Over the years, the word feminism has become puzzling, taking on a multitude of definitions.
On the negative end, it’s been falsely perceived as a man-hating, bra-burning mission, leading to harmful movements like Women Against Feminism and “meninists.”
Positively, it’s been expanded with a push toward intersectionality, which focuses on inclusivity and is driven by the belief that all oppression (racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc.) is connected.
But what does feminism REALLY mean at its core?
According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, feminism is “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.”
It’s hard to argue with this basic definition, regardless of your religion, political stance or lifestyle.
When it comes to military spouses, it’s especially important that we proudly identify ourselves as feminists and advocate for equality for all of our fellow spouses for a few different reasons:
1. Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault in the Military
A root cause of violence against women is sexism. Perpetrators use domestic violence and sexual assault as a tool for asserting their power and control over more vulnerable groups, like women and members of the LGBTQ community. These gender-based acts of violence don’t happen by accident—they are premeditated crimes committed under the widely held belief that “real men” should be tough, powerful, and the head of their households.
Sadly, acts of violence against women hit close to home in the military community.
Rates of interpersonal violence (IPV) committed by veterans and active duty servicemen range between 13.5 percent and 58 percent, which is up to three times higher than rates of IPV among civilians. And despite the increased attention on sexual assault in the military, tens of thousands of instances of unwanted sexual contact occur every year, with only a small proportion of victims ever making a report.
How can we prevent these crimes from happening, or at the very least, begin to give them the attention they deserve?
We can start by endorsing feminism, supporting victims rather than blaming them, and dispelling the gender stereotypes that hurt both men and women.
2. Gender Stereotypes Hurt Everyone
Rigid gender expectations hurt everyone, including men. Rather than operating under the principal that all men are evil, feminism requires us to ADVOCATE for men and dismantle the myths that hurt them.
When we tell men that masculinity means being powerful, loving sports, always wanting to have sex, and never having any emotions, what we’re really saying is that they aren’t allowed to be themselves.
And when our men don’t meet these expectations, we call them sissies or other derogatory terms associated with being a woman.
Essentially, we tell them that being feminine is the WORST thing they could be. A culture of hyper-masculinity in the military exacerbates these stereotypes. Just look at the many recruitment commercials that enforce the idea that to be a military member, one must be strong and stoic.
Shouldn’t we also encourage our military members to be thoughtful and considerate?
How can we expect them to come home from deployments and be able to cope, when we tell them they simply need to “suck it up” and that crying isn’t an option?
The change can start with US, if we’re willing to stop forcing people to fit on an unforgiving gender binary that shames anyone who doesn’t satisfy our inflexible ideas of masculinity and femininity.