Feminism’s fundamental beliefs are that men and women should have equal rights and that neither gender nor sexuality should be a determinate of your social status. Most people would agree with the idea of equal rights for all genders, so why is it that feminism has become so controversial? What is it about feminism that makes people hesitate to call themselves feminists? Perhaps many people hesitate, especially those who were born into a world where women already had voting rights, for example, because they assume the necessity of feminism to now be obsolete. Many people, I argue, mistake modern feminism as merely an ideology about who can shave, who can wear makeup and who should pay the bill. Thus, while many more people hold the fundamental beliefs of feminism today than those who openly declare so, they simply do not realize it in light of the stigma that has come to exist around it.

Feminism is usually characterized by waves, the first having its initial popularity in the 1840s to 1920s. According to Martha Rampton of Pacific University, “The first wave of feminism took place in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, emerging out of an environment of urban industrialism and liberal, socialist politics. The goal of this wave was to open up opportunities for women, with a focus on suffrage.” The second wave is best characterized by the period from the 1960s to 1990s, and focused on issues regarding sexuality and reproductive rights, as well as passing the Equal Rights Amendment. The third wave is set in the 1990s, and is characterized by activism surrounding the Anita Hill hearings. As Vox describes, “In 1991, Anita Hill testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her at work. Thomas made his way to the Supreme Court anyway, but Hill’s testimony sparked an avalanche of sexual harassment complaints.” Many people find waves one, two and three to be necessary and monumental movements for the equality of women.

Today, I find that many people are less inclined to call themselves feminists because they were born into a world where women already had voting rights, among others. A GenForward Survey found that “12 percent of Hispanic women, 21 percent of African American women, 23 percent of Asian women and 26 percent of white women identify as a feminist.” I theorize that this is because millennials, who were born into a world where so much progress was already a given, assume that the goals of feminism are becoming obsolete. Kate Fridkis, blog writer and contributor for The HuffPost, wrote about the modern conception of feminism, recalling conversations she’s had with groups of men — “I had to keep saying, ‘By my definition, you’re a feminist too, whether or not you think you are.’ I asked the guys who wanted to debate it with me, ‘Do you support gender oppression?’ And they said, ‘Uh … No?’ And I said, triumphantly, ‘HA! See! You’re a feminist!’ And they said, ‘So, like, do you shave your armpits?’” This conversation reveals some of the modern misconceptions about feminism. Modern feminism is not about shaving or not shaving, paying or not paying. It is advocating for choosing what you want to do without worrying if your gender will get in the way. To be a feminist is to support the freedom for women to choose how they define their femininity. It is to support the equality of all, regardless of gender or sexuality. The 19th Amendment’s original intent was to make women fully equal citizens to men. Having access, whether or not you pursue the opportunity, is a feminist ideal. At its core, feminism is about women obtaining this autonomy. A primary example is girls’ education about safe sex, so they have the option to make pivotal choices about their bodies. According to a relatively recent CDC report, “Across states, fewer than half of high schools (43 percent) and less than one-fifth of middle schools (18 percent) teach key CDC topics for sexual health education.”

Feminism, today, is also about aiming for a government that does not need gender quotas to hire women because women are taken seriously enough to be selected solely based on their skills. In 2017, women still made 93 cents for every dollar earned by men, as of 2017. Feminism advocates for women to have the opportunity to earn as much as men, a goal that feminists are still fighting for. Equal Pay Today is one of many organizations still tackling the gender wage gap, and they state that their mission is “to eradicate the long-standing gender wage gap impacting the economic security of women, families and communities of color.” Visit the website of Equal Pay Today to learn more about the long-standing gender wage gap, and how it specifically affects women of color with intersectional identities.

Feminism is still a very relevant concept, it is just seemingly misunderstood. The point of feminism is not to force women to abstain from shaving or implore the splitting of the bill. Feminism advocates for women to have an equal opportunity to pursue any career and lifestyle they’d like. Feminism is about increasing choices for women, like having the choice to run for office without one’s gender affecting their chance of being elected and having the choice to define ones own femininity. Choice, and having a choice, is equality. However, many people stray away from feminism because its fundamental goals and importance are misunderstood. If you dislike the extremism of feminism, this doesn’t make you anti-feminist. You do not have to agree with every individual’s conception of feminism. If you believe in gender equality, you are a feminist.

Zoe Brusso is a junior majoring in philosophy, politics and law.