The word “feminist” is on my business card. Not as a title I’m using to define myself, but because it’s in the name of my business. Even with its recent rise to acceptance in mainstream popular culture, the word “feminist” still prompts startled reactions most times I hand someone my card. Since I’m so frequently reminded of the baggage of this word, I’m also increasingly aware of my responsibility to define, and demonstrate by my actions, what I mean when I use the word “feminist.”
Feminist theorist bell hooks (no, the lowercase of her name isn’t a typo – she consciously declines to capitalize her name in favor of putting the emphasis on her ideas) defines feminism as “a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression.” Defining feminism as a commitment to end oppression is notable in that it is not (as it is sometimes misperceived to be) seeking to reverse it. Taking power from one group and giving it to another doesn’t solve the problem – it simply perpetuates domination and systemic injustice.
Feminist poet Audre Lorde wrote, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.” The goal of a hooks and Lorde kind of feminist movement is to dismantle systemic power structures altogether in favor of equity for everyone – all genders, all identities.