Column: The F-word: Reclaiming feminism

By Gus Bode

To borrow a phrase from the Vagina Monologues, I am worried about feminism. I am worried about calling myself a feminist and I am worried about not calling myself a feminist. I am worried about women.

I am worried about Paris Hilton, Carrie Bradshaw, Laura Schlessinger and Sydney Francis (my daughter). I am worried that an intelligent, hilarious, well-acted play put on to support the end of violence toward women only filled 50 percent of the seats. And I am really worried that the women who were brave enough to risk their comfort, careers and lives to stand up for us are getting a bad rep; a reputation of only being women with hairy armpits who burn bras, reject mothering, hate men and force abortions on to unsuspecting bystanders. I’m worried enough to ask you to reconsider who these women were and are to you; worried enough to ask you to reclaim the word feminism.

To be a feminist is to work for political equality. The roots of feminism lie in the abolitionist and sufferage movements of the late 1800s. Early feminists could be found working to facilitate the Underground Railroad or protesting for women’s right to vote. This theme of working for political equality continued into the 1960’s Women’s Liberation movement, which worked toward increasing women’s understanding and participation in politics. It was during this time that unequal access to education and political office were highlighted. Feminists today continue with this tradition, highlighting inequities in institutions by continuing to work at the frontlines of the equal pay movement and spear heading policy for equity in access to health care.


To be a feminist is to work for cultural equality. Early feminists fought to dismantle white, upper-middle class stereotypes regarding feminity. Feminists disparaged literature and media’s portrayals of women as drawing satisfaction soley from their roles as wife and mother. Through significant challenge to its original Eurocentric foundations,

feminism has expanded to acknowledge and work against cultural stereotypes around sexuality and race, embracing and advocating on behalf of women of color and sexual minorities. In fact, feminism as a paradigm highlights the influence of social power and circumstances in shaping our lives, making it an accessible framework for all people including minorities and men.

To be a feminist is to work for interpersonal equality.’ Finally, feminism is about daily, relational empowerment. For early feminists, this was as simple as asserting a woman’s right to have a voice at all, a say in the way money and family life was structured, a say in how her physical body was treated. In the extreme, this has meant actively working to help people from all backgrounds escape domestic violence or stop all forms of rape. On a more personal level, this means reminding women they are entitled to and cherised for having a voice.

Like soldiers, we owe these women our respect and our allegience. They do not deserve to bear the label whiny, ugly, bitchy or militant. Instead, they are our champions, our advocates and our protectors: a group with whom I feel honored to belong.

Emke-Francis is a psychology intern at the SIUC Counseling Center.