The word “feminism” often gets associated in popular culture with a group of angry, bra-burning women who despise men—but that old notion couldn’t be further from the truth.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines feminism as:
- “The theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes” or
- “Organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.”
By that definition, feminism essentially seeks the fundamental equality of men and women in both private and public spheres by challenging the status quo and providing women opportunities which they have been previously barred from in the past.
True feminists do not seek to dominate or oppress men, but rather to enjoy the same rights and privileges as their male counterparts. As a Baha’i, I consider myself a feminist based on the teachings of Baha’i Faith—which advocate the elevation of the status of women and the equality of the sexes:
Yet another of the teachings of Baha’u’llah is the equality of men and women and their equal sharing in all rights. …
Ye who are servants of the human race, strive ye with all your heart to deliver mankind out of this darkness and these prejudices that belong to the human condition and the world of nature, so that humanity may find its way into the light of the world of God. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 249.
In that spirit, I’d like to offer three reasons to consider why we all, regardless of gender, should identify as feminists.
1. “We Cannot All Succeed When Half of Us Are Held Back” – Malala Yousafzai
Men and women each have unique strengths and capabilities to serve humanity—but when women suffer from oppression and discrimination, their faculties cannot be fully realized. The Baha’i writings advocate the universal education of all people, which will advance the progress of humanity. Women are the primary caregivers of children whose education is of the utmost importance in fostering an evolved and peaceful world.
According to a 2015 United Nations Report, two-thirds of the world’s 781 million illiterate people are female. How can a nation succeed if its people cannot read or write? Therefore, women must have equal access to education, employment, health care, etc. The Baha’i teachings have advocated that equality of rights and access since they began in the middle of the 19th century:
The world of humanity has two wings—one is women and the other men. Not until both wings are equally developed can the bird fly. Should one wing remain weak, flight is impossible. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 302.
Until the reality of equality between man and woman is fully established and attained, the highest social development of mankind is not possible. … The only remedy is education, opportunity; for equality means equal qualification. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 76.
… let it be known once more that until woman and man recognize and realize equality, social and political progress here or anywhere will not be possible. – Ibid., p. 77.
2. Sexism Hurts Men, Too
While men may not experience the effects of sexism firsthand, they do have daughters, wives, mothers, sisters, and loved ones who suffer from such forms of injustice and discrimination.
Additionally, a narrow definition of the role of masculinity often limits men in terms of acceptable behavior in society. Boys are socialized from a young age to hide emotions and “be a man,” which has detrimental effects on our world—and especially on men themselves. Studies have shown that a highly-masculinized culture often increases the likelihood of violence. Statistically, the majority of violent crimes are committed by men against men. This may be due in part to our hyper masculine culture which glorifies male aggression and dominance.
Therefore, we need to consider how stereotypical gender roles hinder men, limit their lives and expose them to dangerous risk factors. Boys should be encouraged to express a wide range of emotions in order to become healthy, self-actualized men. As the Baha’i teachings point out, men will never realize their full potential unless and until they help establish the equality of the sexes:
Women have equal rights with men upon earth; in religion and society they are a very important element. As long as women are prevented from attaining their highest possibilities, so long will men be unable to achieve the greatness which might be theirs. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 133.
3. The Equality of the Sexes Will Advance Humanity
According to UNICEF, educated women contribute to a more powerful and productive workforce and society. https://www.unicef.org/sowc96/ngirls.htm.
Baha’is believe that the evolution of humanity depends on the equal distribution of the rights and privileges to all its peoples. The Baha’i writings confirm that the world will not achieve success nor peace until the sexes are regarded as equal. As a species, we have quite a ways to go until we reach this type of equality, however, I believe by deeply studying and examining the teachings of Baha’u’llah, this dream will one day become a reality:
… let it be known once more that until woman and man recognize and realize equality, social and political progress here or anywhere will not be possible. For the world of humanity consists of two parts or members: one is woman; the other is man. Until these two members are equal in strength, the oneness of humanity cannot be established, and the happiness and felicity of mankind will not be a reality. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 76.
Not until the world of women becomes equal to the world of men in the acquisition of virtues and perfections, can success and prosperity be attained as they ought to be. – Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith, p. 288.
In fact, the Baha’i teachings say that the equality of women and men will ultimately help lead the world to peace:
When all mankind shall receive the same opportunity of education and the equality of men and women be realized, the foundations of war will be utterly destroyed. Without equality this will be impossible because all differences and distinction are conducive to discord and strife. Equality between men and women is conducive to the abolition of warfare for the reason that women will never be willing to sanction it. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 175.