The Stigma of Feminism
My 11th grade AP Language and Composition teacher once had my class read an article about how the feminist movement affected the development of boys in more recent generations. I wish I could remember the source, but essentially, it said that because the feminist movement was working so hard to redefine gender roles, they were taking a man’s intrinsic alpha nature and (figuratively) beating it out of young boys. Boys were becoming more sensitive and more prone to be emotional. They were more open with their feelings and thoughts, and the idea of men, like they had been classified (and stereotyped!) before—strong protective, able to provide for a family as the decision maker and head of the household—would cease to exist.
Except he said this like it was a bad thing. This man was the best teacher I had throughout all of high school; he did wonders for my writing and my ability to think critically. I credit him with many of my academic successes, but that day in class, he was the first person to (inadvertently) make me feel like being a feminist was a bad thing.
He was not the last.
The first time I truly realized the stigma of the word “feminist” was a few years ago. I was having a conversation about women’s rights with my mother, and I started to qualify my position by saying “I’m not a feminist, but…” My mother stopped me immediately and said,“Do you believe in equality?” I said “Yes, but I don’t believe in the crazy conventions that everyone talks about.” She shook her head. “Those conventions to not define a movement. If you believe in gender equality, you are a feminist.” I was horrified with myself. Years of listening to scoffs at the word, at the women who led the movement, at the ultimate goal of feminism had led me to believe that admitting I was a feminist was something to be ashamed of.
When I first discussed this blog with my father, the first thing he said after I said feminist was “Femi-Nazi.” My father is an educated and free-thinking man, and if Rush Limbaugh’s phrase was the first thing that came to his mind, I imagine the words and ideas other people have associated with the word “feminism” are even worse.
The man I am currently seeing, upon hearing about my idea for the blog, said ,“Yeah, but you’re not really a feminist though. They’re crazy. That’s not who you are.”
So let me state right here, right now: Although I may shave my legs, although I have never burned a bra, I am a feminist. Because to me, the declaration means nothing more than I want equal respect, equal pay, and equal recognition for the endeavors of women. I want nothing that I accomplish in life to be additionally extraordinary just because I achieved it as a woman.
It is supremely frustrating to not be taken seriously because I am a woman. It is also supremely frustrating to feel like most of the men I’ve made acquaintance with do not take the issue of feminism seriously.
I have no agenda to establish women as the superior sex, to declare that men are pigs, or to deprecate anyone. All I want is equality, to not have to work extra hard to succeed because a series of random chances caused me to be born as a woman instead of a man. Gender should not be seen as a sense of entitlement.
As a woman in a progressive first world country, I count my lucky stars that I have the freedom of speech, access to technology and information, and education to have these thoughts and feelings, and to publish them in a way that others can access them. I know that I am incredibly lucky. But I do not take these things for granted. I didn’t do anything to deserve being born in the country I did, had no control over my gender. But because I have these things, I want to use them for good. For change. For hope, at least, that someday feminism will receive the respect it deserves.
With every movement there are factions that split off and generate a more radical approach to the issue. But feminism should not be defined by stereotypes and generalizations. That’s what got us here in the first place.