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What Is Feminism? by Caroline Leavitt

PUBLISHED: October 22, 2012

Caroline Leavitt

Editor’s note: The following post is part of a series in which a diverse range of women writers discuss their definition, idea, or experience of feminism. For more background, take a look at our Fall 2012 issue, which features “Bad Feminist” by Roxane Gay. You can find other pieces in this series by clicking here.


The last time I said I was a feminist, I was at a dinner party and I irritated at least four people at the table. A man complained that a label like feminism left out the need for men to evolve as well. “The word’s so strident sounding,” the woman next to me sighed.

Well, maybe there wouldn’t really be a need for such a word if women were treated as real equals to men. (After all, there’s no word for male power, now is there?) We don’t get as much money as men. We writers don’t get as many reviews, and what really annoys me the most is that if a woman writes about a family, it’s snubbed as domestic drama, but if a man does it, why then he’s Jonathan Franzen. To me being a feminist means I’m going to fight for women to be and have whatever they want, whether it’s a corner office or the right to stay home and mother their kids without someone raising an eyebrow and asking, “But what else do you do?”

In a world where Republican males think they know best what women should do with our bodies, where aging male stars get hot-to-trot romantic roles, but aging female stars are lucky to be grandmas, a word like feminism is important. And I like that it annoys people. It’s a reminder that important irritants, like sand in an oyster, can create pearls.


Caroline Leavitt is the New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You, which was on the Best Books of 2011 Lists from the San Francisco Chronicle, Providence Journal, Bookmarks Magazine, and Kirkus Reviews. Her new novel, Is It Tomorrow, will be published in May from Algonquin Books. She can be reached at


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Elizabeth Danzig-Teck's picture
Elizabeth Danzi... · 10 years ago
Woo! Hoo! We need more amazing women like you Caroline! You’re AWSOME!
caroline Leavitt's picture
Thank you so much for these comments. I spent the last two years writing a novel set in the 1950s and it’s sad to think that so little has changed for women. We all have to speak up and be irritants! (Remember those pearls….) Warmly, Caroline

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