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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Column: Why ‘feminism’ shouldn’t be the F-word we’re still afraid to use

The ideals of the movement help empower women, which is a positive thing for everyone.

Elise Moser

Jan. 28, 2014

The opinions expressed by The Maneater columnists do not represent the opinions of The Maneater editorial board.

Feminism: The F-word a lot of people are still really afraid to use.

I remember the moment it really sunk in for me. This word I use to describe myself is not one others relate to. I was in my Freshman Interest Group class, and we were doing a lesson with the Diversity Peer Educators, in which we stepped forward when a label with which we identified was read.

As the exercise went on, people stepped forward for “red-head,” “Christian,” “liberal” and “conservative.” But when they read “feminist,” I was the only one in the room to step into the center of the circle. Out of my class of 20-something students, diverse in their many interests and backgrounds, not one of them wanted to openly identify themselves as a feminist.

Is it really such a scary thing? As I stood there listening to stereotypes being read about feminists, I wondered what my students thought about the word. Did they think I was a bra-burning, man-hating woman? Did they truly think women and men are equal enough that they didn’t need to work toward greater equality? Were they concerned about what others would think if they chose the label for themselves?

Since then, I’ve become hyper-aware of the fact that people are afraid to call themselves feminists. The really odd thing to me is that feminist ideals are alive and well in many of these people, and yet they are quick to deny the label for themselves.

During the airing of the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, I saw a tweet from a woman I went to high school with. She didn’t appreciate the way the models were made to seem like the ideal body. But her critiques came with a disclaimer.

“Not that I’m a feminist,” she said in the tweet.

So she thinks it’s a problem that the media creates an unattainable body image ideal for women, but she doesn’t want to be associated with a movement working to change that?

Celebrities like Katy Perry and Kelly Clarkson publically denounce their feminism, as if it’s a bad thing to be a feminist. Clarkson, herself, says she’s not a feminist because she appreciates it when her husband takes care of her. Since when did appreciating care from a loved one and feminism become mutually exclusive?

Feminism is a fluid movement, with many different facets. I know my own journey with feminism is constantly evolving, and that’s what I love about it. Every day, I read something new that challenges an ideal I had before. It keeps me thinking about the state of gender equality in the world. It also gives me a chance to help other women, something I’m very proud of.

The F-word has also given me a chance to look at media through a new lens. I think about the way female characters are portrayed in my favorite television shows. Do they have strong female friendships? Are their plot lines dependent on their relationships to men? I think about the way children’s media affects young girls. And I think about the way women are portrayed by news networks, particularly those in powerful business and political positions.

Feminism also takes a look at other inequalities, including racial, religious, sexual orientation and economic inequality. Gender equality is part of the fight, but feminists fight against all injustices. Feminists hope to live in a world where everyone has equal opportunities. That’s the kind of world I’d like to live in, and I hope others feel the same way.

So maybe the F-word has negative connotations, but those who fight against inequalities should not be ashamed to tell the world that they do so. I proudly call myself a feminist, and I hope others do too.

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Article comments

Feb. 2, 2014 at 4:34 p.m.

Robbie Engel: Excellent points.. The connotation of feminism has been distorted into something extreme and alienating. I am a feminist, my daughters and husband are feminists, and good for you for being courageous enough to stand up for for justice and equality.

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