Do you believe that men and women should have political, social, and economic equality? Yes? Well, then, welcome to the feminist club, where we discuss the social, political, and economic advancement of men and woman alike. We have jackets. I went to an all-girls high school, where being a feminist was practically required, so getting to college, a place where there are supposed to be open-minded people and being met with animosity when talking about feminism was not something I could really wrap my head around, especially when it came to other girls. I could not understand why being a feminist and wanting equal rights for women was seen as a negative by other women.
I was really angry that I was being put down for believing in women’s rights by other women. Heather Savigny, a feminist writer, said, “We often hear some say ‘I’m not a feminist but...' because to be associated with feminism is not a good thing.” Why is being associated with feminism a negative thing and how can we change that? The main reason that being associated with feminism is seen as negative is the bad representation it gets on the media along with people not being properly educated on what feminism is. The only way we can change that is if feminists make it their mission to educate others on what feminism is about.
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The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines feminism as “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.” However, many people just think of feminism as the hatred of men or the belief that women are superior to men. Knowing the definition of feminism is important to identifying as a feminist. In a 2013 Economist/YouGov poll, 200 people were asked if they identify as a feminist. Seventy-two percent of total responders said no.
Only 38 percent of women and 18 percent of men said that they are feminists. When the same people were given the definition of feminism as “someone who believes in the political, social, and economical equality of the sexes,” and then asked if they were feminists again, responses were different. After being given the definition, a total of 57 percent of the responders said that they were feminists. Now, 67 percent of the women and 47 percent of the men agreed that they were feminists. One of the major problems with feminism is the word itself; it has a negative connotation. When people learn what feminism actually means through education or just by hearing the definition, they are more likely to adopt it. This survey shows how important being educated on the issue of feminism is. If someone doesn’t know what feminism is, they just assume because it has the base “fem-” in it that it’s only about women’s rights or that it’s about women hating men.
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You may be asking, "why do we need feminism?" You could be saying that, legally speaking, women can do everything that a man can do, so where is the inequality? The inequality shows up when it comes to the pay gap, where a woman, who could work full-time, year-round, still only make 77 percent of what a man with the same job makes.
We need feminism when it comes to rape and how people will blame the victim saying that she was not wearing much, so she was asking for it. We need feminism because when a woman is as sexually active as a man, she is called a slut and demeaned for it, but a man is praised for it. We need feminism because when a female is in charge, she's being bossy or seen as a bitch, but when a male takes charge, he is seen as a leader. We need feminism because the government tells women what they are allowed to do with their own bodies.
We need feminism because cat-calling is not a compliment, it's disrespectful and makes women feel uncomfortable. But we also need feminism for other countries besides America. We need feminism because Female Genital Mutilation, the act of cutting off and restitching female genitals to prevent pleasurable sex, is still practiced in 29 countries and can happen to girls as young as 5 months old. We need feminism because more than 120 countries do not have laws against marital rape and still allow child brides, who can be as young as 6 years old. Being a feminist does not mean you think women cannot speak for themselves, it means you realize that, even though some may be lucky enough to, there's still many who cannot.
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The media plays a big part in how people view feminism. While many female celebrities, like Shailene Woodley, say they are not feminists because they don't hate men or think that "feminism" is too strong of a word, there are feminist celebrities that are supporting feminism loudly and publicly. One example is Beyoncé with her song "Flawless."
"Flawless" samples parts of the speech “We Should All Be Feminists” by Nigerian author and feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Beyoncé performed this song at the 2014 VMAs in front of a big neon Feminist sign, which officially outed her as a feminist. In Beyoncé’s interview with CNN later that year, she says, “I’ve always considered myself a feminist, although I was always afraid of that word because people put so much on it. … It’s just a person that believes in equality for men and women.” This shows how even a famous celebrity with tons of fans like Beyoncé is afraid of saying what she feels about feminism because of how people view feminism.
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Another example is Emma Watson’s speech at the United Nations. In her speech, she says, “my recent research has shown me that feminism has become an unpopular word. Women are choosing not to identify as feminists. Apparently, I’m among the ranks of women whose expressions are seen as too strong, too aggressive, isolating, and anti-man. Unattractive, even.” This quote is important because it’s acknowledging the negative way feminism is viewed by some people. When people think of feminism, some think of unattractive, unshaven, angry women, but that is not what modern day feminism is. A feminist does not look like one specific description; a feminist can be shaven or unshaven, attractive or unattractive, male or female.
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Watson then addresses men and says that gender equality is their issue too. Watson says, “I’ve seen my father’s role as a parent being valued less by society … I’ve seen men made fragile and insecure by a distorted sense of what constitutes male success. Men don’t have the benefits of equality either.” In this part of her speech, Watson addresses the way men are expected to be stoic and strong all the time.
Watson acknowledges that both men and women have unrealistic societal expectations and that they need to work together to get equality for all. There will always be people who condemn feminism and have something negative to say about feminists, no matter how much campaigning or positive things feminists do. The most important thing to do is ignore these people and continue advocating for equal rights, no matter how old or what gender you are. Celebrities are paving the way for feminism with more and more celebrities coming out as feminists and showing that feminism is a positive thing. Through my research on this topic, I have become more confident in being a feminist. If I ever talk about being a feminist and see someone cringe about that, I’m going to ask them why they think feminism is a bad thing and then, in the nicest way possible, educate them as to why feminism is a positive movement.