Recently, I’ve been reflecting on this past year, and I’ve realized that 2014 was the year of the F-word. Emma Watson gave an amazing speech to the U.N. on it. Beyoncé danced in front of a giant lighted sign of the word at the VMAs and wrote a fantastic article about it. Aziz Ansari talked about it on the Late Show with David Letterman. Amy Poehler wrote a book which talked about it, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt talked about it, well, just about everywhere.
That’s right, I’m talking about “feminism.”
There’s a good chance that if you haven’t taken one of the amazing women’s studies classes offered at K-State, the word “feminism” is probably akin to a dirty word, conjuring up images of stereotypical, unattractive women running around without bras or make-up, with chips on their shoulders and man-hating.
This image comes from the fact that a lot of people don’t know the definition of the word, and they assume it’s about raising women to a position above men. I believe that feminist pop culture writer Andi Zeisler said it best in The New York Times article titled, “Who is a Feminist Now?”
“(The idea that feminism is) this zero-sum game that if it elevates women, then it denigrates men,” Zeisler said in the article. “That’s just wrong and has never been what feminism is about. That’s the Fox News version of feminism.”
So then, what is feminism really? Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said that a feminist is, “the person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.”
It’s the idea that people should be hired, promoted and paid based on qualification, not their race, sex, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation or anything else that has nothing to do with job performance.
It’s the idea that gender roles are harmful to everyone in society, reducing women to fragile, emotional wombs, while simultaneously taking away men’s right to emotion and equality in parenthood. It’s the idea that all people, no matter what gender, deserve respect.
It fights sexism, racism, homophobia, slut shaming and victim blaming.
It raises up the voices of marginalized people in our society, including women, people of color, transgendered people, queer people, victims of sexual violence and domestic abuse, and so on.
It’s pretty hard to say that those points are negative, don’t you think?
Let me break this down for you: if you believe in gender equality, then you’re a feminist.
As with any social movement calling for change, however, there is always a backlash. One of the backlashes against feminism is the so-called “men’s rights movement.” I think that this movement partially comes from not understanding feminism and partially comes from flat out misogyny.
Many of the issues that the men’s right movement discusses exist also within the realm of feminism, such as father’s rights, high rates of suicide, problems with low-income households and male victims of domestic violence and rape. If people understood that feminism discusses the harmfulness of gender roles for everyone, they would see that these fall under the realm of feminism.
Then there is the flip side of the men’s right movement: many men’s right activists are calling for the age of consent to be lowered to 12 years old so fewer men are convicted of statutory rape, claiming that “male privilege” doesn’t exist in society but “women’s privilege” does. They also call for the abolition of the sex offender registry; claim that mothers are emasculating their sons; and assert that cat-calling and rape jokes are normal.
Not to mention the nasty sorts of language you read from men’s right movement group members and leaders, especially on “openly hostile” blogs and websites such as SlutHate and Angry Harry, but also in interviews like the one in this month’s issue of GQ magazine.
I was motivated by all of the misunderstanding of feminism that I see not only in groups such as the men’s rights movement, but also from people in my daily life. Let me break this down for you: if you believe in gender equality, then you’re a feminist. That’s it. I encourage you to dawn the label proudly because, as J.K. Rowling once wrote, “fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself.” People shouldn’t fear feminism, because it has so much to offer society.
I, as a fellow feminist, promise to not be judgmental if your version of liberation looks different from my own. If you want to wear make-up and high heels or Chuck Taylors and a snapback, go for it! If you want to wear a burqa or a bikini, have at it! If you want to be the CEO of a million dollar company or a stay-at-home parent, power to ya! If you want to have 10 kids or no kids, totally up to you!
The point is, feminism isn’t about hate, as some would have you believe, and it certainly isn’t a dirty word. Feminism is about giving everyone a level playing field to live the life they choose to live and be who they choose to be, free from societal oppression.
Britt Talkington is a senior in history.