What Feminism Means, According to Kids

Lately it seems celebrity journalists are obsessed with asking young female stars: “Do you consider yourself a feminist?” Since entertainment reporters need “gotcha!” moments in their interviews to attract viral attention, and since many young stars are not educated about modern feminism and get nervous and often choke on their answers, this makes sense. (Let’s not even get into the fact that I’ve never seen a male celebrity, young or old, asked that question.) The reporters can simply ask an ingenue the question and then back away slowly, watching them wrestle with it. Journalism success.

To be fair, feminism, unlike “cartography” or “motherhood” can be a nebulous concept. Definitions vary widely, and there are a lot of unfortunate misperceptions and negative connotations—you can believe you are a feminist, but not know how it fits into your life. How feminism applies to me, a grown woman living in Los Angeles, might be very different than the feminism of a 17-year-old in rural North Carolina, and both can be valid. The Merriam-Webster definition for feminism is “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.” How vague is that?

All this got me thinking: How are kids learning about feminism now and what are they learning? So I thought I’d ask a few. What follows are the answers to my questions to male and female children, aged 8 to 12, about feminism, either told to me or transcribed to me by their parents.

Q: “Have you heard the word feminism? What does feminism mean to you?”

Boy, 8:

“No, I haven’t heard that word. It just reminds me of ‘feather’.”

Girl, 8:

“I have no idea. Wait, is it like sex?”

Boy, 8:

“Nothing should change. Because the circumstances of history belong to us. The strong men!”

Girl, 9:

“It sounds like a word I’ve heard but I don’t know anything about it.”

Boy, 10:

“It’s when people try to stop sexism against women. You talk about it all the time [says to parent].”

Girl, 10:

“I think so. To me it sounds like a superpower. It sounds like the word female. Female superpowers?”

Boy, 10:

“Feminism is when a girl thinks she’s better than you”

Girl, 10:

To me it means that like girls need better rights because it’s unfair to women that men seem to have more chances. Just because people think boys are stronger than girls doesn’t mean it’s true. That’s a bad stereotype.

Boy, 11:

“It’s a federal offense.”

Girl, 11:

“Is it like, women and rights? I think it is because thats’ what those words mean, also I maybe remember hearing people talk about it but not really what it is.”

Girl, 12: (as told by her mother)

“She said she had heard the term and knew it had to do with women because of the “fem” part of the word. She didn’t really know what it meant, so didn’t have an opinion about its value. She did ask me to explain it, and I gave her the Wikipedia definition. She then talked about history, about women’s voting rights and recalled me telling her that women aren’t often paid as much as men. She then deduced that feminism was ‘cool’ and then asked me to verify that men & women indeed have equal educational rights.”

Girl, 12:

“It means that guys and girls are the same and shouldn’t be treated differently because they’re guys and girls”


This is by no means a scientific study, but as you can see from this tiny, limited sample, awareness of feminism as a concept came to these kids around age 11. Before that, the term seems to be only vaguely in the ether, and not anything that has been directly discussed. Interestingly, several of the boys who didn’t know the concept had an understanding of it as negative, even without knowing much about it.

So what do we take away from this? When should we be talking to children about feminism? When did you learn about feminism, and when did you really comprehend what it actually means? How many of you are still figuring it out?

I’m still interested to hear what One Direction thinks feminism is.

Images via Midge Blitz and Shutterstock

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