The Fear of Feminism in a Millennial Age

By Olivia Heersink

Rosie the Riveter Campaign Photo

The f-word has been flying around the media these days like a biblical plague, causing men to shift uncomfortably at the sound of it and women to quickly disown it.

You know the word I’m talking about.

Well, apologies in advance for the strong language, but here it goes, I’m a f*minist.

Hold your crinkled up noses, shivers, and gasps back for one second. In fact, I would like to politely suggest you please take those reactions and gracefully shove them. I am proud to be a feminist.

Even now, as the third wave of feminism continues to wash over our society, feminist is a word with which people do not want to associate themselves, yet they share similar beliefs.

“I’m not a feminist, but…”

I always wonder, right before they finish that phrase, what is coming next .

 “I’m not a feminist, but I believe women and men should be treated the same.” “I’m not a feminist, but I believe in equal opportunity.” “I’m not a feminist, but I believe in equal pay.” 

The rest of the sentence is generally aligned with feminist ideals, but yet, the speaker doesn’t realize or acknowledge it. In fact, it truly is something that is mostly about protecting women’s rights or standing up for gender equality – it is something relatively feminist in nature.

At this point, I often wonder why a person with feminist ideals denies any attachment to the feminist movement. Why is feminism a bad thing, especially if you sort of, kind of, a little bit agree with it? Why do people cringe when I claim ties to feminism?

Why are we so afraid of and uncomfortable with feminism? Cheris Kramarae said that, “Feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings.” Why then are people uncomfortable with the label feminist?

First of all, there multiple forms and sections of feminism, making it practically impossible to assume something about anyone who claims ties to general feminism. Second of all, the accomplishments of feminism so far and the evolution of feminism through its three, or fourth as some would believe, waves makes it easy to say the word feminist with pride.

Feminists won the right to vote for women in the first wave and influenced the final Roe vs. Wade decision in the second wave. The third wave of feminism challenges issues of inequality and discrimination that are perpetuated even within the feminist movements and has made the greatest leap towards equality.

With all of these advancements, how can you NOT want to be a feminist? With brilliant and powerful feminists like bell hooks, Simone de Beauvoir, Judith Butler, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Roxane Gay, how can we force shame into this word?

In the past quarter of a century, we’ve come a long way. But somewhere along the way, the definition of feminism got sucked into the black hole of ambiguity and misconception.

Feminists are people who believe in equality. Feminists are people who fight against oppression and prejudice. As Kramarae suggests, earlier, feminists are people who believe that women are people. Do these sound like things you oppose? Would you rather perpetuate discrimination and oppression?

Whether we like it or not, the reality is that being a feminist today has the negative connotation that you are a harsh, shrill, heartless, or a stone-cold bitch. If you’re a man and a feminist, it means that you are too feminine and have been emasculated.

People may define feminism in a multiplicity of ways. But there are some definitions that are completely untrue. Being a feminist doesn’t mean you can’t be feminine. Being a feminist doesn’t mean you hate men. Being a feminist doesn’t even mean you think women are better than men—just that they are equal.

Now, more than ever, it is crucial for our society to overcome the labels and limitations that are associated with feminism. We need feminism. We need people to know what feminism is. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the starting salary for a man versus a woman in almost any profession. Or think about the fact that we haven’t had a female president.

But until we can redefine feminism and encourage people to embrace it, we will not be able to create the kind of change we hope to see. As a society, we can refuse to subscribe to the preconceived notions of feminism. As individuals, we can correct someone who makes a snide comment or remark inaccurately generalizing feminists. You don’t have to be a feminist to know what feminism is (or is not).

All I ask is that you learn more about feminism and all it has to offer this world before you shake it off. Before succumbing to the stereotypically false connotations that comes with the word, learn its true meaning.


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