Is feminism a dirty word? I believe that women should have the same and equal rights as men. Like my friends, I am ruthless in calling out sexism when it is deserved. But there is something about the word ‘feminism’ that undermines the ideal it is intended to promote.
In Emma Watson’s iconic speech, she emphasizes the importance of removing the intimation of man hating from the word ‘feminism’. All too often I have seen both men and women refrain from calling themselves feminists for fear of social retribution. Many feminists I admire advise me to ignore the societal consequences of declaring myself a feminist. Despite the trust that I put in their encouragements, I still hesitate to label myself a feminist in public. I don’t want to deal with the rolled eyes and derisive laughter that so often follows.
Can we change the associations that feminism conjures in the minds of the general public? As a writer and avid reader, I am loath to underestimate the power of words. Words shape the way people see the world. Because feminism has negative connotations, it is alienating to people who would identify with the ideology. A poll conducted by Huffington Post demonstrated the nature of this dilemma. Although 82% of voters believed in equal rights for men and women, only 20% identified as feminists.
Until I was 17, I had no real idea what feminism actually meant. The first time I learned it was synonymous with equality was in my 11th grade English class, when my teacher came out of the closet as a feminist. The other students recoiled, despite her explanation of the ways feminism has been misunderstood. It has taken time to rid myself of previous misconceptions. Can we expect a nation to make the same effort?
There are important historical and cultural messages connected to this word. It has been a tool of empowerment and has united women since it was inextricably linked to women’s suffrage. Admittedly, much of the central ties to the origins of women’s rights would be lost with the shedding of the word feminism. However, ‘Feminism’ was used during a time where women’s rights were explicitly unequal. Therefore, the sentiment behind the word had to be emphatic enough to shift the paradigm in society. The force that is carried in the word ‘feminism’, although powerful, can be unsuited for the subtleties of modern day inequality.
I consider myself a feminist, but when I argue for equal rights, I am disregarded because of the label of feminism. I wish it were not this way, but feel an obligation to fight for equality, even if it comes at a heavy cost.
Although the word is important, it is not as pivotal as the cause. Our job in fighting for equal rights is to make sure that the cause prospers, not the language behind it. Although it would be ideal to salvage the word that carries so much weight for so many, is it realistic? If the word feminism is preventing people from jumping on the bandwagon of gender equality, is it still serving its original purpose? I don’t think so. From now on, call me an equalist.