The Next Frontier of Feminism

Ellen Padnos
Ellen Padnos

“Women Power,” “Fearless Women,” “Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures,” and of course, “Feminist” – all of these wonderful and empowering words are flying around with March being Women’s History Month.

Ever since we re-launched in December, I talk a lot about “the awesomeness of women,” and the term feminism comes up a lot. Like many of my contemporaries, I’ve been reluctant to call myself a “feminist.” However, maybe it’s age, having a daughter, writing for and reading more about trailblazing women, I’m beginning to embrace the term feminism. I’m also drawn to this word because I see some danger signs – women’s rights being stripped by the government and a downward spiral with many young girls – and I think we women need to unite more than ever.

From talking to many women about this word, the consensus is that there are two reasons mainstream women in the U.S. today don’t refer to themselves “feminists.”

First, the word “feminist” has become somewhat irrelevant. Legislation dictates we can vote, that we have equal access to education and jobs, and we are protected from harassment in the workplace. We’ve won – at least on paper (statistics tell a bit of a different story, however). Therefore, many believe that there isn’t a need to embrace feminism. Our problems today are different: gas at roughly $4/gallon, 8.3% unemployment and general economic uncertainty, not to mention what to make for dinner.

Secondly, women shy away from calling themselves feminists because there are negative associations with this word. There are connotations of anger, confrontation and righteousness – sometimes even superiority – that many women don’t want to be connected with. On the rare occasion that the word feminism does come up, most of my contemporaries agree reluctantly that they are feminists, but they add context to their answer. For example, a friend recently said, “Well, I’m kind of a feminist, but I’m not angry like my college professor who had me spell “womyn” because she didn’t want any man to be in the word woman.”

I see some women, particularly young ones, going down dangerous paths. The rate of eating disorders has doubled since 1960 – it’s estimated that approximately 15–20% of girls “cut” themselves today and we’ve recently seen this vanity obsession with the “Am I Ugly” phenomenon on YouTube. These insecurities lead to less productivity and depression; it’s estimated that one in five women battles depression in their life.

Therefore, I’m embracing the word feminist. I’m hoping we can form a community of feminists to support each other against media that dumbs us down, against marketing campaigns which lead to mindless consumption and against this wave of pettiness and bullying that leads to self-harm, eating disorders and depression. It’s time for a new frontier of feminists! We need to embrace and channel the trailblazing feminists who came before us and had to get angry. Their passion drove the changes and liberties that we enjoy today.

Let’s celebrate women who fought for suffrage, fought for education and fought for equality in the workplace. Let’s join them and fight against today’s media that tells us what to care about. They tell us to obsess over Kim Kardashian; she’s a “hero” for what she wears and who she dates. Let’s fight against this image of “beauty” as something purely on the outside and teach young women that true beauty is in your heart and mind. Lastly, let’s fight against anything that takes our power away from us. Is it a friend who makes you feel like less than your best, is it a husband’s cruel words? We are strong and need to make a stand for what’s acceptable to us. We need to honor ourselves and other women.

I am a feminist.

Every time I declare this I’m standing with Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Gloria Steinem and the millions of women who’ve demanded female equality. My stand is for women to recognize their brilliance, heart and power. We need to do this together. It’s our battle in 2012.

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Ellen Padnos lives in Manhattan Beach, CA with her husband, Ben, her children Anthony (5), and Annie (19 months), and her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Lola. You can also follow her on Twitter (@ellenpadnos).


  1. You inspire me, Ellen. What a spot on article. I have been a feminist since 1970. Every time I said the word feminist, both men and women would snicker and ask me when I had burned my bra? I never did the bra burning ritual because I had stopped wearing a bra in 1968. There are so many ridiculous associations with the word feminist. If I read Ms Magazine, I must be an angry woman who is probably a lesbian man-hater. Today women have got it so much better than women sixty years. Our young women don’t have clue. Recently PBS aired a program on Gloria Steinem’s life. She was courageous and stood up for women and our rights. I honor you as a feminist and a sister. Welcome!

  2. Yes, I am a feminist. I think I was born that way more than 60 years ago. My marching was pretty limited. However, where ever I showed up, I expected to be taken seriously and as an equal. Showing up as an equal can be very threatening to both women and men. Sad but true. At first, I questioned myself – was I being abrasive? No, only calm and assertive.

    It also disturbs me that when my husband and I facilitate that afterwards I’ve had men come up to us and comment on how “egalitarian” we are in our facilitation…do they say that when 2 men facilitate?

    It freaks me out a little (no, a lot) that Congress and the religions in this country are trying to roll back that clock to early 1900s. Do you know I’ve heard people use the term “separate but equal” to describe treatment of women. Really???

    There is so much evidence supporting that providing equal rights and equal access for women improves the quality of life for all…

    The irony for me is that those who continue to support oppression of women fail to recognize that putting women into a box also puts the men into a box. The world is in desperate need for all humans to show with their gifts and talents and stop creating a hostile planet for human life…all life. Setting limits on people is a mistake.

    I find myself quoting Margaret Meade a lot these day – “Every time you liberate a woman, you liberate a man.”

  3. Such a thought-provoking article, Ellen! I remember being a bit confused by that term as an insecure teenager in the 70s. It seemed like I couldn’t really call myself “a feminist” without burning my bra (I NEED my bra), having my sexual preferences questioned (no, I don’t hate ALL men, do you?), or foregoing all of my “girlie” stuff (sometimes I LIKE to wear makeup and dresses). Oh, and did I mention scaring away all of the weak boys out there that don’t care for opinionated women? Somewhere along the line I stopped caring so much about what total strangers thought about me, and decided to concentrate on the people who really love and care about me. With that in mind, I’ve come to the conclusion that the essence of being a feminist lies more with your passion for making the world a better place for women– however you choose to do that. So…yes! I am a feminist.

  4. Embrace the passions of those trailblazing women before us. You go, Girl. It IS time for Feminism 2.0 with this spirit that you suggest – don’t tolerate the dumbing down of our children, don’t allow them to be manipulated into becoming products, and teach instead the pursuit of personal authenticity. This is our new mission.

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