Let’s face it, calling yourself a feminist elicits the same reaction as if you starting screaming “F *^#*” on Madison Avenue. I would argue cursing publicly in New York City would be considered much more acceptable (and maybe even admirable.) What is it about this particular “F bomb” that causes so much discomfort? In reality, feminism means that you believe in equal rights for both genders; men can be feminists too.

Feminism is not the men hating, society destroying, anti family group of women portrayed in the media or within conservative political campaigns. We (and I say we because I am not afraid to call myself a feminist) are normal everyday individuals who believe in equality and consider gender inequality as a societal problem, not solely a women’s issue. The real problem I have witnessed, is the divide among women related to the use of the word feminism, and failure to support and accept those who identify with it.

Two weeks ago, I had the honor of presenting on a panel at the United Nations women’s and girl’s conference. My fellow panel members were exceptional, creating real change for women across the globe. The conversations and dialogues that ensued were so inspiring and engaging. However, the last thirty minutes when we encouraged our audience to ask questions and comment, something went awry. A high school student was concerned about how she was bulldozed with angry responses when she called herself a feminist. She asked our advice about how to manage it and one of the experts jumped in quickly, chastising her for not using the word humanist. I sat there silent and dumbfounded for many reasons. When I finally rebounded I quickly said, “You are allowed to identify with any concept or aspect of yourself…we should not take that away from you. And…I also call myself a feminist. We each have the right to use the word that resonates with us, individually.” The young woman’s head lifted and she nodded strongly. After that many younger women in the audience began to share similar stories and afterward surrounded me in the hallway outside the auditorium to continue the conversation.

We are perpetuating a problem if we avoid the word instead of providing education about the true definition and context. Difficult conversations need to be had; avoiding them like the plague will never amount to anything but shame, silence and the grey cloud that lingers over our heads.

But at the core, what’s disappointing to me, is that once again a women’s permission to be her authentic self is thwarted and she must squelch aspects of herself. The “shoulds” that a woman lives by are not her own; they come from others who serve as barriers to her journey to create HER own identity; align with HER values and make decisions related to HER belief system. We as a society are robbing her of these inalienable rights and if we continue to do so, the needle is NOT going to move farther in gender reformation and we will continue to be stuck with archaic stereotypes. So let’s all commit to providing women of all ages with permission to throw that F bomb out there if they want; and not chastise them if they don’t want to…the bottom line is facilitating choices!

I am a feminist!