What Do People Mean When They Say "Feminist?"

Gender equality and feminism are much trickier issues than most of us might think they are. As we debate various political issues like abortion, equal pay, and maternity leave--as well as cultural issues like gender portrayal in the media, differences in occupation, and gender roles in society--we often get emotional. The internet and social media tend to be dominated with the most inflammatory positions, and we are tempted to see those as representative of those who disagree with us.

As I was discussing gender politics and feminism with a good friend, she said something I found very interesting: “if you believe in gender equality, you’re a feminist.” I hadn’t considered that perspective before. I decided to do some research on how Americans feel about the matter.

The most recent poll by Vox I found showed that 85% of Americans believe in gender equality but only 18% call themselves “feminists." What this suggested to me was that not everyone agrees with my friend’s definition of “feminist.”

A CBS News poll found similar results, but when they first provided a dictionary definition of feminism and then asked the question, the "yes" answer rate (among women) went up to 65%.

Of the 68% of Americans that believe in gender equality but don’t call themselves feminists, what else might they think “feminism” means? What’s holding them back from calling themselves feminists, as well?

This is a complex issue: we’d love to get your input. Tell us what you think “feminism” means to you--or what you think it might mean for those 68%--in comments below!