6 Women On What They Used To Think Feminism Was Vs. What They Think Now

There's often debate — many times heated — about what feminism means. But the truth is, feminism means different things to different people, and we've found that many women's definitions evolve constantly throughout their lives. While the core dictionary definition is simple and indisputable — "the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes" — the way women express their feminism is as diverse as the women themselves.

A lot of young women talking about their concepts of feminism changing drastically during and shortly after college, the time when we're all shedding assumptions from our childhoods and we're eager to redefine ourselves and chase our goals. We see women at that pivotal stage of their lives in Freeform's upcoming TV series The Bold Type, which follows three ambitious women as they launch their careers at a global women's magazine, Scarlet. Inspired by the life of Joanna Coles, the head of Content at Hearst, the show follows Jane, Kat, and Sutton as they build empowering friendships, kick ass in their careers, and embrace their feminism (as well as the coolest fashion!) in a whole new way. To hear from real millennials about how their definition of feminism changed as they entered a new stage of adulthood — much like the heroines of the show — we teamed up with Freeform to ask young women what they used to think feminism was vs. what they think now.

And make sure to catch the series premiere of The Bold Type on Freeform on Tuesday, July 11th at 9/8c!

Feminism Is Not A Four-Letter Word

"Growing up, "feminism" felt like a four-letter word. I don't recall any conversations in my household about what a feminist was, but I do know that somehow I grew up with the vision of the bra-burning, armpit hair growing, men-hating feminism that so many people seem to still think is true today. By the time I got to college and started my career in women's interest journalism surrounded by some of the most brilliant, proud feminists I'd ever met, the definition of equality between men and women became so clear that I almost felt silly for assuming it was anything else. Now, I'm proud to tell anyone who will listen that I'm a bra wearing, pit shaving feminist (although there’s nothing wrong with being a braless, armpit-hair-growing feminist!) who has the best interests of men and women in mind." —Allison, 26

College Was My Feminist Awakening

It’s shameful to admit, but like many other young women, I didn’t have a clear definition of “feminism” when I was a kid. Sure — I was raised by a league of strong, feminist women and men. My mom marched for the Equal Rights Amendment. My dad is a feminist. But the term was still one that I was socialized in school and in the world to think of as a negative thing when I was growing up. I blame culture.

"It wasn’t until I got into college that I had my true feminist awakening moment. It was when I took a class about the representation of the female body in culture. We read plenty of feminist theory, and I fell in love with feminism — of course, and became acquainted with the fact that feminism is simply about equality. And of course, I learned all about how the term gets a bad PR rap because — of course — the patriarchy wants it to!" — Arielle, 28

Feminism Doesn't Pit Women and Men Against Each Other

"I grew up in a family with very strong women — very strong. So most of the rhetoric I was exposed to regarding males vs. females was intense. It also wasn't terribly nuanced. I marched into adulthood thinking, "ra-ra females" and boo-hiss males. The male force was something to be fought and overcome.

"But then I met my now husband. And we had a lot of really complicated, long conversations unpacking the whole topic as best we could. Some of them weren't pleasant for either of us. But we listened to each other, really listened. And we both learned from each other that the goal of feminism—a society in which genders are truly equal—requires everyone's participation and help. I needed him as much as needed me. And we've made progress together. And that, I think, is the whole point." —Lexi, 27

Feminism Helped Me Find Power In Numbers

"I always grew up thinking feminism was a bad word. My negative impressions didn’t come from one source, but the entire culture I grew up in; the stereotypes painted feminists as man-hating, unattractive, and somehow dangerous. I got this impression from everyone — my mom, my dad, even comedians on TV. This didn’t change when I left my small town to go to a big, liberal university. In my friend group, even the smart young women among us let the boys shame us for liking typically feminine things (movies, writers, fashion magazines). It was just a given that male interests were inherently smarter and more serious than ours. I also remember during the 2008 primary elections, I was a freshman, and if one of us girls expressed that we preferred the female candidate for the presidential nomination, we were shot down harshly and made to feel stupid. The worst part is that us girls never banded together to defend ourselves and our right to have an opinion.

"This sounds silly, but I think things really changed a few years ago when prominent female celebrities started to proudly proclaim themselves as feminists, and define feminism as the simple belief that women deserved the same rights and dignity as men. This movement coincided with my taking myself more seriously in my career, and really valuing deep, supportive bonds with my female friends and co-workers. #SquadGoals became a kind of silly social meme, but it was genuinely empowering, because it helped me realize that there’s power in numbers." —Kim, 28

Feminism Isn't Only About The Self

"My definition of feminism is always evolving, and it changed in a major way very recently. When I turned 30, I went through a period of being totally self-centered. I don’t think that was totally wrong — we all go through periods of needing to focus on ourselves — but I thought it was an act of feminism and maturity to never compromise, partly because I felt I had compromised too often in my 20s, doing and saying things in an effort to make others happy. But as a strong 30-year-old woman, I decided to embrace “the power of no.” I wouldn’t commit to plans with friends, only showing up if it was convenient. Would I help a friend move on Saturday? Nope, because I didn’t feel like it. Would I take a call from a friend who needed to talk to me after work? Nope, that was 'me time.'

"I found over time, however, that my attitude was ridiculous and not at all feminist. Although it’s definitely empowering to refuse to do something you truly don’t want to do (and I still do that), that doesn’t mean you should live a life free of obligation or responsibility to others. My current definition of feminism is almost the opposite — it’s about support, community, and inclusion, and not just about self. I empower myself, but I also build up the people around me." —Julia, 31

Feminism Isn't Just Political, It's Also Personal

"This sounds bad, but I used to think that being a feminist meant that you had to be super educated about women's history, be overtly involved in politics, and attend women's rights rallies on the reg. I was hesitant to speak up or proclaim myself as a feminist because I was worried I wouldn't have enough education or facts to back up my claims if I was questioned or asked to explain myself. However, now that I know that being a feminist simply means in believing in equal rights for men and women, I'm a lot freer to declare myself a feminist and push for others to adopt the same mentality — though I do make a bigger effort to stay up-to-date and educated on women's issues." —Erin, 27

This article is sponsored by The Bold Type on Freeform. Make sure to catch the series premiere of The Bold Type on Tuesday, July 11th at 9/8c!!