It’s move-in day: You and your roommate are lugging boxes up your five-floor walkup, and just as she’s making her ninth trip in, a guy beats her to the door. He opens the door to let her in first.
“No worries! You go ahead,” she says cheerfully.
The guy shrugs his shoulders and heads inside, holding the door ajar for her to follow.
“Just call me a feminist!” she laughingly mentions, seeing the look on your face.
Before you start picturing a bra-burning, Rosie the Riveter-type, don’t be so quick to judge. Today’s feminists are less about fighting for women’s rights and more about promoting gender equality. Despite feminism’s historically bad rap, it isn’t the extremist, man-hating movement that it has often been painted to be. And in case you missed it, actress and UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson started an uproar this past summer when she launched the HeForShe campaign, offering a fresh perspective on this side of feminism. Modern feminists can teach us a lot about true equality, and even more men are standing up to advocate for the movement. So if your roommate is self-proclaimed feminist, you might just be pleasantly surprised. Here’s what your feminist roommate wants you to know about modern feminism.
It’s Not a Negative Word
Much like a radical ideology, feminism is often associated with an extreme and aggressive agenda — something that involves hating men and rejecting traditionally feminine lifestyles. Wrongfully living under the socially constructed umbrella, Watson pointed out in her speech, feminists are then said to be “too strong, too aggressive, isolating, anti-men, and unattractive.”
Other negative connotations include the assumptions that feminists are anti-marriage, self-entitled, and overly sensitive about compliments. But these antiquated ideas couldn’t be more wrong and detrimental to feminism’s core principles, says New York-based fashion tech entrepreneur and proud feminist, Mitali Rakhit.
“It does not mean that I want to burn my bra or hate all men,” she says. It’s most heartbreaking to me when I see a woman who shies away from calling herself a feminist. I think it is one of the world’s greatest tragedies because if women don’t speak up for each other, who will?”
It’s Not About Putting Women on a Pedestal
While modern feminists do firmly believe women and men should paid the same and we should pay more attention to how toys play into outdated gender roles, they definitely don’t think women should be treated better than men.
I think feminists should keep eachother in check just as much as you would a non feminist. — Amelia (@amysgotmilk) November 20, 2015
“Being a feminist doesn’t mean that I think women should get special privileges or special consideration except in the case that there is systematic maltreatment of women in comparison to men,” says Rakhit. “I would want my new roommate to know that being a feminist means you think men and women should have equal rights.”
It’s About Advocating for Women Who Have Nothing
You could say many women-focused philanthropy initiatives are inherently feminist today because in many countries, women live in destitution and oppression simply from the lack of basic rights. The Global Citizen Project, for example, is a well known organization that has recruited world leaders to take a stand for bettering the lives of women everywhere. Would you call them feminists? Absolutely.
“There is a world of women, far away from the eyes of Western media, who cannot speak up for themselves because no one will listen,” says Rakhit, who volunteered in a red light district in eastern India for two years, where thousands of women lack basic human rights. “The lives of women in the lower and working classes are seen as having no value to most of society, particularly in the eyes of men. They’re not seen as being economic assets to their families, as men are, and are therefore more likely to married off as quickly as possible so they can be someone else’s ‘problem.’ As a result, they’re pulled out of school at a young age and often get abused by their in-laws as well. It was shocking how many formerly trafficked women I had met were married.”
It’s Just as Much About Men as Women
A hallmark of modern feminism’s ideology is changing the dialogue to include both men and women, so that both genders can come together to propagate for — you guessed it — equality.
“Men must be a part of the conversation and the solution, otherwise there is little hope of changing the landscape as it currently stands. The dialogue around feminism must have both genders included in it. Awareness and education is key,” says Rakhit.
Feminists today also feel strongly about eliminating stereotypes and boxing in women or men to traditional gender roles. Just as women experience their share of unfair treatment and double standards, men also experience an expectation to maintain a sense of “manliness,” — something that modern feminists reject. Emma Watson explained this well in her speech.
“Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong… It is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum not as two opposing sets of ideals. If we stop defining each other by what we are not and start defining ourselves by what we are, we can all be freer.”
The safest bet is to be open and understanding. At the end of the day, you and roommate will get along better and grow individually if you can learn to accept each other’s differences as well as similarities. And if you still don’t get it, just remember: Even though their values may not be easy to understand, they’re still valuable.