Are you a Feminist?

I learned the power of this question when I was about fifteen years old. I was at a friend’s house and I overheard my friend asking her father if he was a feminist. Thereafter came a long, parched and silent pause. He did not want to say ‘yes,’ but he also did not quite want to say ‘no.’ This was many years ago, and I do not remember his ultimate response, but what stuck with me was that pause.

I am about to use a tired and cliche writing crutch, and for that I apologize to all the wonderful writing teachers I have had, but as there is often confusion and misunderstanding around this word (as well as outright aversion to using it) I think it is necessary. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition of Feminism is: “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.”

Last month Canadian PM Justin Trudeau, as he has done numerous times, made comments about the importance of feminism. “We men have to be feminists too.” The internet went nuts. However, he went further, saying that not only should men be feminists, but they need to say that they are feminists: “And it’s about time we said that more often.” Mr. Trudeau has backed up his words with actions by choosing to create gender parity in his cabinet, and when asked about justifying this choice he said, simply: “Because it’s 2015.”  I cannot applaud his actions in this area enough, but I want to go back to his call for men to self-identify as feminists, and encouraging them to talk to their daughters and sons about feminism. He credited his wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, with helping him consider the example he sets for their son.

This got me thinking.

I grew up in a family with daughters, and we were raised by both of our parents to think that the sky was the limit. There was no profession we should not aspire to, no class we could not excel in, no activity we should not attempt because we were girls. I learned how to drive a pickup truck and stack cord wood. For Halloween, my sister dressed as a princess one year, and batman the next. My mom is strong (literally, guess who showed me how to stack wood?) and always pushed my sister and I toward our own strength and independence, and my dad pushed just as much for our careers and self-reliance. My dad has also commented, on more than one occasion, that he is happy he had girls and would not have known what to do with a boy. It is a joke, but I think he really means it.

This brings me back to Mr. Trudeau’s comments on men and their relationship to the word feminist. My dad is wrong about one thing, he would have known what to do with a son … teach them the same things he taught his daughters. Why not talk about equality with boys? We should be talking about what it means to be a woman and what it means to be a man with everyone, because if women are set up to fulfill specific gendered roles, then men are too. And no one wants to be limited. We may not all be Canadian Prime Ministers who can take steps like cabinet appointments of women, but we can all start using language that reflects a commitment to feminism and not shy away from a term that simply means we are equal.

I understand that just using the word feminist will seem like too small a step to some – this post does not even begin to delve into the complexities of intersectionality and how race, sexuality and many other factors bear on inclusive feminism. However, I think  given the celebration over Mr. Trudeau’s comments, and the sexism rearing in the current Presidential Race, identifying as a feminist is a good place to start.

So if your daughter asks if you are a feminist, do not be afraid of the question, say YES!