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[mass noun] (1) The advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of equality of the sexes. (The Oxford English Dictionary)

In Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie’s renowned TEDx Talk, she declared, “We should all be feminists.” Feminism is a sociopolitical movement that promotes equal rights and opportunities as well as freedom of self-expression for women, men, transgender folks, and non - binary people. As a doctoral student of feminist social psychology, I study the antecedents, impact, and implications of conformity to gender norms, feminist self-identification, and endorsement of gender egalitarian attitudes.

Psychological research suggests that women who adhere to stereotypes of femininity have lower levels of perceived academic competence, exhibit decreased sexual assertiveness, and are at a higher risk for disordered eating compared to those who are less gender-stereotypical. Additionally, men’s support for traditional male gender roles, such as power over women, emotional control, and self-reliance, is associated with reduced life-satisfaction, sexually aggressive behavior, binge drinking, steroid use, and muscularity oriented disordered eating. However, research has shown that individuals who identify as feminists and those who endorse feminist beliefs experience higher levels of psychological well-being, more positive mental health outcomes, enhanced sexual subjectivity, and higher relationship satisfaction than those who do not. Considering the insidious consequences of adherence to gender stereotypes and the protective function that feminism serves, it is surprising that many are still averse to don the feminist label.

Psychologists posit that beliefs about prototypical feminists (i.e. angry, ugly, incompetent, bra-burning lesbians) largely contribute to negative attitudes about the feminist movement. I myself have not always identified as a feminist. However, after spending an extended amount of time learning about the multitude of ways in which institutional and interpersonal sexism limit human potential and stifle individuality, I developed a lens for recognizing gender bias and began to not only adopt but truly embrace a feminist identity. Personally, feminism has helped me re-frame my experiences with anorexia nervosa and sexual objectification as consequences of existing in a society in which the status quo is legitimized by the systemic subordination of women and the vigilant policing of men’s dominance. Additionally, feminism has connected me to other women who constantly inspire me to overcome my own internalized self-objectification and reach my fullest potential.

Remarkably, feminism has allowed me to envision a world in which people are not bound by limitations society imposes upon them on the basis of their gender. If all women were feminists, perhaps eating disorders would not be at epidemic levels, and maybe more women could pursue and succeed in careers in the STEM fields and political realms. If all men were feminists, maybe there would be less sexual harassment and assault, and perhaps men could express their emotions without fear of rebuke. If there were no prescriptive norms about gender, there might be less stigma and violence against the LGBTQIA+ community. In a world where all people, regardless of sex, gender, sexual orientation, race, size, class, age, or ability, were free from discrimination, we would all be free to experience flourishing and fulfillment. This is the world I want for the people I love.

“We should all be feminists.”


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