Sunday, 25 September 2016

Does Feminism need a rebrand?

One experience that has always stuck with me, is sitting in a first year undergraduate seminar room, ready for my first session on Feminist Theory. Before saying anything else, the lecturer asked everyone to raise their hand if they identified as a feminist. Out of a class of twenty people, one girl raised her hand, followed by a couple of very hesitant, half shrugging hands – hands so carefully raised that they easily could turn into a head scratch if they suddenly felt too embarrassed.

The girl who raised her hand first was asked to elaborate, and she started speaking with the statement: “Well, I don’t mean like man-hating or anything…”

When the lecturer then asked who believed that men and women should be equal, everyone, including the men (the limited number – it was an English Literature course after all, where, in my experience, men have always been a bit outnumbered!) raised their hand.

Both of these statements, ‘feminist’ and ‘believing men and women should be equal’ mean the same exact thing. The reason I still remember this seminar I attended four years ago today is because this, to me, screams gigantic problem. Despite the fact that it was the same thing, the entire room would confidently admit to believing in equality of the sexes, but almost none admitted to being a feminist.

If I had endless time, I would love to repeat this exercise with every single group of people I met. It would be fascinating to see how many people who may be very well-meaning in their opinions that men and women should be equal – I could even go as far to say as this seems obvious to most – but how many will admit to being a feminist straight off the bat?

I believe that the issue doesn’t stem from feminism itself; it is the stigma that surrounds it. There is the stereotype that all feminists hate men. Or the stereotype that all feminists are hairy lesbians, which is damaging on so many levels and believe me, I could go on about this for hours. These are only the more obvious, basic stereotypes. A quick Google search on ‘feminism definition’ brings up Urban Dictionary as the second result. Within only a few clicks, I can read definitions such as these:

“Feminism used to be about women getting the same rights as men, such as the right to vote and equal pay at work.
Now feminism is a movement full of women who seem to think that their ability to push a baby out of their vagina entitles them to bigger and better everything.”

“A relentless political advocacy group pushing for special privileges for women, which pretends to be a social movement advocating equal rights for the genders.”

“Feminism is the radical notion that men are not people.”

Of course, as nothing is known about the author of these statements, nothing further can be assumed. However, it is shocking that these statements (only a snapshot of the many, many similar statements) come up so easily with a quick Google search. There are many, many debates on the true definition of feminism, and which aspects are most relevant today, but I believe that equality is something that everyone should continue to strive for.

As much as I love the empowerment of women – hell, women should feel empowered! - I think that more awareness needs to be raised on what feminism truly stands for – equality between the sexes. The stigma that comes with being associated with the word ‘feminist’ needs to be stopped. If we are involuntarily excluding one of those sexes, surely something needs to be done about that?

Therefore, in order for the feminist social movement to carry on making progress, it does need a rebrand.

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