Dear People Who Fear/Reject Feminism,
Why are we afraid of being labeled as Feminist if we believe in gender equality? Can we please get past labeling and get to the point. It’s quite simple; you are a Feminist if you believe in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. You are also a Feminist if you acknowledge that there is social inequality based on gender, and that this benefits one gender more than the other, but also understand that this inequality causes social, political, and economic implications for both genders. It is important to remind you of what Feminism really is, because studies show that individuals will not identify as Feminists until after they are reminded of the definition. The weight of the term is so heavy that the association of Feminism comes to be offensive to some people. But why are we offended by the implication that we are Feminist? It is because of the stereotypes and misinterpretations of the movement—often perpetuated by mainstream media— which scare people and have made it easier to reject the term rather than engage in dialogue over the term. However in doing so we have not only turned our back on Feminism but on equality.
Although Feminism originated as a movement by women to end the female struggle(s) and make women equal to men, it has come to advocates for the equality of the sexes. It now encompasses both genders, it does not ignore that there are some inequalities that affect the male gender. Still many argue that if this movement really represents gender equality why not name it something different like ‘Equalist’ or ‘Humanist’, why call it Feminism? The word alone favors one gender over the other, so if it is gender equality why not give it a gender-neutral name.
Well to this Feminist Jarrah Hodge responds that gender inequality requires a specific lens, she says, “because women are generally marginalized compared to men, they need narrative space for themselves and allies to discuss women’s issues and experiences”(Hodge, 2012). This is why it needs to be named Feminism, because although it advocates for gender equality, it is the female gender that is underprivileged in society, and needs to be brought up to the same level of the male gender. Thus Feminism brings specific attention to gender inequality, whereas ‘Equalist’ and ‘Humanist’ can get lost with other forms of equality and not bring attention to gender struggle(s).
The reason many of us have come to fear the term is because popular culture has perpetuated feminist stereotypes. However, not all Feminists are angry women full of hysteria that aim to suppress men. This is often a result of the interpretation of various forms of Feminism and Feminist theories by mainstream media. It was because the original movement did not encompass all members that new groups were formed.
What are these various forms? Wind Goodfriend explains some of the various types that have formed, like Social Feminism, which calls for a social reform of our economy, as they believe capitalism reinforces gender inequality. Radical Feminism, a more extreme form, ideally believes that we must erase the concept of gender, because sexism is deeply embedded in society. Cultural feminism argues that society encourages gender bias behavior that is unjust and unequal. Other groups have coined terms like Womanism or Intersectional Feminism, which attends to the racial oppression of women within these movements. Though these forms all have the same goal they target different aspects of inequality.
Although these various forms bring attention to important problems that needed to be addressed, they have also led to a division within the Feminist movement. As mainstream media has pitted one form against another, inevitably leading to misinterpretations and stereotypes. In public discourse I have found that women are pushed to criticize particular forms of Feminism. For example, articles circulate the media written by people who claim to believe in gender equality but shamed Modern Feminism, for allowing artists like Miley Cyrus to excuse her explicit sexuality through Feminism. These writers do not only criticize the person but the movement itself. There are also articles from active Feminists attacking the UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson for the HeforShe movement. Claiming that we do not need a movement inviting men to advocate for the rights and equality of women. If it is not criticizing the movement then it is perpetuation misinterpretation, often telling women of color that Social Feminism is truly Western (white-women) feminism, claiming that an economic reform only benefits the white able-body women, thus we should all reject an economic reform.
Writers that claim to believe in gender equality are always quick to disassociate themselves with the Feminist movement, and attack the movement as a whole when a gender problem arises. Like when some (radical) Feminist ostracized Matt Taylor—a scientist who helped land a spacecraft on a comet—for wearing a sexist shirt. Claiming that this behavior makes it hard for women join the scientific field. They did not bring attention to the cultural problem as a whole, but to the individual, which fueled massive criticism of the Feminist movement. Though it is necessary to address the topic, why men find it necessary to wear explicitly sexual shirts, it should not have robbed this man of his achievements. When Feminism as a whole was criticized for making Matt Taylor cry, many feminist were also quick to label themselves as Modern Feminist and put the blame on Radical Feminist. But playing the blame game only weakens the movement in the eyes of those who oppose gender equality. It perpetuated criticism of all feminism, claiming that the movement has moved to attack individuals rather than larger social structures.
We have weakened the movement, not because we are reliant on another gender, but because this division has led to the segregation of women into different representations of the Feminist movement. It is because we have divided ourselves into groups within our movement, and have allowed the basic idea of gender equality to be misconstrued, to a movement that only addresses one half of the population. Ensuing stereotypes and misrepresentations of Feminism, that further results in minorities oppressing other minorities. So let’s moved past labeling, whether you identified as a Liberal Feminist, Radical Feminist, Modern Feminist, or Intersectional Feminist, and find more common ground—including aspects of all different groups— that will help us achieve the same goal. Gender equality does not need to be such a contested subject.