, it means that we acknowledge and honor that one's feminism – one's beliefs in the advancement of the equal social, political, and economic rights of all individuals, regardless of sex or gender – cannot and should not be separated from one's race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, nationality, immigration status, religion, abilities/disabilities, etc. We are complex beings, with multiple levels of identity, living in a society with multiple inequities, so the reality is that many of us are navigating multiple systems of oppression and discrimination at the same time.

Basically, being an intersectional feminist means believing in two truths: 1) there is no such thing as one universal feminism and 2) people experience the world differently based on their own identity and this will absolutely affect, influence, and sometimes challenge their feminism. (Want to learn more about intersectionality? Visit our page on the subject here.)

In short, here at Feminists Act!, we practice the philosophy espoused by Flavia Dzodan: “My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit.”

Want to learn more about feminism, including its historical roots?  Here are a few of our favorite articles:

Ready for next steps?

Explore key feminist issues and intersectionality.  Then consider how you can get involved and learn about the many ways to take action.