by Amy Wu

Why is it that so many women love to be called “feminine,” but cringe at the word “feminist”? What must a female do to prove that she is both a woman and a human being? Why is it that if a woman is pretty and wears skirts she is “feminine,” if she likes to wear jeans and t-shirts she is “sloppy,” and if she prefers to wear hockey jerseys, she must “want to be a man”? And why do so many films and television shows still portray women in narrow, one-dimensional roles like “princess bimbo,” “girl-next-door” or “struggling mother”?

Despite the gains of feminism, women still don’t get the respect they deserve, on the job or off. In today’s recessionary economy, women assume double responsibility: To keep the household running and put food on the table as well. But even though women have taken over many of the responsibilities once associated with the “male” role, women are rarely treated equally, or as respected human beings.

As a young woman growing up in the tumultuous 1990s, it seems to me that it is time for a third wave of feminism to begin. Most women could use a boost of confidence. Women need to stand up for themselves. But the feminist movement shouldn’t be about militia and flying bullets. The goal should be to create a social climate where women can choose and be at ease with whatever role they please.

Both women and men should be able to have a choice in what role they want to take on. The goals of feminism should apply to men as well. There isn’t anything wrong with men who want to stay home and care for their children, just as there is nothing wrong with women who prefer to climb the corporate ladder.

But men are often unfair to women. These days they think that they are liberal and more open-minded than in previous decades, but most of them subconsciously cringe when women want to be successful.

Men especially can’t accept women who call themselves feminists. You know, the kind of women who would march down the street shouting “No More Harassment,” and “Down to Rapists.” Or women who would rather have conversations about politics and the environment than have dinner with men who pull out chairs, and pay the check.

If the feminist movement begins now, I am hoping that by the next century, when I am in my early 30s, women will be more respected in the workforce, the family, and in society at large. Today, the words “feminine” and “feminist” are two very different and contrasting words. Maybe in the future, it will be insulting to be called feminine, but a compliment to be called a feminist. It’s kind of funny in that sense.

Amy Wu is a 17-year-old high school senior. Her essays and letters have appeared in Sassy, Youth magazine, and USA Today. She resides in Thornwood, NY.