Women's rights have come a long way since the early suffragette days, but feminism still has negative connotations attached to it. Nothing hurts my heart more than seeing someone turn his or her nose up at the mention of “feminism” because of preconceived (and quite often false) notions that are perpetuated by society. Here are my responses to some of those notions.
“Why is it even called feminism if it’s for everyone?”
It’s true, feminism is for everyone. By Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s definition, feminism is “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.” So why, then, is it called feminism?
Well, historically, women have been the ones who suffered inequality and sexism. Women were the ones prohibited from learning how to read, owning property, voting, purchasing birth control, opening a bank account…the list goes on. In fact, it wasn’t until 1975 that the Supreme Court retracted the ban on women serving as jury members in a trial. That’s only 42 years ago! Men have not had to fight for equal rights, and if they had, it probably would’ve been called “meninism.” (which, annoyingly enough, is a term that has recently begun appearing in popular culture…but don’t get me started on that).
Feminism, as a movement, began because women were being treaty unjustly. They were not (and in some cases are still not) equal to their male counterparts in politics, economics, or society. Feminism is called feminism, not because women want to have a higher status than men, but because they want the same status.
"Ugh, feminists are just man-haters."
Again, feminism is not about the hatred of men. Yes, it so often feels as though fighting for equality is a 'women vs. men' war. But, as I mentioned earlier, feminism isn’t about hating men; it is about being treated the same as them. Just because I identify as a feminist doesn’t mean I hate men. In fact, I want them to benefit from feminism too.
In her book We Should All Be Feminists, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, says,
“We stifle the humanity boys. We define masculinity in a very narrow way. Masculinity is a hard, small cage, and we put boys inside this cage.”
The rigid boundaries of masculinity are as toxic to men as they are to women. How often do we hear “boys don’t cry” or “be a man”? What do these statements imply? That showing emotion is (a historically “feminine” trait) is a weakness that must be avoided at all costs.
I don’t want men to be afraid to show their emotions or talk about their feelings. I don’t want them to be so scared of feeling weak or seeming vulnerable or that they aren’t allowed to just be human. If in society, men and women were treated equally, then there would be no more “boys don’t cry” because crying wouldn’t be a weakness.
It’s really difficult to be happy when you’re trapped in a cage, so dispelling the thinking that men can’t ever show “feminine” traits without being seen as weak would mean a lot more well-adjusted, emotionally healthy men.
“Aren’t feminists just loud women who burn their bras?”
Fun fact: the original “bra burning” trope comes from a 1969 protest at which no bras were actually burned. The protest took place on the Atlantic City Boardwalk where it was illegal to start a fire, so the protestors put typical “feminine” items in a “Freedom Trash Can” instead. These items, which included bras and other beauty products, were representations of the beauty standards that society enforces on women. Unfortunately, the “bra burning” falsity stuck and was used to belittle the movement and disregard the message protesters were trying to send. So no, feminists aren’t just women who burn their bras.
“Feminism isn’t needed anymore.”
Things do seem better for women now. I mean, I’m writing this article, so that means I was taught how to read and write. I’m in college, so I was allowed to pursue higher education. I voted in the last election, which means the suffragettes work paid off. So we’re all good now, right?
Gosh, I wish that were true.
Unfortunately, women are still discriminated against. We still aren’t paid the same as men. Women are often the target of abuse online. One out of every six American women has been the victim of sexual assault. Women only make up 104 of the 535 (19%) seats in Congress, 21 of the 100 seats (21%) in the Senate, and 83 of the 435 (19%) of the seats in the House of Representatives. This might be part of the reason that, in most states, tampons and pads are not seen as “necessities” and are therefore still taxed like other “tangible personal property.”
Clearly, we still need feminism. We can’t afford to think we live in a post-feminism society just because things “aren’t as bad as they used to be.” We can always do better. We must do better.