If you asked me when I was ten, I would have given an unequivocal "Yes!" Like everyone else my age, I grew up on "The Cosby Show," and "Rudy" (aka Keisha Knight-Pulliam) was about six months older than me and ten times as dope. Somewhere along the way (her TV-mom?), Rudy had picked up the spunk to confidently shoot down her best friend Kenny's musings about his brother's archaic thoughts about women and dating. She was very clear that she had no intention of catering to an undeserving man, or biting her tongue to consider his ego. Just a real clear-cut, take it and if you don't like it, leave it! I'd heard someone call her a "cute little feminist once." I deduced that to mean that feminism, as doled out by my favorite Huxtable, seemed to be about not taking any mess of a foolish man, or anyone else (except parents).
Twenty-plus years later, I'm struggling to claim the word. Do I believe in equality, equal pay, equal rights for everyone, including men? Yes. But to say, "Yes, I am the F-word!" Just feels... like a burden I'm not ready to bear. And I'm not the only Black woman with that "hmmm-haw" mindset. Keri Hilson, co-writer of Ciara's anthem of inequality, "If I Was a Boy," stumbled to both claim and distance herself from the word. When asked about her feminist status, her reply was equally baffling and as inarticulate as my own justification: "I stand for women's rights -- I do. I also believe in empowerment and just owning and controlling your situation -- be it your relationships, sexuality, or confidence -- and then not allowing anyone to take that. If any of that puts me in a feminist box, then I'm proudly there. But I'm not a Nazi with it."
Bey-Bey Beyonce, writer of the catchiest fem songs of the last decade (cue "Independent Women," "Survivor!" and "Who Run the World?") also faltered. "I am a feminist, in a way," she explained to a women's publication. "I love being a woman and I love being a friend to other women." That's the new definition of feminism?
Actually, it could be. No one really seems to know what feminism is anymore, but it is a dirty word, a point driven home by Symeon Brown in "Should Black Men Become Feminists?" on The Voice Online, a UK publication.
"The F-word is a scary one to many Black men and some Black women, too. Feminism, fairly or unfairly, is seen as White, middle-class and a set of beliefs that pits men and women against each other."
Yep! Sounds about right. As I considered writing this piece, several people suggested I don't so as to not "anger" Black men. In a quick poll of my (educated, generally enlightened) friends, asking them to define feminism. The feedback, in summary:
*Angry, eccentric, hardline.
*Just not a good term.
*Even if you are, it's not something you should state.
What happened to the time feminism was fun, fierce, and fabulous? Cool even? When did being one become like the original f-word, something ladies shouldn't say in public?
Demetria L. Lucas is the Relationship Editor at Essence magazine. Check out her debut book, "A Belle in Brooklyn: Your Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life" (Atria), IN STORES NOW.