There is a word that evokes such horror and derision it crosses ethnic, racial, and gender boundaries in its dislike and disdain. It is polarizing, resulting in arguments, insult, and injury. It is a word meant to bring together and equalize the world’s people, and, yet, it is spit at as if it is a disease.
It is the “F” word. And, no, I am not speaking of the word “fuck.” Anyone who has ever worked in the arts or in customer service knows that this word has been used so often it is rendered meaningless to the listener.
I’m talking about the word “feminism.”
The dictionary definition of feminism states that feminism is “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.”
This definition many of us would readily agree with. Why wouldn’t we? However, at some point in time, this word became saturated with negative bias. “Femi-Nazi,” “Man-hater,” and “Dyke” somehow became synonymous for a word that, for all intents and purposes, means “equal.”
Somewhere along the line, the word “feminism” has become equated to unfair or unjust vitriol that has rendered an empowered and educated movement, powerless. So much so, that many female celebrities have gone on record claiming that they would not call themselves feminists, producing the reasons that they “love men” and that it has a negative connotation as reasons they would not do so.
Lady Gaga: “I’m not a feminist. I hail men, I love men.”
Kelly Clarkson: “No, I wouldn’t say I’m a feminist — that’s too strong. […] I love that I’m being taken care of and I have a man that is a leader.”
Carrie Underwood: “I wouldn’t go so far as to say I am a feminist, that can come off as a negative connotation.”
Read full article HERE
Sure, I love men too. I would consider myself straight on the sexuality spectrum, but that doesn’t mean I’m not a feminist. The two are not mutually exclusive.
And then there’s the women who tried to say they did not consider themselves “feminists” because they felt they were better define as “humanists.”
Susan Sarandon: “I think of myself as a humanist because it’s less alienating to people who think feminism as being a load of strident bitches and because you want everyone to have equal pay, equal rights, education, and health care.”
And while I am horrified that feminism has a correlation in people’s minds to “strident bitches,” as someone who was called a femi-nazi, I can sort of understand where these women are coming from. They feel by negating the term feminism, one can essentially stand on the exact same platform as feminists without the fear of having the negative connotation placed on you.
However, I find this move to be extremely damaging. (Apart from the fact that I also want to use the “if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck” argument to prove that you, my friend, are in fact feminist.) By discrediting the “fem” in feminism, you are also removing the power of the argument. This can also be found in removing the word “black” from #blacklivesmatter and replacing it with an “all.” By doing so, you essentially neuter the power of the statement, the strength of words. And yes, even in 2015 when our Word of the Year is an emoji, semantics matter.
I don’t believe anyone is arguing with the fact that ALL lives matter, but using the word “humanist” to describe what, in essence, is humanitarianism is wrong. Yes, humanists, like humanitarians, do believe that all lives, all plights, all issues of inequality and abuse matter and need to be addressed. All of these issues deserve a platform to be debated.
However, it’s important to note that 1) humanism is an actual word that, yes, focuses on human equality and study, but also disregards a spiritual or higher power and 2) by blanketing the world’s problems into one (incorrectly used term) you have successfully failed to stand for anything.
It is as if we target elephant activists working to end the trade of ivory and say that they are elephant-nazis because they don’t concern themselves with the plight of polar bears. Their existence and mission does not discredit any other animal issues, their existence makes their results and awareness stronger. By stripping them of their specificity, you strip them of their power to affect successful change.
So, all of this being said, who is to blame? Men? Women? Why do we have such a powerful reaction to a simple word? Why do we feel that women are “complaining” for equality rather than fighting for it, like the men did?
I recently got into a Facebook argument with a complete stranger over this very topic. My best friend had posted an article entitled “8 Ways Men Don’t Realize They Are Subtly Shaming Women.” The list includes things you would expect to see, including interrupting and talking over women, using gendered language in a harmful context (i.e. “pussy”), and shaming men by calling them feminine or effeminate because they are more emotionally available than socially acceptable. It also includes such examples as shaming women for their natural biological processes, such as menstruation and childbirth. (And, yet, erectile dysfunction can be talked about with alarming frequency on prime time television.)
Someone I did not know commented on the posting because he felt it was offensive, citing the “not all men” argument. To which I replied, in essence, “but, yes, all women.”
For those of you unaware of the argument, it goes a little something like this: Not all men are sexist, so I felt offended that their article pointed out that men do these things. I am a man and I do not. To which I replied: No, not all men are sexists, but, yes, all women have been and continue to be victims of verbal/sexual/physical assault/abuse, sexist comments, inequality, rape, etc. and we are currently in a system that does not support our claims as equal or as justified as our male counterpart’s.
He replied back with sensitivity and an informed mind, which garnered my respect. He acquiesced that America is further behind than Europe, where he currently resided, and that he agrees there are a lot of issues that need addressing within our borders. However, he did mention that he felt women were also to blame for perpetuating shame within the female gender.
I refuse to agree, though I know I have to.
Fox News recently did a segment on how men feel about women wearing leggings as pants. (My inner voice is screaming: Why the FUCK does it matter what you think?)
The concern centered around yet another young girl being sent home for wearing leggings to school, being told she was a distraction to the boys. Again, instead of teaching boys to control their hormones (and let’s face it, what teenager isn’t turned on by everything?), we disrupted a girl’s education to teach her a lesson: her body is shameful and distracting. A boy’s education is worth more than her’s.
The school claimed that they were teaching the girl how to dress for the future where leggings are not suitable work attire, and, yet, there is no standard for the boys aside from the “no baggy jeans” rule that seems uniform throughout many schools. They are not told they are distracting to girls’ educations. They are not told that they should be ashamed or cover their body.
Boys will be boys, I guess…but, girls, if you dare to be a girl, be ashamed. Be very ashamed.
I would like to point our attention to the previously mentioned Fox News segment, one in which four men deemed what was and was not acceptable dress for women. One such man is dressed in a full beard, kerchief, and camouflage (proper work attire, if you’re a duck hunter, I guess), the others dressed in suits as they judged three women who “paraded around” in leggings for their scrutiny and, as they joked, sexual amusement. These men, who claimed they would never let their daughters be seen in leggings, and then who explicitly talked about a female’s body, were deemed competent enough to judge what did and did not constitute as “appropriate.”
The debate of leggings as pants and the distasteful Fox News segment were later satirized by The Daily Show.
As a woman who has been criticized for not wearing enough makeup, for not dressing pretty enough to be seen by “important people,” for dressing too pretty, for taking up too much space, and has been catcalled more times than I can count, I am disgusted and, sadly, not surprised.
As an educated and informed woman, I find it time to also admit this is not a one-sided treatment, as the aforementioned stranger from England mentioned before.
Reality shows run rampant in women-treating-each-other-badly plot lines. Whole franchises have capitalized on slut-shaming and backstabbing, bringing it to your doorstep in high-gloss magazines and television programs. Twitter feeds that accompany these shows are filled with coded language as they live tweet these serial bad behaviors, using language like “slut,” “whore,” and “bitch” in an endless, scrollable slew of violent and anti-female rhetoric. They are almost rendered unreadable and are severely damaging in their anonymity and frequency.
Now, many of you may suggest that women who put themselves out there for public scrutiny are “asking for it.” That these women who treat each other badly on screen (or don’t, as the case may be), must now welcome the death threats, suggestions of rape, and body judgments that have become synonymous with a public life. Suggesting that they deserve otherwise brings us back to other coded and biased words of “emotional,” “sensitive,” “over-reactive.” Being in a public space on a public forum means you were asking for it, the same way dressing in leggings was asking for boys to become distracted with their work, or a girl who got drunk was asking for rape.
And, it’s not just men who state these arguments. Women do it too. Sometimes, even more harshly and with more gusto than men.
Just yesterday, Barbara Walters said of Melania Trump: “Because she’s so beautiful, we don’t expect her to be as smart as she is.”
This statement shocked me. Walters, an investigative journalist for 50+ years and someone I idolized when I had wanted to become a broadcast journalist, watering down femininity into two distinct categories: Pretty or Intelligent.
In my search for meaning, as I do with everything (if you haven’t already noticed), I try to find blame, places of perpetual anger and hatred, someplace where I can say: that was where it all started. I know that this quest is futile. It’s easy to say there has been a “daughters of Eve” rhetoric for millennia. It’s impossible to say where the tendrils of hatred begin in our own society, even more difficult to unlock a plan to end it.
Though there are women who are trying: Jennifer Laurence, Emma Watson, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, Gloria Steinem… the list of powerful, high profile women who have fought to bring attention to the inequalities of women are endless and inspiring. It is comforting to know that work is being done.
However, there is still a long way to go. I know many of my readers may have started this article and never finished it. Many may have rolled their eyes and clicked X, some may have whispered “bitch,” some may have even thought “There she goes go, so dramatic…” And that’s okay, it’s to be expected.
We have to begin to strip away our ideas of what constitutes a woman. We need to decimate our ideas of a “woman’s place” or the proper way for a woman to look, act, dress, or say. We need to wash away the idea that women exist only in dualities: Beautiful/Intelligent, Bossy/Follower, Slut/Chaste, Bitch/Subservient, Feminist/Man-Lover.
We are all complex, ever-changing, ever-evolving. We need equality and respect, not carefully placed or misused linguistics that discredit movements of freedom and egalitarianism.
We need change.
And, yes, I am a feminist.