NOTE: The problem I am addressing in this blog post is that the damaging misconceptions about feminism create fear for those who consider themselves feminists. During the writing process, I found that the conversation about feminism is much too nuanced to fit into a 1000 word blog post. I have included links throughout the piece so I can take the time to expand on an idea instead of taking up space just describing it. Many of my ideas and facts can use more information, so please feel free to do your own research.
Why We Should Call Ourselves Feminists
Type the word ‘feminism’ into Google. The first thing that pops up is the definition. Notice that it mentions nothing about man-hating. However, the first link that pops up, besides Wikipedia, is the Tumblr for a movement called Women Against Feminism. This page is filled with photos of women that accompany short blurbs about why they ‘don’t need feminism.’ Searching through these photos, it’s apparent that these women are not against the idea of gender equality, but some undefined ideology called ‘modern feminism.’ It appears they respond to some of the more extreme forms of feminism (finding a link to someone who actually harbors these ideas was enormously difficult, by the way) – but those ideas are considered extreme because a great majority of those who consider themselves feminists don’t hold these beliefs. Often, people will mistakenly put women in a category with the extremists when they say the words, ‘I am a feminist.’ It’s scary, but in this post, I’d like to convince you that saying those four words is important. To prepare you for that, let’s debunk some of the myths and misconceptions about feminism, starting with bra-burning.
In 1968, outside a Miss America pageant, a women’s rights group called New York Radical Women took off their bras and burned them to draw attention to their feminist causes. Or did they? This group of women did protest the ideas of beauty imposed on women outside of the Miss America pageant, but there was no stripping of bras. They sarcastically crowned a sheep and threw female beauty products, such as high heels, cosmetics, and bras, into ‘Freedom Trash Cans’- but they didn’t burn them. A New York Post reporter linked the women’s rights protest to protests of the Vietnam War where people burned their draft cards. The image of a radical feminist publicly tearing off her bra and burning it is a prevalent but false symbol of feminism. The association between bra-burning and feminism were used by anti-feminists to invalidate their movement in the public’s eyes by depicting these women as angry, radical extremists. It is an image used to depreciate the women who fight for their rights and to trivialize the issues that they focus on. This is just one of many damaging stereotypes imparted on feminists that are inaccurate.
“Everyone works but mother: she’s a suffragette.”
It wouldn’t be the first time those advocating for women’s rights had other definitions and ideas impressed upon them. Over a century ago, women who were fighting for the right to vote were often branded as unloved, manly old maids or mothers who neglected their families. One caption on an anti-suffrage advertisement reads, “Everyone works but mother: she’s a suffragette.” ‘Suffragette’ was a term invented to disparage female suffragists; the suffix –ette, denoting small sizes or imitation, was added as a way to belittle the idea of female suffrage. However, this term was reclaimed by suffragists. Hardly anyone today would consider the word ‘suffragette’ to describe a woman who neglects their family or believes in domination over males. These women defined the word on their own terms, giving ‘suffragette’ a positive connotation that more truly represents their beliefs. These suffragettes were once depicted to be ugly, unloved spinsters- an inaccurate portrait of who they really were, similar to the way negative stereotypes are impressed upon feminists today.
Why do we still need feminism?
In the Women Against Feminism Tumblr I mentioned earlier, many women assert that we no longer need feminism in America. By this, they mean that America has already achieved gender equality; there is no need for the avocation of women’s rights when women already have all the rights previously only afforded to men. I believe we have made huge political and legal strides in the advancement of women’s rights in America. But we are not done yet. If women earn less than men for the same amount of work, then we still need feminism. If feelings of fear and vulnerability when walking alone down a dark street are prevalent in women, then we need feminism. Not acknowledging feminism is denying the problems that exclusively affect women.
How about calling it equalism or egalitarianism?
With the word ‘feminism’ having such a negative connotation, some ask: why not use another word to describe the fight for women’s rights and gender equality, say, the word equalism or egalitarianism? After all, that is ultimately what feminists want, right? Equalism is not a widely used term. In fact, Microsoft Word doesn’t even recognize ‘equalism’ as a word in their dictionary. Try typing it into google. Not much comes up. When identifying as an equalist, one would have to describe exactly what is meant by equalism, which defeats the purpose of having a term to encompass the idea of gender equality. Similarly, egalitarianism is a very broad term that can refer to social, economic, and other forms of equality. The ideas of egalitarianism are less specific than the term ‘feminism’; egalitarianism does not identify the actions needed to achieve equality (identifying a minority in need of advancement). Also, neither term refers to the advancement of females. Feminism acknowledges that women are the ones often marginalized in society. Feminism asserts that it is women’s rights that need to be advanced to achieve gender equality. It is not a fight to surpass men because equality does not allow one to be ‘more equal’ to others. Either way, the term ‘feminism’ has a history of struggles. If you acknowledge that the work of women’s rights continues to build on the work of previous activists and if you believe in what they fought for, then ‘feminism’ is the most respectful term.
Are there radical feminists who assert that women are superior to men? Yes. Are all rectangles squares? After some exploration into geometry, no. So do all feminists believe in female supremacy? After learning more about feminists, no. Despite claims to the contrary, feminism at its core still describes the belief in gender equality and the advancement of female rights. So do we need to call ourselves feminists? Is it important? Despite what the official definition of feminism is, some might argue that this extreme definition of feminism is what most people believe, so it is now the proper definition. Some might say that we might not like this, but because this is generally what people think feminism is, the definition has changed. The word has evolved. But only a feminist can tell you what feminism means. How can someone tell a group of people what they believe in? Often our actions do more than what we say, but reclaiming the word feminism is important also. The word ‘feminist’ is used to demean women but only because of the word’s misconceptions. When you say that you are a feminist, you have the power to make an example of yourself. So say it. Say, “I am a feminist and I believe in equal rights for men and women.”