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Umaia Perlin Webster

At 13, I experienced, as many of us did, an angsty and urgent moral dilemma. The question: Is the F word a bad word? And would it be wrong of me to say it?

Those I asked were of varying opinions. The rule of thumb was that older, more conservative individuals were against it; the younger crowd, for their part, embraced it. But after careful consideration of both sides of the argument, it still wasn’t clear: why did some people have such a bad view of feminism?

(Well, what did you think I meant?)

Here’s the problem. Too many people think that the word ‘feminist’ means an angry, man-hating woman who will stridently bash your life choices over a vegan brunch. I was terribly confused; why, then, were all the self-affirmed feminists I knew such nice and generally non-vegan people? Was it possible that gasp! “people” were wrong?

As it turns out, feminism isn’t about hating men; it’s about wanting equality.

As I was searching up quotes from my favourite writers to support this text, I stumbled upon something that perfectly sums up today’s take on feminism. On the Goodreads page for Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “We Should All Be Feminists,” the first and prevailing response in the reviews was this: “Why should we be feminists? Why not egalitarians?”

The irony in these statements is delightful, because the answer to this is spelled out very deliberately in the book. (It’s also the reason why you should never trust Goodreads book reviews). Adichie writes: “Some people ask, ‘Why the word feminist? Why not just say you’re a believer in human rights[…]?’ Because that would be dishonest. […] To choose to use the vague term human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded; it would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets women.”

In short, you can’t advocate equality in our society without being conscious of the fact that we simply don’t have it. And what feminism is about, what it’s always been about, is to bring this equality to repressed groups. Isn’t that what every idealist young CEGEP student wants?

My own feminist dilemma ended definitively in late 2014, when I had the chance to ask internationally-known Canadian author Margaret Atwood. One of Canada’s most renowned literary figures and feminists, she had just finished giving a reading of her newest book and was taking questions from the surprisingly small audience.

“Alright, so this is the F word conversation!” Atwood began enthusiastically. “Let’s vote and see how many people in this room are feminists. [Let’s] go through it, issue by issue, century by century. So, insofar as you think anything has a soul, do you think that women have souls?”

Queue the laugh track. Hands went up.

It went on. Do you think that women should be allowed to read? To own property? To have a university education? To have equal pay for work of equal value? The questions became increasingly familiar. “All of these have been hotly debated in the past,” she concluded. “To me, it’s very basic: a woman is a human being. It doesn’t mean that all women are all angels, and it doesn’t mean that all women are better than all men. It means we’re human beings, and with that position comes responsibilities.”

So why don’t you, the egalitarian, try adopting the term “feminist”? Realize that our society has a long way to go, and decide to make a change – I’d recommend looking into JAC’s own FEMclub (we’re super cool, we promise).

It’s time to give the F word another chance.

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