Photo by Brenton Clarke

Malala Yousafzai winning the Nobel Peace Prize.
Jennifer Lawrence questioning why she makes less money than her male co-stars.
Super Bowl Ads such as #LikeAGirlNoMore.org and GoldieBlox.
George and Amal Clooney jokes

It’s evident that women’s issues and, challenging inequality between men and women particularly, have been taking the spotlight more often. This is great news considering women are still earning less than men, 1 in 5 women will get sexually assaulted in their college career, and girls are growing up subject to sexism infused in our culture—just to name a few reasons.

The news and events similar to the examples above fall under the following definitions:
the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men (Google).

a range of movements and ideologies that share a common goal: to define, establish, and achieve equal political, economic, cultural, personal, and social rights for women. This includes seeking to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment (Wikipedia).

The definitions of feminism.
One can conclude, then, that feminism is most certainly not dead. Although we have much more work ahead of us, it is very much alive. However, what does it mean to be a feminist in 2015? Why is “feminism” or “feminist” a buzz word similar to the f-word rather than the movement, based on fundamental human rights that it is? Why must feminists experience trolls and eye-rolls?

Here are a few of the responses I received:
“For me [feminism] means not only equality of the sexes but a mutual respect. I do my best to treat everyone, whether they’re male or female, with the same respect, and I personally would like to be treated the same way (I know that I’m not),” says Josie Harvey, yoga teacher and co-founder of Highly Zen.

Donald Camp, a videographer and art director who grew up in the 60s and 70s, believes “a true feminist, a woman or man, simply seeks to recognize the best qualities in one another and works with that to achieve progress. Equality…means being able to understand and appreciate each other to use the strengths of each other to achieve success.”

Marina Voron, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and co-founder of Nassau Wellness, explains, “to me, the term ‘feminism’ has been completely bastardized by pop culture and social media. I feel like anyone can do or say anything and call it ‘feminism’ because, in my view, it has become so loose in its definition that it has basically lost its meaning. I believe feminism is about equality, sex-positivity, body-positivity,  wage equality, and opportunity…for everyone regardless of their gender. However, I have a hard time (as a therapist) always buying that certain things are being done in the name of ‘feminism.'”

Indeed, feminism is often misunderstood. I, myself, once avoided identifying with the term. Instead of using “feminist” or “feminism,” I would use “women’s empowerment” or some variation as a replacement. I soon realized that if I didn’t use the term, I was feeding the stigma. I was surrendering my power to a word instead of choosing to give life to my definition of it. I decided that if I owned the word in its truest form and incorporated it into my lifestyle, that it would help to break down the mythical connotations.

One myth leading to stigma is that feminists belong to a category that is very black and white. The misconception that all feminists don’t like men, are career women, don’t shave, aren’t feminine, believe that women are superior to men and so on. This myth is most likely why women such as Meryl Streep have defined themselves as a “humanist” rather than a feminist.

For this reason, I am grateful for Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist. In it she gives feminists and women permission and encouragement to simply be themselves. She writes, “…no matter what issues I have with feminism. I am a feminist. I cannot and will not deny the importance and absolute necessity of feminism. Like most people, I am full of contradictions, but I still don’t want to be treated like [expletive] for being a woman. I am a bad feminist. I would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all.” Women have enough pressures and triggers regarding perfection – being a perfect feminist should not be one of them.

Perhaps it’s not so much how feminism defines us but rather how we can decide to meaningfully define feminism ourselves and contribute in our own, unique ways to the movement. It’s why I chose to own “feminist” more than I used to. Feminism or being a feminist doesn’t define me. I define feminism and being a feminist. We need to worry less about our differences and definitions and more about what unites us and builds us up. How do you integrate feminism into your life? What does feminism in 2015 mean to you?

Recently, while I was watching Suffragette and wiping away (many) tears, I realized one thing for certain. No matter what these brave women were called, they were sheroes. They paved the way for what women have today in 2015. We needed them then and we need women like them now. Regardless of their label.

So, as a woman or a man, when we’re gearing up to voice an opinion about gender inequality, perhaps we should adopt the kind of inner dialogue Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie had while considering to deliver the TED talk that would eventually end up in a Beyoncé track:“I suspected that it might not be a very popular subject but I hoped to start a necessary conversation.”

At Conscious, we feature powerful stories about global initiatives, innovation, community development, social impact and more. You can read more stories like this and connect with a growing community of global leaders when you join.