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Attention Gen Y: What the F-Word Is and Isn’t

I was voted Class Feminist during my senior year of high school. I still have the award, a certificate adorned with awesome late 90s computer graphics, tucked into the back of my senior yearbook. (There was also an award for Class Chauvinist, bestowed upon on a football player, who laughed proudly and boisterously on his way to the front of the room to accept it.)

I’m not sure what, if anything, I did to deserve that award. I had no idea that the arguments I had with a friend about abortion during class via a yellow legal pad were worthy of the attention of the high school mainstream. I certainly had feminist politics, but it was surprising to me that others considered it to be a defining aspect of my identity. In retrospect, the award feels like a joke, which, to be fair, it probably was, being a high school superlative. But making me the recipient of the title was like being referred to as the “Super Jewish”: I was doing the work so no one else would have to. Everyone else want to get as far away from the “F-word” as possible.

The Pulitzer Prize winning former New York Times columnist and novelist Anna Quindlen recently gave a speech about young women and feminism at More magazine’s Reinvention Convention. To the relief of many who follow the portrayal of young women in the media, she refuted the claim that today’s young women don’t care about feminism, refuse to affiliate with it and don’t appreciate or understand the depth and breadth of the struggle. Quindlen said, “I don’t want to hear anyone talk about how young women today aren’t this or that. Millennial women are the coolest, most capable, most together women ever.”

Of late, there’s been a lot in the feminist and progressive news about taking back feminism, what it is, and is not. “Reclaim the Name” (as a Facebook entity, it’s known as American Doe) began as a project for Sierra College student Natalie Hart’s Feminism and Social Action class. Hart saw it as an opportunity to do what she’d been wanting to do for a while: Stop the shaming of feminism by transforming the phrase “I’m not a feminist, but..” into “I am a feminist because…” Using social media to reach a large audience, she created a space where all feminists could claim their reasons for identifying with the movement.

Reading about this sort of thing makes me swoon with joy, but cautiously. I always want more young women to identify as feminists — if they are feminists. There are, in fact, boundaries that dictate feminism, as there are any political movement or idea. While there’s certainly room for argument around some pieces of the identity and politics, there are essential points that aren’t up for grabs: supporting reproductive rights (it’s irrelevant to me whether or not you yourself would choose to have an abortion), and supporting the queer community (it’s also irrelevant to me whether or not you identify as queer.)

Many will argue with me about these two points. But they are the marks of a movement working for genuine equality; someone who finds them not only attractive, but also essential and worth fighting for, is a feminist. Arguing to limit these rights and identities and still desiring the title of feminist — Sarah Palin, I’m looking at you — is an opportunistic hypocrite. The agenda isn’t equality in any form, but power, and not the kind we need to reclaim.

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