The other f-word

“Feminist” is not a dirty word, despite the stigma against it.

Bronwyn Miller

 

 

Practicing feminism means endorsing equal freedom of choice for everyone. It should be something that all genders alike wear as a badge of pride, but the perpetuation of the myths of feminism have created an environment in which the feminist identity is associated only with being radical, angry, man-hating, leg hair-bearing and a lesbian.

If that’s the feminist that some people are, that’s fantastic. But feminism is by no means excluded to — or deterministic of — people who match these qualities. Unfortunately, though, this stereotype causes many people to feel afraid or hesitant to claim a feminist identity, or to at least feel as though it is too distant and inaccessible to apply to them.

Furthermore, the predominant negative portrayal of the feminist stereotype has allowed “feminism” to be used as a criticism against women, a looming threat that causes people to silence or modify their ideas lest they be considered too radical and man-hating to be taken seriously. Because branding someone’s ideas as “feminist” has become a viable way to insult her, women concerned with losing mainstream acceptance are reluctant to claim the identity.

The responses of prominent female figures who are asked in interviews if they are feminists reflect the confusion plaguing the public opinion of feminism. Asked if she considered herself a feminist last year, Taylor Swift responded: “I don’t really think about things as guys versus girls. I never have. I was raised by parents who brought me up to think if you work as hard as guys, you can go far in life.” Lady Gaga’s response to the same question in a 2009 interview was, “I’m not a feminist — I hail men, I love men. I celebrate American male culture, and beer, and bars and muscle cars …” Beyoncé’s answer in this month’s British Vogue, while much more satisfactory, still illustrates the misconception that feminism must represent an opposition to men: “ I guess I am a modern-day feminist. … But I’m happily married. I love my husband.”

Importantly, the very fact that successful female celebrities are consistently required to “pick a side” regarding feminism is an issue. While men can and should be every bit as interested in promoting feminism as women, male celebrities are not subjected to this same trajectory that regularly sets up female celebrities to be picked apart for their responses. This experience is similar to that of popular figures who are expected to represent and campaign for minority interests because of their race or sexual orientation. Straight, white men seem to be the only ones in the limelight not required to speak for any identity besides their own individuality.

Still, in the case of feminism, I can’t help but wish someone in the public eye would use her status to challenge misconceptions rather than perpetuate them. It is easier to not get caught up on the reluctance to call oneself a “feminist” in the case of those who have tended to advocate feminist views throughout their careers, just without adjoining these statements to the “f word,” like Beyoncé and Lady Gaga. It’s a tougher pill to swallow when a celebrity’s main relationship to feminism lies in her vehement denial of an association, blatantly reinforcing and legitimizing tired stereotypes as she
rationalizes why she distances herself from the term.

If there were more widespread acceptance of the “feminist” title among our cultural icons, or at least less perpetuation of misguided stereotypes, it would help young women see that feminism need not be mutually exclusive with being cool, feminine, sexy or well-liked (or liking beer or bars — geez, Lady Gaga). Perhaps it would make the students I hear in class saying beautiful things on behalf of women’s rights — yet preempting them with, “I’m not a feminist, but …” — not feel so required to qualify their statements. Perhaps it would help more people proudly embrace a word that they are actually already epitomizing.

Regarding modern-day women specifically, many of us hardly feel inclined to adopt a feminist identity because we haven’t had to. We wear pants, vote and attend college like it’s second nature, so it’s easy to forget the efforts that created the environment that allows us to thrive. But just because someone might feel like she has not personally encountered individual struggles on behalf of her gender does not mean she should dismiss the overall need for feminism. I implore people of all genders to look beyond individual circumstances and their own potential privilege to consider how the greater ideologies embedded in society, like patriarchy and heteronormativity, hurt and confine all types of people — yes, even men. Encouraging this consideration is, in essence, a main goal of feminism.

Too often, as we have seen with the answers given by celebrities, feminism is confused with misandry, or the hatred of men. But one can be a misandrist and not a feminist, and one can certainly be a feminist without being a misandrist. All movements and ideologies have their nuances, sects and internal discrepancies. Not every feminist looks the same, thinks the same or pursues the same route to express his or her thoughts. To co-opt the most salient and dramatic instances of feminist behavior as exclusively representative of everyone who identifies as such, of which the media and individuals alike are often guilty, is a cop-out. Pejoratively pigeonholing all feminists is much easier than recognizing that we are part of a society that commonly acts in ways that rightfully upset certain groups.

I am a feminist. I say this proudly, even though I know that embracing this title opens me up to criticism, fear and rejection from many. Like any feminist, I am imperfect, but I will never stop advocating for women’s right to be so.