Feminism has adopted a negative connotation almost as obscene as four letter words your teacher wouldn’t let you say in middle school. Only instead of a class room, the term feminism is often silenced in our media, even by progressives that advocate for gender equity. What’s so powerful about Americans’ perception of feminism today is that many people who dislike the term don’t even really know what it stands for.
On a recent episode of Barnard College‘s rightfully titled “Dare to Use the F Word,” Barnard president and recent author of Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection,” Debora Spar, shared her thoughts on what she believes to be the shift in young feminist perspectives in 2014. When prompted on whether Spar felt young women want to be feminist, she responded;
It’s a complicated question, without an easy answer. Because young women, of course, don’t speak with a single voice or share a common attitude. Some are quick to embrace the term feminist. Others despise it. And many – sadly, for the mothers and grandmothers who opened doors for them – no longer really have a sense of what the word implies.
In a poignant piece by Sam Killerman, the progressive mind behind “It’s Pronounced Metrosexual” broke down some of the main reasons feminism is viewed so negatively today, including the fact that, yes, there are men-hating feminist out there that give feminist a bad name. Case in point- I will reluctantly list a few quotes made popular by self-identified feminists:
- “To call a man an animal is to flatter him; he’s a machine, a walking dildo.” -– Valerie Solanas
- “The more famous and powerful I get the more power I have to hurt men.” — Sharon Stone
- “All men are rapists and that’s all they are” — Marilyn French
- “I feel that ‘man-hating’ is an honourable and viable political act, that the oppressed have a right to class-hatred against the class that is oppressing them.” – Robin Morgan, Ms. Magazine Editor
Ok, you get it. Some feminist hate men. Some women in general hate men, and vice versa. But these women in no way represent the majority of feminists in modern day. I definitely do not support male-hate. Though it must be recognized that feminist-driven male-hate is a disgusting symptom of hundreds of years of patriarchal oppression. The same way society has adopted the “angry black man/woman” stereotype, stemming from black liberation after hundreds of years of slavery and equally dehumanizing Jim Crow laws, feminism has taken on an unsettling ‘mad woman’ stereotype . When regarding revolution from oppression, anger seems to come with the territory. Liberation isn’t always peaceful; sometimes you have fight.
Unfortunately, this bad rap on feminism has taken a toll on on the the fight for gender equality. Jezebel wrote an article not too long ago, highlighting the many strong women in our media, and while definitely expressing empowerment for women, steer clear of the dirty “f word.”
Bjork said identifying as feminist would “isolate” her, claiming her mother was a feminist and isolated herself from men, and “therefore society” as well. Lady Gaga denied the label, stating she ” loves and celebrates men and American male culture,”- again equating feminism ( a position of equity regardless of gender) to hating men.
In spite of their strong female personas in the media, Sandra Day O’Connor, to Kelly Clarkson and many more progressive-leaning celebrities, all avoided the term “feminist,” recognizing it as too harsh a label to identify with. I find these women to be a very accurate representation of the young women and progressive young men they influence on a daily basis.
The term feminist has been through a lot, and it’s got the scars to show for it. In American history alone, feminism has led to the right for women to vote, a movement for better respected in the work place ( mainly a reserved right for white women a the time), sexual liberation and better sex protection, and in much more recent history, inclusion of women of color and the queer community in advocating for social education and equality for all.
Even with all the things feminism has done, we still need it today. Body shaming, , in our internet-driven culture is still damaging mentally and physically mainly among young women and girls,and people are still adamantly asking women if they really can have it all, a question never asked of men. The trans* community is still arguably the most discriminated group in the U.S., with the young, transgender homeless epidemic, transgender discrimination in the work place and transgender suicide rates rising due to discrimination. And those are only some of the thing. Feminism is in no way obsolete. Right now, there are a few great feminist fighting the good fight, but as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie expressed in her TED talk, later featured in Beyonce’s “flawless,” feminism isn’t an elitist stance; it’s a stance for all.
So how do we even begin to make feminism seem less harsh for everyone?
In a 2011 Pew poll, “progressive” was deemed the most positively viewed political stance. According to ThinkProgress, progressives believe in promoting equality and freedom against discrimination based on race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious faith or non-faith, or disability. They believe that every person has a responsibility to contribute to the common good for all human beings, and that we all must cooperate to achieve a greater good. Modern progressives, whether they realize or not, are fighting for the same rights feminists have been for hundreds of years. Regrettably, the majority of Americans, though overwhelmingly progressive, disregard the many similarities of their beliefs to feminism, and in turn, leave the few, strong but tired feminist to continue the fight on their own. Instead of looking like a few passionate advocates, it’s time feminism looked more like progressivism, in that anyone can identify with the term without feeling “isolated,” or exclusionary. It’s time we recognize that feminism simply strives for gender-based justice the same way progressive strives for justice overall, and you cannot think progressively without also being a feminist.
According to Killerman, “the goal of feminism is to create a society in which individuals’ genders don’t restrict them from an equitable shot at success and happiness.” If you believe this, you are a feminist. So, let’s take it from there.