Lately I have been hearing:
‘I’m not a feminist’.
‘I hate the label feminism’.
‘The title of feminism has been ruined by some people’.
Katy Perry accepted the Billboard Woman of the Year 2012 award with the speech, ‘I am not a feminist, but I do believe in the strength of women’ … *Incredulity*
For many, the problem is simply that they do not know what feminism is and have not taken the 2 minutes required to google it.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines feminism thus:
- The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.
- Organized activity in support of women’s rights and interests.
Here are some simple quotes defining feminism:
‘Feminism is the radical notion that women are people’ – Cheris Kramarae.
‘A feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men’ –Gloria Steinem.
Feminism means equal respect for all people, regardless of gender, sexuality, and race. If you believe in the strength of women, Katy Perry, you are a feminist.
Here are some things that are not the definition of feminism:
‘Men and women are the same thing and we should pretend we do not have different genitals’.
‘Men are stupid and we should cut off their penises’.
‘Men have really easy lives and therefore we should make them harder’.
The above thoughts are loosely quoted from interactions with men (especially internet trolls), and are unsurprisingly focused upon men and not women. Because, of course, feminism must be about men… *Incredulous sarcasm*
So now that we’re all up to speed, let’s consider these ‘some people’ who have besmirched the name of feminism.
Perhaps those who complain are concerned that the likes of vocal anti-abortion advocates like Sarah Palin call themselves feminists. Of course, there are self-appointed ambassadors of just about any cause or belief system who manipulate that ideology to achieve their own ends. But just as it would be wrong to assume that all Christians are malicious homophobes because Fred Phelps Sr. and his Westboro Baptist followers caused anguish by protesting spitefully at countless funerals about the deceased going to hell for being gay or facilitating homosexuality, it would be wrong to blame feminism for Sarah Palin advocating less freedom for women. And if Sarah Palin can get away with calling herself a feminist, the problem lies more in a lack of general understanding of what feminism actually is, than in a problem inherent within feminism itself.
But when prompted, antagonists will not usually name Palin as the person who has destroyed the movement for them. No, in fact, they usually do not know any feminists’ names. They are actually just repeating anti-feminist comments because that’s what they heard from some radio presenter/magazine columnist/other dreary regurgitator and enabler of mainstream culture.
There is no problem with feminism; there is a problem with sexism, because it is sexism that labels women as evil, stupid, ugly, ungrateful man-haters. If you stand against feminism, you disagree with the idea that women are people who deserve equal respect, and if that is the case, YOU are sexist and need to evolve.
Many of those who reject feminism believe that we live in an equal society already, and that feminism is therefore redundant. And while women can now vote, go to university, drive cars, and choose their own mates in most Western cultures; it would be blind to ignore the fact that rape, prostitution, and domestic violence toward women are still staggeringly common in countries like Australia. (And before I hear the cries of defensive privileged white males, I am not denying that bad things happen to men, too. In fact, feminists do not want anyone to get bashed, raped, or murdered, so you might see that we actually agree and can work together!)
If you subscribe to the view that no one type of person matters more than another, what is so wrong with calling this feminism? Without causes and movements with specific labels, privileged cultures such as ours have a tendency to wallow in the oblivion of apathetic postmodernity. I believe we have a responsibility to be informed and to educate others, and to treat ourselves and others with respect. If you are already doing all this and giving it a name other than feminism, then you have my admiration, but please think twice before criticising feminism.