“You’re not a feminist, are you?” This is a question that I have been asked often. I am proud to be a woman and believe that everyone, irrespective of gender, should have equal access to opportunities—not less, not more, just equal. This comes across clearly in my conversations and interactions.
But perhaps what does not come across in these same conversations is anything about pulling men down, hating men, or giving women any unfair advantage. I believe this is why, at the end of a typical conversation on this topic, I have been asked this question, “You’re not a feminist, are you?” This question is aimed as a compliment, but it really demonstrates that feminism is still viewed through a negative lens. My typical response is “I am actually a feminist but my focus is on equity for women and this has nothing to do with men.”
Pew Research Center recently reported that 61% of women and 40% of men in the US describe themselves as feminists. 64% of Americans say feminism is empowering and has contributed to the advancement of women’s rights, whereas 45% of Americans say that it is a polarizing word.
I am actually a feminist but my focus is on equity for women and this has nothing to do with men.
Feminism originated in the 1800s with a focus on getting women the right to vote and own property. By the 1960s, feminism came to be associated with bra-burning and man-hating. When one marginalized group asks for equal rights, there is a natural tendency to interpret it as a zero-sum game. Feminism has suffered the same fate. Pop culture references and Hollywood may have added fuel to that fire because that form of violent, angry feminism is more newsworthy. Most women I know do not align with that caricature.
There is a wide body of statistics that show how elevating the rights of 50% of the global population, i.e. women, will benefit everyone. Increasing women’s employment rates in certain countries to match that of Sweden, a leading nation in gender equality, could boost global GDP by over $6 trillion. According to a McKinsey study on gender diversity, their researchers estimate that companies with three or more women in senior management functions score higher in all dimensions of organizational performance. The data shows that if women get equal participation in key decision making, the entire company benefits. Extrapolating that to countries, having female leadership at top levels in the government would mean better decisions get made and economies prosper.
By the 1960s, feminism came to be associated with bra-burning and man-hating.
In other words, it’s safe to say that feminism is not only about women’s rights, it’s about human rights. If you look at how countries with female leadership have fared through COVID (much better), this point is very evident! The benefit of women’s participation in key decision making in families, businesses, and countries is about bringing a diverse point of view, one that can complement a male point of view and hence allow for a wider perspective.
With the recent passing of feminist icon RBG, the place of feminism in our society and in our courts is in more jeopardy than ever. But it also takes me back to her own definition of feminism.
“Feminism...the simplest explanation, and one that captures the idea, is a song that Marlo Thomas sang, ‘Free to be You and Me.’ Free to be, if you are a girl—doctor, lawyer, or Indian chief. Anything you want to be. And if you’re a boy, and you like teaching, you like nursing, you would like to have a doll, that’s OK too. That notion that we should each be free to develop our own talents, whatever they may be, and not be held back by artificial barriers...” — Ruth Bader Ginsburg in My Own Words
Because, this is what feminism truly is: an inclusive approach to getting equal access to opportunity so every human can reach their true potential and where every human is free to be whoever they want to be, without “artificial barriers.”
That notion that we should each be free to develop our own talents, whatever they may be, and not be held back by artificial barriers...” — Ruth Bader Ginsburg in My Own Words
Unfortunately, we lost RBG but her legacy will endure. As important as the legislative successes she won for women are, the way she did it may be even more so. With endless poise and grace, she helped create a new image of feminism: one in which the focus is on true gender equality, not just for women but also for men. One in which there is the lifting up of women but no tearing down of men. When no law firm in New York would accept her despite being a valedictorian, she started teaching law, a path that led her to the ACLU, and eventually to the Supreme Court. In her first few cases, she successfully leveraged male plaintiffs to demonstrate that sex-based discrimination hurts both genders equally.
She worked to normalize female equality as is evident by this exchange:
“When I'm sometimes asked when will there be enough [women on the Supreme Court] and I say, 'When there are nine,' people are shocked. But there'd been nine men, and nobody's ever raised a question about that.”
May her memory be a blessing. Here’s to us carrying on the legacy she built so tirelessly. Here’s to unconstrained female potential, unrestricted male potential, and unbound human potential.
WRITTEN BYTanu Grewal