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A Rallying Cry, A Dirty Word: People Around The World Talk About 'Feminism'

Hanna Barczyk for NPR

Last week, we asked a question: What does it mean to be a "feminist" in your country? How do your belief systems and cultural traditions shape your view of how a woman should exercise her rights?

Goats and Soda received hundreds of replies with the hashtag #FeminismInMyCountry. Men and women from Portugal to Tanzania not only answered our question but offered their view of how girls and women still suffer from discrimination, prejudice and stereotyping.

The hashtag particularly struck a chord in South Korea, where citizens are reeling from two incidents concerning women: Last month, a woman was out of a job after wearing a T-shirt that said "Girls Do Not Need A Prince." And in May, a woman was stabbed to death by a man who said he did it because he "hated women for belittling him."

From the responses, it's clear that the debate over the meaning of the word "feminism" is a global conversation. And that in many places, as NPR's Greg Warner discovered in Rwanda, feminism is considered a dirty word.

One woman in South Korea said that people in her country think a "feminist" is an "antisocial, unattractive woman who's unlovable by men." And in Tanzania, a woman shared that although "feminist" means "empowerment" to her, the term is a mere "title" that carries little weight in society. Despite being an aircraft mechanic, she said men viewed her as a "weak, attractive being."

Here's a selection of responses from Instagram, Twitter, NPR.org and Facebook, edited for length and clarity. See more comments from more countries, here.

Tanzania: "Men still view me as a weak, attractive being"

I am an aircraft mechanic. Being a feminist means empowering women — but in my country, Tanzania, the term doesn't have meaning to society. It's merely a title. At work, men still view and treat me as a weak attractive being. So for me, my country has not really embraced the idea of feminism. -Hawa Nzota

United States: "This isn't that hard"

This isn't hard, people. Feminism means women have the same agency as men to body autonomy, to equal wages. It means men shouldn't be called "weak" for expressing emotion. It means women are considered just as capable as men. It means men are allowed to nurture. This isn't that hard. Why do we act like this is radical? -Jessica Tonn

United States: "I'm raising my sons to be feminists"

I'm from Oregon. Feminism is still a bad word in my country, as it is perceived to mean that we hate men. I'm raising my sons to be feminists, to help break the cycle. -Heather Novickis

United States: "Many stereotypes surround those who consider themselves feminists"

This is a photo of me and my mother from 1990. It is my mother's strength and experiences that have fostered my own personal beliefs about women. She encouraged my sister and me to pursue our dreams and worked tirelessly to provide opportunities for us. I myself am a proud feminist. Women should have access to same opportunities that men do.

But in the States, feminism is a dirty word. Many stereotypes surround those who consider themselves feminists. Many view feminists as hating all men, being selfish and inconsiderate, against wanting families and hating those who want to stay-at-home to raise their children. Not only are these stereotypes untrue, they hinder future progress in our country. -Marshal Neal Fettro

Portugal: "What are you complaining about?"

South Korea: " 'No means no' ad could not be [posted] in a subway"

South Korea: "The word is rejected by women"

South Korea: "I have to worry about getting fired"

Poland: "[It] means to fight for equal and basic rights"

It's not too late to share your story. What does it mean to be a "feminist" in your country? Tell us in a comment below or post it on social media with the hashtag #FeminismInMyCountry.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Malaka Gharib is the deputy editor and digital strategist on NPR's global health and development team. She covers topics such as the refugee crisis, gender equality and women's health. Her work as part of NPR's reporting teams has been recognized with two Gracie Awards: in 2019 for How To Raise A Human, a series on global parenting, and in 2015 for #15Girls, a series that profiled teen girls around the world.