Someone recently asked me, “What does the word ‘feminism’ mean to you?” I recoiled, shifting uncomfortably in my seat.
My reaction bothered me. A sick feeling lingered in my stomach, much like the time I scoffed eggs three days past their use-by date. (That did not end well.) I am a staunch advocate of equality, so what had conditioned me to (violently) react this way? And I’m not talking about the eggs…
After some internet (and soul) searching, I came across Martha Rampton’s piece which says that,
“Feminism’s perceived silence in the 1990s was a response to the successful backlash campaign by the conservative press and media, especially against the word feminism and its purported association with male-bashing and extremism.”
I started feeling better.
My reaction was a function of my environment. Growing up in the late 80s/ early 90s when the Western-dominated mass media associated feminism with radicalism, irrational bra-burning and man-hating had informed my interpretation. That the word on its face purports to exclude men also left a sour taste in my mouth.
Curious to understand what my fellow Hong-Kongers’ views of feminism are, I took to the streets asking, ‘what does feminism mean to you in 2017?’
There were awkward reactions (like mine), some declined to comment for fear of being overly-political, while others offered up their views enthusiastically. Men, in particular shied away from the question, one requesting to be anonymous. This was probably fair given the question is as loaded as the double bacon burger you passed on to squeeze into your skinny jeans last night.
Overall, the responses were revealing and uplifting. So much so, that my negative associations with the word have started to shift.
Here are a sample of the answers:
Vanessa Chueng (32)
“To me, feminism isn’t just an advocacy or a movement that fights for equality between men and women, it’s a belief or mindset that embraces the power and ability of women and celebrates it.”
Tim Lin (34)
“To me, feminism means believing that women are as strong and capable as any other gender. As I have many amazing women in my life, for me to support feminism means to work towards raising women to their best potential and overcoming the patriarchal systems and inequalities that exist in our society. In a small way, we can do this by being their cheerleaders, but more importantly we need to actively subvert unconscious chauvinism that objectifies women and defines them as the weaker gender.”
Marie Claire Lim Moore (40)
“To me, feminism is the belief in equality whereby everyone is able to live to their highest potential.”
“My position on the concept of feminism, to be frank, remains undecided. I agree with many of the ideals being fought by this movement – equal wages, equal opportunity, equal access to education, healthcare and other public services – but I also have significant reservations about how certain people apply this concept – sexual liberation, abortion, and overly enforced political correctness in particular.”
Rebecca Isjwara (21)
“To me, feminism is empowerment to pursue life without being compared to any standard but my own.”
Tania Tan Wu (21)
“Feminism to me is equality. It is putting emphasis on women first, and allowing them to pursue whatever they’d like (it’s the same for men too – just that in general men have more doors of opportunities opened for them already.)
Feminism to me is having more support in society as a woman, and to not shame girls for being victims of sexual assaults. It is to not make fun of boys and shame them with phrases ‘like a girl’.
One shall be equal not only in education and work, but also in domestic environments.
Society should not teach girls to play with Barbies and boys to play with cars. School should not guide students’ futures based on their gender but according to their talent. Most important of all, it’s to allow women to have the choice – the choice of staying home or the choice of working. It’s to have the freedom to do whatever you want.”
Based on the majority of these responses, my own view of feminism was clearly out of step with its modern meaning. What the word meant 10 years ago is vastly different to what it means today, and what it should mean to me. This is great news.
Although historical hang-ups persist, the meaning of feminism is evolving. It seems to be part of a larger consciousness of oppression along with racism, ageism, classism, ableism, and sexual orientation. There is a place in it for all – together.
If that’s ‘feminism,’ then I’m in. Not a rotten egg in sight.
What does the F-word mean to you in 2017?