It’s always a telling moment when the word ‘feminist’ gets dropped around a new friend, male or female. I have found myself wincing, one eye squinting, waiting for the reaction. When it’s positive, I relax almost immediately, if it’s not, I fear I hold my stink-eye just a little too long and probably make everyone uncomfortable.
This isn’t necessarily fair.
Not everyone was raised by two people who used the word without a hint of negativity, but rather pride. Yet the f-word is something that has taken on an unfortunate stigma. It must mean you are militant, angry, man-hating, and unapproachable. Even I have gone through times of believing this. I have thought of disowning it completely (who needs labels my wannabe rebellious 17 year old self would say), but since then I have found that to disown it would be a disservice to its astounding legacy. I have chosen to embrace it and I have seen more and more people embracing it too. Maybe this is thanks to Emma Watson or Aziz Ansari – which is fine by me – and maybe feminism is finally getting a certain ‘hipness’ it so rightly deserves. Whatever the case, I think the stigma of the angry man-hater is still engrained in our reactions to the f-word, but maybe even more detrimental, at least in my experience, has been the exclusivity of the word to different classes, races, backgrounds, and education levels.
My hesitance to identify as a feminist in the past was never rooted in a fear of intimidating men or coming off as angry (I know I have intimidated men and I sometimes have a quick temper) these things are part of who I am ‘feminist’ or not, but what made me hesitant to join, was my inability (or unwillingness) to commit completely, irrevocably to the label. I knew I would fail to be the perfect feminist. I already had, and I showed no signs of changing my ways.
I tried giving up make-up for a week my junior year of high school and that didn’t feel right. I love makeup (a trait I get from my lipstick hoarding mother), and even more I love getting ready for a night out with my girls, those are usually the best parts of the night (that’s kind of feminist, isn’t it?). But I was never going to keep up with the gender and women’s studies scholars on my college campus, I am never going to read all the great feminist literature, I am never going to stop trying to shake my ass like Beyoncé. Then I realized the problem was me. I was limiting feminism in a way it has been limited (and limited itself) for so many years.
This is a movement about gender equality, absolutely. But people are often troubled with the word itself – they want to know why it’s called feminism if it’s about both genders having equality. I guess my best understanding of that issue is history.
What the term feminism can offer us is a reminder of the reality of gender equality as well as a reminder of the long history of inequality that has thoroughly disadvantaged women. This is NOT to say that men aren’t invited, in fact, men are not only affected negatively by gender inequality, but they are necessary to achieving the goal of equality.
I think the problem lies in the fact that we created this box, like us humans love to do, and put feminism in it and if you did anything outside the regulations of the box or disagreed with anyone in the box then you were banished, or banished yourself. This metaphor can be (and has been) applied to so many things but I think it is especially useful for understanding feminism. If we want to get down to it, feminism is just about gender equality, socially, economically, and politically and it’s about giving women autonomy over their own bodies a decisions.
That’s the f-word. How can you not get down with that?
Written by Madison Snider