The F-word, and Why 20-Somethings Should Use It More

by Amanda Florian
The Stampede, Editor
USA TODAY, Collegiate Correspondent
Musician | Cinematographer | Journalist

You probably read that headline and wondered, “Can she really say that?”

Yes, I can.

But, the F­ word I’m referring to is most certainly not the one you’re thinking of. This one is filled with ambiguity and layers of misconception. It’s not tied up with a pretty bow, and most young adults don’t consider the eight ­letter word their cup of tea. Feminism has been around since the late 19th century, but why should we (specifically twenty­somethings) care about the issue, now?

For one, feminism is not a man-hating ideology.

“Oxford Dictionaries” defines feminism as “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men,” meaning men and women are seen as equals.

According to a 2015 s urvey by the Public Religion Research Institute, only 35 percent of millennials identify as feminists, with 47 percent of them being women.

I spoke with professionals and students in Tennessee who explained why they identify as feminists.

Dr. Heather Hoover is director of writing and associate professor of English at Milligan College, a Christian liberal arts college located near Johnson City, Tenn. She often gives lectures on feminism and remains vocal in raising awareness about the issue, planning events in which students and faculty can come together to openly discuss the movement.

She says there are many fallacies about the idea of feminism.

“(Feminism) doesn’t mean we hate men or want to take away their freedoms or co­op their identity,” Hoover says.

And once she began reading more about the topic, it became clear “feminism wasn’t a negative thing.”

“I wanted to vote and teach. I had dreams,” she says. “(Those goals) didn’t seem different from a man’s in life. (Women) want to make the choice to stay home or work.”

The church has not always accepted feminist ideals, and some traditional churches today still hold tightly to their view that women should not lead the church.

When Hoover first started looking at certain jobs in the church, she says she was denied because she was a woman.

And she wondered what the church would say about her role in the kingdom of God.

“I began to question what kind of God creates half of us so ill­equipped for service in the kingdom.”

Now that Hoover works at a Christian liberal arts college, she has the opportunity to educate students and do what she loves without being turned away or given a lesser job because she is a woman.

She now identifies as a feminist, but says that was not always the case.

“Probably back in the late ‘90s I would’ve said I was not a feminist. Feminism used to have a negative connotation.”

Now, Hoover wants “young men and women on campus” to embrace feminism while acknowledging “we are created differently.”

“But as far as gender, race, class, and anything go, we need to look deeper and see past categories we have for each other to the indicative parts of who we are.”

Surprise–feminists can be found anywhere (even Appalachia).

Twenty­somethings in East Tennessee are changing the way feminism is viewed by other millennials. Some young adults in the Appalachian region say they discovered feminism by attending a professor’s lecture, by taking a course in women’s studies or by speaking to their fellow peers.

Dr. Phyllis Thompson Director of Women’s Studies at East Tennessee State University is from the Appalachian area and says women in the community show feminism in their own way.

“You don’t see it called feminism because that’s not the language people here use,” she says. “You see the action, not the label.”

Thompson says Appalachian women in the 1800s were rooted in feminist ideologies with their responsibility to “heal” the community. “If that’s not feminism, I don’t know what is.”

“You hear about feminism more (in urban settings) and you see feminists labeled more, but women in the Appalachian south are all about taking care of other women, advocating for other women, taking care of families and taking care of community,” she says.

ETSU graduate Kathryn Travis is from Greenville, Tenn. and says she did not know much about feminism when she started her first semester of college in 2011.

“When I came to college I was very ignorant on many subjects, and the more I was exposed to different types of people, the more I was like there’s a lot going on here and I really want to do something to help,” Travis says. “I thought I knew some things about (feminism) but (the information) wasn’t accurate.”

To her, feminism is the “concern and willingness to stand up for anyone denied of their basic human rights.” And feminism can apply to “anyone who feels oppressed.”

“My view of feminism is just human decency and helping one another,” she adds. Travis majored in English literature, minored in women’s studies and served as vice president for ETSU’s Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance. She says feminism can be seen as something radical, but says the term “radical” doesn’t always refer to something “bad, abusive or scary.”

“Some people consider it a radical notion to say ‘I am a feminist,’” she says. “Some people consider it a radical notion to be willing to march against sexual assault, or for the right of a woman to do with her body as she pleases.”

With a plethora of sexual assault cases on college campuses, it’s important for women to know their rights. Most twenty­somethings believe in speaking up about sexual assault­­ especially with today’s rape culture­ ­but many women fear they won’t be heard.

And speaking of rights, women have the right to speak up.
Women have the right to seek justice.
Women have the right to live boldly and freely.

Women have the right to work hard and fight for what they believe in. Women have the right to be independent, and are not limited to a label.

(Note: This is clearly not the full list, and I would like to continue writing this list, but completing the list at 100 percent is way above my pay grade. After all, women are only paid around 79 percent of what men are paid.)

Referring to the gender wage gap, Travis says we have to acknowledge its presence. According to statistics from the American Association of University Women, women who work in Tennessee earn 80­-84 percent of the amount men do.

“Some people believe the gender wage gap doesn’t exist,” she says. “It does exist. I’m a white woman and yes, I will not make as much money as a white man, but if I were a woman of color I would make even less money than a white woman, and (the pay) keeps going down depending on how you are racially classified. That’s insane. There’s no reason for that.”

Many wage equality issues, Travis believes, stem from institutional racism and sexism. “(The gender wage gap) is a problem and needs to be rectified, but it’s not a simple fix.”

Hoover agrees that the gender wage gap is an issue, and says we must take active roles in standing up for equality.

“(The gender wage gap) is a sad testament to our own society. It’s one symptom of what we value as Americans,” Hoover says.

One way young adults can learn about these issues is to keep their eyes open.

“Pay attention to the media,” Travis says. “If you can think it, it’s probably a feminist issue. If you’re college age, you can vote, you can talk with women’s studies professors and find resources.”

She says women have come a long way because of feminism.

“I am proud of women and individuals who came before me. (Feminism) is important because everything that has happened has been the work of people with feminist ideals­ generally they have a concern for other people,” she says.

The term feminist is not exclusive to women. (Men can be feminists, too.)

Oftentimes people think feminism is exclusive to women. Breaking news: it’s not.

“I invite men to see through women’s eyes,” Hoover says. “(Feminism) is a perception shift. Women are different from men in ways, but categories we use to define are only helpful to a certain point.”

Hoover says men will probably be more comfortable starting conversations about feminism if they feel they are in an open environment. In order to support one another, she says both men and women need to “make it safer for people to speak up.”

Thompson says she, too, is intentional with creating a safe environment, allowing students to explore different aspects of feminism.

“We don’t all have to be the same kind of feminists,” Thompson says.

There are many “skirt­wearing feminists” and many feminists who choose not to wear skirts, she adds.

“It’s OK we’re different. We just need to respect (each other’s) decisions.” Thompson says people should be careful in how the term is used as a label.

“I don’t think we need to exclude people who don’t call themselves the label because they could be doing feminist action, as well. So, what we often do is come to the table around common themes, or common initiatives and common community efforts. That way we may not all be (labeled as) feminists, but we’re all working for the advocacy of other people,” she says.

Nathan Cachiaras, a recent Milligan College graduate and biblical studies major, calls himself a feminist and understands many young adults aren’t “getting an accurate portrayal of what feminism is.”

Nathan Cachiaras attended Milligan College near Johnson City, Tennessee and says feminism is something that should be appreciated by men and women.

“A lot of people associate feminism with a crazy bra­burning feminist movement. But some think about and appreciate its breadth because something feels good about uniting people,” he says.

To him, it’s something he sees as positive.

“Feminism is a movement of people who are willing to receive and care for one another’s stories and respond carefully and courageously, in order to honor one another with specific reference to the history of a male­dominated society.”

And the term has been interpreted differently by both men and women.

“I encourage men to consider the fact maybe they don’t know what it really means,” he says. I felt like I haven’t had any other option, than to become a feminist.”

But…understanding feminism is a process.

Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither were a person’s ideals and values. Young adults and college students will soon realize feminism is more complex than they think. To be knowledgeable and well­informed on the subject, twenty­somethings must be willing to engage in conversation about feminism with a sense of openness.

“I think conversation is a big thing,” Cachiaras says. “It takes listening to each other, celebrating each other in full and speaking. (Feminism) is a learning process. It’s a movement.”

John Steadman is a recent graduate who studied both English and humanities at Milligan. He’s friends with Cachiaras and says he was glad they shared common views about feminism.

“It’s nice to have someone else to talk to (about feminism) and interesting to have another guy to talk to about it,” he says. “Some questions I had were questions he had answers to from other influential people he talked to.”

Many young adults, Steadman says, need to take time to realize how the idea of feminism has evolved.

“I think there are a number of factors on how feminism gets lost in translation,” he says.

Some young adults aren’t sure what to make of feminism, Steadman says, adding that they’re stuck with this “perception of what their parents had.”

“(Feminism) was kind of a second wave, flower power (movement) and that’s not really what’s happening right now.”

And twenty­somethings shouldn’t try to “fit feminism into a box.”

“If you listen to stereotypical voices of what young men in southern Appalachia should believe, I don’t believe any of it. I think it’s tough to tie people down to what they should believe.”

Cachiaras says we need to be aware of “male­centeredness.”

“I am aware of radical disparities in our society, especially with male­centered imagery and language. As we gradually move toward a more equal world, we have a long way to go,” he says. “There are realms of our society we don’t understand how male­dominated they are.”

The inclusion of women in the workplace and other areas is high priority for him. Cachiaras says science, technology, engineering and math fields, known collectively as STEM, crucially need women.

“I love the phrase, ‘women are people too.’ I’ve gotten to know women that are smarter than me,” he says. “There’s a poor argument for why we haven’t included women, especially in STEM fields. It’s ludicrous.”

Awareness is key in redefining what feminism is.

Twenty­somethings live in a society that “likes” and shares everything, from ostentatious photos of latte art to tweets about the upcoming election. One way young adults can spread positive views about feminism is by voicing their beliefs on social media and taking time to converse with others on the issue.

“As I’ve become more aware, I realize I can use whatever voice I have to improve and ascribe worth to to values of people around me,” Cachiaras says. “(Anti­feminists) feel they don’t have to take responsibility for the actions they perpetuate.”

But the movement is not exclusive.

“There’s a large conversation that feminism is only for white women,” Cachiaras says. “I’ve been working on listening to people, from people of color to people who are gay.”

He says one way we can understand feminism is by listening to others.

“The white male has been good at talking first. That’s what they’ve been told,” he says. “It’s a dangerous idea.”

And in 2016, it appears feminism is making an encore performance.

“We’re excited feminism is having an amazing cultural moment. You haven’t seen this much attention since back in the ‘60s,” says Travis, the ETSU student. “I’m excited to see where it will go.”

While there are many interpretations for the eight­letter­word, one thing is certain: the point of feminism is not to place a woman in a kitchen unless she wants to be there. The point is to allow her to make that choice. Feminism is a movement in which we realize both men and women are seen as equal. We as a society, must stop limiting women in the workplace, school, community and even church. Women belong in those places just as much as men do.

So, stop saying women belong in the _______ doing _______.

This is not a game of Mad Libs. In fact, this isn’t a game at all. It’s time we show women we care. We care about the obstacles and struggles they encounter on a daily basis. We care about their careers. We care about their dreams and goals. It’s time we give women the respect they deserve.

Because women belong­­, period.