The F-Word 

By Monica Schaap Pierce

As a teenager, my first encounter with “feminism” was in the highly politicized and condemning phrase “bra-burning feminazi.”[1]  I didn’t want to be associated with bra-burning hippies of my parents’ era.  And, of course, I didn’t want to claim anything that resembled the violence of the Nazi regime.  So I rejected the feminist movement.  It was clearly a bunch of angry, militant women who just hated men.  Or so I thought.

What do you think of when you hear the word “feminist”?  A woman who is waging a war between the sexes?  A man-hater?  One who doesn’t like anything feminine?  Who doesn’t shave her legs or wear makeup?  Someone who rejects the nuclear family?  These are long-held stereotypes that have persisted since the women’s movement began over 125 years ago.  What if I told you that feminism is simply the notion that women, like men, should be respected and given every opportunity to flourish?  Or, as a bumper sticker I saw simply stated: Feminism is the radical notion that women are people, too!

At the 2014 VMA’s, Beyoncé entered onto a dark stage, surrounded by smoke and soft light.  The most attention-grabbing image in that moment, however, was not her silhouette but the glaring word in huge, bold letters behind her: FEMINIST.  Many of us wondered, “What?  Is Bey really a feminist?  She isn’t a militant man-hater.  She’s feminine.  She’s provocative.  And yet she is strong and bold.”  Could she be a feminist?  One of the hallmarks of modern feminism is its diversity.  Sure, some feminists don’t shave their legs.  But others are super girly.  Some are very political.  Others are content slowly and quietly raising the consciousness of those around them.  As the accomplished actor, author, screenwriter, producer, director, (whew!) and feminist Lena Dunham once said in an interview, “A huge part of being a feminist is giving other women the freedom to make choices you might not necessarily make for yourself.”[2]  Feminists embrace diversity.

Related to this conviction is the issue of inclusivity.  It’s easy for us to say, “She’s not a feminist because she dresses too provocatively.”  Or he’s not a feminist because he’s a guy.  But if feminism is really about advocating for everyone’s equality and flourishing, can’t anyone be a feminist?  I know that I, for one, have come around to understanding the F-word not in terms of what it rejects but in what it affirms: diversity, inclusivity, equality, and flourishing.  Shouldn’t we all be for these things?

What about you?  Do you see yourself as a feminist?  What are some ways in which feminism is helpful for promoting equality?  Or problematic for society?  Join the conversation below!


[1] The derogatory label “feminazi” was famously coined by Rush Limbaugh in the early 1990’s.

[2] Lena Dunham in a Huff Post interview on 9/24/14:


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