Reporter's Notebook

What Does Feminism Mean Today?
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Atlantic staffers and readers debate the meaning of “feminism” and how it’s changed over the decades. To join in, send us a note:

Show 8 Newer Notes

Are You a Feminist? Cont'd

Many readers are emailing about Sophie’s frustration that a growing number of female celebrities are shirking the “feminist” label:

I’m male, and I used to think feminism was outdated, since women already achieved the right to vote and work. As time passed I came to realize feminism is still important, particularly in fighting sexual assault and slut-shaming … but am I a feminist?

There are some people who think, as Sophie implied in her note, that being a feminist just means general support of gender equality in the home, the workplace, the public sphere—so it would be crazy not to identify as one. But some other feminists believe that feminism requires commitment to a pretty specific political agenda, and I can’t honestly say I agree with all those policies. For instance, while it’s ideal for women and men to be paid the same for the same work, I don’t believe the government should police salary negotiations.

So whether or not I’m a feminist depends on your definition. I would like to be, but I’m not ultimately the one who gets to define the word.

Another reader doesn’t want anyone to define it:

The reason why everybody opposes feminism isn’t because of its message; it’s because it’s akin to a religious ideology. You do not decide for me, or anybody, that they are a feminist if they agree with a certain ideal or ideals.

Another is on the same page:

How words are defined is fluid and quite individualistic. It is part of the reason why there is so much miscommunication. Clearly there is something to the definitions these various female celebrities have offered if so many of them share similar views.

Several more readers sound off:

One of the main barriers to more people identifying themselves as feminists is a lack of clarity on what the term actually means. Not all feminists agree that gender equality is the ultimate aim of Feminism. Charlotte Proudman, the British barrister at the centre of the recent LinkedIn sexism controversy [which Sophie covered here], is a self-identified radical feminist who strives for liberation, not equality. She explains her rationale as follows:

Sophie writes forcefully of the “long list of female celebrities who’ve declined to identify themselves as feminists out of an assumption that the word implies widespread rejection or dislike of men.” She laments, as do I, that many people embrace the ideas of feminism but nevertheless recoil at the label:

Because whatever the history, whatever the nuances, whatever the charged sentiments associated with political activism, being a feminist is very simple: It means believing that women are and should be equal to men in matters political, social, and economic. They should be able to vote. They should have equal protection under the law and equal access to healthcare and education. They should be paid as much as their male counterparts are for doing exactly the same job. Do you believe in these things? Then, you are a feminist.

These seem like the kinds of things that women are likely to support. They also seem like the kinds of things that men are likely to support.

And I’d like to know when men do. It’s a shame that famous men (not only entertainers, but CEOs and politicians too) are so rarely asked whether they are feminists.

The French actress Marion Cotillard recently gave an interview to Porter magazine in which she said, “I don’t qualify myself as a feminist.”

We need to fight for women’s rights, but I don’t want to separate women from men. We’re separated already because we’re not made the same, and it’s the difference that creates this energy in creation and love. Sometimes in the word ‘feminism’ there’s too much separation.

Cotillard joins a long list of female celebrities who’ve declined to identify themselves as feminists out of an assumption that the word implies widespread rejection or dislike of men.

Shailene Woodley: