“Oh, you’re one of those…” is a phrase I hear more often than I would ever expect to in this day and age. See, I’m a hyphenator. I chose to hyphenate my last name when I got married, and according to the kinds of responses I sometimes get, that makes me “difficult.”

That’s right—I wanted to keep my family name along with taking my husband’s last name. Pretty crazy, I know. But I never thought that that choice would carry with it a judgment for some people—and a negative one at that.

While women may have “come a long way, baby,” we still have a lot further to go. As I was thinking about this today, I decided to YouTube the old Virginia Slims commercial that made that phrase so popular. Ironically, the expression that came to symbolize women’s progress is merely trying to capitalize on making women want to smoke feminine cigarettes and be sexy while doing it. Progress indeed.

In my lifetime, I’ve learned that I better be careful in calling myself a feminist. That in doing so, it made me “anti-male” and bitchy. Though there may be a small contingent of women who call themselves feminists and claim that women are the superior gender, all I ever wanted was equality—as most feminists do. The only “anti” I am is anti-discrimination. If men were making less than women, having laws telling them what they can and can’t do with their bodies, being restricted from education in parts of the world, or dealing with the pervasiveness of sexual assault, I would be against that, too.

I am so happy to see the movement toward taking away the negative connotations of the word feminism and reclaiming it as the movement toward gender equality.

Emma Watson—the woman who brought the amazing Hermoine Granger to life—spoke so eloquently on this to the United Nations (that’s right, the U.N., baby!) As the U.N. Women Goodwill Ambassador, she is launching a campaign called HeForShe where the goal is to empower both women and men to be who they are and to be treated equally. Simply put, she’s awesome.

The video is over 12 minutes, but…if you’ve got the time, it’s definitely worth a listen.

 

 

Another campaign that strives to empower young women is Always’ Like a Girl campaign. If you haven’t seen the video, check it out:

 

 

It shows the subtle—or not so subtle—undercutting of gender that happens without thought…and how young girls and boys can get the message that “like a girl” means “less than.”

I experienced a real life demonstration of how this message gets absorbed by young women over the summer. Every year we go to a beautiful place in the Northwoods of Wisconsin where we see other vacationing families every year. Because I only get a glimpse of these folks annually, it is fun to see how the kids grow from year to year. But this past summer disturbed me a great deal. Girls who had only last year been happy to take to the softball field in a boys vs girls game and give it their best effort were now acting incapable and flighty. One girl let a ball roll right by her and said she didn’t want to break a nail…seriously. And, much to my dismay, that kind of behavior was consistent throughout the week.

What had happened in a year? Somehow they got the message that being strong and athletic was not feminine or desirable. It broke my heart because I knew that it had only been the previous summer that they were embracing their strength—and now they were not only downplaying it, but denying it.

When I see homecoming photos posted on Facebook of lovely groups of young women—all wearing pretty much the exact same barely mid-thigh dress, give or take the color—I realize how strong the pressure must be to meet society’s current expectations of the popular woman. Good luck trying to find a dress for that age that strays from the “standard”—and the question arises as to whether it is a case of supply and demand or demand and supply. What’s available in stores “teaches” us what we should look like.

In 2014, the fact that girls are getting the message that it is their fault if they get raped because they were drunk should be inconceivable—but it’s not. So strong is that attitude that the White House has launched a campaign to fight against it:

 

 

We’ve got to not only raise our girls to stand strong but raise our boys to embrace that strength and respect it.

Anything less isn’t right. It just isn’t.

People should be paid equally for the same work. People should have sovereignty over their bodies. People should have the opportunity to be educated. People shouldn’t have to worry about being sexually assaulted. People should be respected for who they are and what they do. People should be encouraged to reach their potential. People should be loved, accepted, and valued for who they are—not what they look like.

Replacing the word “women” with “people” makes it really hard to deny, doesn’t it?

That’s the true heart of feminism. That’s what we need to reclaim. That’s what both women and men—what humanity—should strive for. Anything less is just fear trying to keep others down. And we’re better than that, don’t you think?

Well, we should be.

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