By Dana Panczenko – Staff Columnist, The Elm

Feminazi, misandrist, man hater, bra burner, whiny, angry, militant, extremist, and sexist. These are all names I’ve been called when I tell people that I’m a feminist. While I take extreme offense to these terms, I’ve recently realized that all of this unjustified anger comes from a misunderstanding of what it means to be a feminist in today’s society.

Recently, a friend of mine who goes to UMBC had a photo of her holding a sign that says “This is What a Feminist Looks Like” stolen off the internet and turned into an anti-feminist meme. When she fought back and tried to have the photograph taken down, she was publically ridiculed on the Facebook page where it was posted, having everything from her supposed level of sexual activity, to her appearance, to her presumed sexual orientation criticized and mocked, even by the site administrators (No Hope for the Human Race on

NHHR_Fat)Shaming_memeTo see this happen to someone I know personally made me realize how taboo it still is to be a feminist. It made me wonder what people at Washington College thought of feminism and why it’s still considered to be something radical, extreme, and worthy of criticism.

After asking people around campus what they thought a feminist was, I got a mix of answers, most of which were in the same ballpark. Junior Alex Vidiani thinks a feminist is “an individual who values feminine equality… the opposite of a misogynist,” Karyn Krupsaw, senior, considers a feminist to be “someone who believes that women should have the same rights and opportunities as men do,” and Andrew Huelskoetter, sophomore, believes a feminist is “someone who truly believes that, with work, a society can actually have equality between men and women, not just through sexual orientation but also through gender orientation.”

In reality, all feminism is “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.” This idea is pretty straightforward: a person’s sex or gender should not influence their political, economic, or social standing. That is all feminism is on its most basic level.

Feminism is really just about creating an equal playing field regarding political, economic, and social standing between the sexes, so what makes it so controversial? There are a lot of misconceptions about what it means to be a feminist, which is what fueled all the hate aimed at my friend online.

The most common misconceptions about feminists that I’ve heard are that all feminists hate men, that they believe only women are allowed to do great things, that all feminists are lesbians, that men cannot be feminists, and that feminists want to create a world where women are superior to men.

These fallacies harm the feminist movement as a whole, and many of them work against the movement itself. A feminist, by definition, does not want women to be superior to men, because feminists strive for equality, not dominance. While there are some bad apples in the movement that do not like men, these people represent only a very small portion of the movement, and ultimately discredit feminism as a movement of equality.

Being a feminist has nothing to do with your sexual orientation, or sex: men can be feminists, women can be feminists, and people who do not fall within the gender binary can be feminists, because being a feminist means only that you do not want a person’s success in life to be determined or influenced by their sex or gender. This is not, nor has it ever been, a movement that spreads hate or intolerance; it is a movement that has been striving for equality since its creation.

Being a feminist is not a radical thing. Wanting equality should never have been considered a radical movement. If you are reading this, and are still convinced that being a feminist is something crazy, extreme, or unnecessary, I ask you to look at yourself and ask yourself why you think the notion of me not wanting my personal success to be influenced by what is between my legs is something radical. Ask yourself why you think that a woman should not have all the same rights and opportunities as men do. And most importantly, ask yourself whether you think that the problem with feminism is the feminist, or if the problem with feminism is you.

Lead artwork by By Meaghan Menzel – Staff Columnist, The Elm

This article was originally published by The Elm, The Student Newspaper of Washington College, on September 13, 2013. Republished by Women You Should Know with permission by the author and The Elm’s Faculty Advisor, Melissa J. McIntire.