By definition, feminism is a range of political movements, ideologies, and social movements that share a common goal: to define, establish, and achieve political, economic, personal, and social equality of sexes. Using that definition, surely most people would say that they were a feminist. It would even be a prideful thing to say. However in reality only 27% of men and 35% of women in the UK would call themselves a feminist. It feels much more like an insult than a compliment to be called a feminist. Therefore the problem must lie with the word itself.
If you say you are a feminist in casual conversation it feels as if you have unleashed Pandora’s Box of scrutiny, with stereotypes of burning bras, man-hating antics and hypocritical actions being much louder than your voice. If you say you are not a feminist it feels as if you have been accused of not believing in equality, as if the two stances must be mutually exclusive events that cannot co-exist. Again, your point becomes silenced.
Whether you call yourself a feminist or not, before you can even explain your reasoning you have already been placed on trial by jury and been judged as guilty.
But why is it this way?
Perhaps it is conflict of thoughts. With over 7.4 billion people living in this world, there are over 7 billion individual interpretations of feminism. Some may be positive, some may be negative. One person’s interpretation may completely contradict someone else’s. So how can you align (or not align) yourself to an ideology if the definition is so blurred?
Perhaps it is also influenced by societal rules. From the outside, feminism appears to be defined as a woman-only club for liberal, high-earning individuals whom have the main aim of changing ‘Fireman Sam’ to ‘Firefighter Sam’. From the inside, non-feminism is conservative, older men who view the male sex as somewhat superior. The problem is that we don’t take the time to listen to others. If we did, perhaps we’d become more aware of the diversity in both sides of the equation. We’d discover that men can be feminists and women can not be. We’d see right-wing individuals proudly also call themselves feminists and left-wing individuals politely decline the label. We’d see that age does not necessarily dictate ideology and neither does career or appearance.
In this century, the myths surrounding feminism have become louder than a person’s actual reasoning. It feels embarrassing to call yourself a feminist and embarrassing to not do so because these labels feel like you’ve painted yourself a new identity out of stigmas and false beliefs. Yet it also feels like so often a label is forced upon you to wear and promote. This so often happens because others are passionate and fully committed to their view and believe that you should be too. But this is unreasonable and contradictory to rights and freedoms. Whether an individual identifies as a feminist or not, they are first and foremost human and deserve to be treated with respect.
We should remember that the word feminist is not the antagonist. Gender inequality is. And it can happen to anyone. And it is not fair to happen to anyone.
However, if you want to make a difference in feminism whether a feminist or not, have conversations that do not transform into battlefields of opinions. Talk about the flaws and successes that exist within feminism. Talk about how it could be improved. But most importantly, talk about the much larger issue which is gender discrimination. Because if the biggest debate in feminism is simply the word itself, then how will it ever make a positive difference?
Written by Jen Cartwright