March 8 marked International Women’s Day, leaving social media scattered with a word that has become a social taboo, especially in Latter-day Saint culture: feminism.

WebWhile 85 percent of Americans believe in equal rights for women, only 18 percent would consider themselves feminists, according to a recent poll by Vox.

By supporting feminism, we deny political, economic and social oppression of males and females alike. That doesn’t mean we have to deny the unique traits of men and women.

So why do the remaining 67 percent who believe in gender equality refuse to associate themselves with that word? What is the reason for people shrinking into the shadows when they hear the word feminism?

One common excuse for being anti-feminist is that gender inequality does not exist. That is false for both genders.

Some debate the gender wage gap where, on average, a white woman who works full-time and year-round in the US earns 79 cents for every dollar earned by a white man, according to the article “The Gender Wage Gap: 2015” by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. This gap widens with women of color, averaging 64 cents for African-American women and 54 cents for Latina women, according to the article.

Many say this wage gap can be explained by other factors, such as the fact that women tend to work fewer hours than men, and, according the American Association of University Women, the gap will shrink depending on the variables involved but will never fully disappear. Approximately one third of the gap cannot be explained by these other variables and is likely caused by bias or discrimination, according to the AAUW.

Another common misconception is that feminism is a war between the two sexes.

Emma Watson, UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, spoke at a HeForShe campaign event in 2014 and said we too often associate fighting for gender equality with man-hating.

“I’ve seen men made fragile and insecure by a distorted sense of what constitutes male success,” Watson said. “Men don’t have the benefits of equality, either. We don’t often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes, but I can see that they are.”

Watson said the gender stereotypes for men and women are inversely related, and that if we get rid of gender stereotypes for men, gender stereotypes for women will naturally be resolved.

“If men don’t have to be aggressive in order to be accepted, women won’t feel compelled to be submissive,” Watson said. “If men don’t have to control, women won’t have to be controlled.”

Both sexes have suffered the backlash of gender inequality and find themselves answering to roles that have been created for them by society.

“Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive,” Watson said. “Both men and women should feel free to be strong. If we stop defining each other by what we are not and start defining ourselves by who we are, we can all be freer. It’s about freedom.”

What many have failed to recognize is that feminism is not women hating men, nor is it women trying to take on a man’s role.

“I want men to take up this mantle so that their daughters, sisters and mothers can be free from prejudice, but also so that their sons have permission to be vulnerable and human, to reclaim those parts of themselves they abandoned, and in doing so, be a truer and complete version of themselves,”
Watson said.

What it all really boils down to is agency. It is about ensuring that men and women don’t face discrimination or stereotypes that prevent them from using their agency.

“Feminism doesn’t say a woman who stays at home and raises a family is oppressed or regressive,” according to MensXP. “It respects a woman who has chosen to become a homemaker as much as it embraces a woman who steps out and makes a mark in the big bad corporate world.”

On June 28, 2014, The Office of the First Presidency released a statement about the roles of women in the church

“In God’s plan for the happiness and eternal progression of his children, the blessings of his priesthood are equally available to men and women,” according to the statement. “Only men are ordained to serve in priesthood offices. All service in the Church has equal merit in the eyes of God.”

We side fully with the First Presidency on this matter, as well as the doctrine of “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” which identifies the unique roles of a man and a woman and describes both men and women to be equally yoked in these responsibilities.

This in no way suggests inequality, but acknowledges the fact that men and women have different strengths and weaknesses based on their inherent differences as separate sexes. It is a way of acknowledging that we are separate but deserve equal rights and opportunities to allow free agency for   all individuals.

People may look at some so-called feminism extremists and be afraid to put the same label on themselves. What we often fail to remember is that there are extremists in every group in the world, and we cannot allow those extremists to define the group as a whole.

Wanting equality for both sexes should not be an extreme idea.