“If you believe that [men and women are equal], you are a feminist,” a friend recently advised. “You just are. To deny it would be like denying that the sky is blue.”
Many BYU students face inner-conflict concerning feminism, even though most don’t identify as feminists. For a people who regard gender with religious fervor, the definition of feminism—the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities—fits like a glove. Despite what many feminist apologists say, however, to be a feminist in real life has always had implicit meanings as well as explicit.
So, no. You’re not sexist, ignorant, or stuck in the past if you choose not to identify as a feminist—in fact, it seems that the only people who do identify as feminists are progressives. Does this mean Republicans, Libertarians, and other right-leaning individuals don’t believe in gender equality? Also no. The word “feminist” has become synonymous with “extremist liberal,” which is why it is so difficult to find a non-liberal politician who identifies as one. This cultural implication has almost entirely superseded what the earlier definition (from the Merriam-Webster dictionary) suggests. To brand yourself as a feminist, regardless of your true intentions, normalizes a divisive, hyper-liberal fad—not gender equality.
Still, it would be folly for us as a people to ignore the ongoing plight of women. Controlling for select variables, women in the United States make only 94 cents for every dollar that men make. A study in 2007 found that 1 in 5 women in college will be sexually assaulted. Women and girls are uniquely vulnerable to human trafficking, domestic violence, and a host of other unquantifiable injustices. Men, due both to their obvious patriarchal leadership role and as the principal offenders, must shoulder responsibility for this. In the words of Elder D. Todd Christofferson, “Brethren, let us stand with women [and] share their burdens.”
Knowing these realities, it is wrong to be dismissive of even the most radical feminist, yet in the same breath, it is equally erroneous to leave challenges to hard-earned beliefs uncontested. To many, abortion is not a “reproductive right,” to be used for convenience—it is the physician’s tool, to be offered to appropriate candidates when necessary. Thus, the Women’s March organization’s choice to exclude pro-life sponsors from participating in January’s historic protest is stunningly narrow-minded—as if pro-life, pro-woman, anti-Trump people don’t exist. Additionally, there is no “special place in hell” for women who don’t vote for Hillary Clinton, as was insinuated by Madeleine Albright at a Clinton Rally last year. Most spectacular of them all, prominent feminist philosopher Alison M. Jaggar wrote “The first condition for escaping from forced motherhood and sexual slavery is escape from the patriarchal institution of marriage.” These people and ideals seek to coerce women and men, but especially women, into thinking, acting, and voting a certain way, under punishment of being branded as socially inferior. Apparently, this is ok for feminists to do, but not the patriarchy.
In a better world, where “feminist” means exactly what the dictionary says it does, it would be morally imperative for all of us to be so. Yet we don’t live in that world—we live in a world where ulterior motives and falsehoods masquerade as immutable truths. How many qualifiers would you need to provide? “I’m a feminist, but… [insert exception here].” For my readers who are still conflicted, I would suggest a title that many of you already identify with. One that includes all the good of “feminist,” and infinitely more—the title of saint.
Jesus Christ, a man, was the ultimate ennobler of women. He defended womanhood from deadly stones, liberated it from the slavery of oppressive Mosaic law, and honored it with His dying breaths. It is His actions that inspire all equality. By believing in Him, we purge sexism from our souls—by emulating Him, we drive nails into its coffin.
This article was written to debate whether or not those who believe in gender equality should brand themselves as feminists. Click here to read the opposing view, “Wearing the Scarlet F.”