Student op-ed submission by Rose Finkler
Photo by Southern Oregon University
Let’s be frank. Assumptions and false labeling. Grouping and generalizing. This is what has been done to the feminist movement, a group whose aim is advocacy for women’s rights and equal opportunity. Based on that definition, most women would identify as a feminist, but why is the number of self-identified feminists so low? It is due to the narrow definition, the lack of knowledge, and the negative media that prevents women from wanting to identify as a feminist. So, let’s reclaim the term feminist and create positive associations that all people can freely connect to and support.
Who wants to join a “bra burning” group of men-hating radicals anyway? This is the generalized view of feminism that has been mass produced by the media. This image of what feminism is contributes to why women deny any involvement with the feminist movement even if they believe in equality. Most women in the U.S believe that women should be protected against discrimination, but only 29% identify as feminists according to a National Geographic/Ipsos poll. Women do not want the assumptions that would be placed on them if they freely identified as a feminist. We also live in a society that hates labeling, which is ironic because we categorize everything. So, to avoid the labeling, women would rather not align themselves with feminism.
The public definition of feminism is narrow. For some, it could be equality based on gender, but for many it is a movement that “privileges women over men”.
Feminism’s definition needs to be broadened and recognized as intersectional. People need to be liberated from a singular definition of what feminism is and what a feminist looks like. Anyone can be a feminist. Being a feminist does not mean that you are against family values or hate men. Being a feminist could mean standing up for equal pay or trying to fight against gender discrimination. Feminism can be in the little things. People assume that being a feminist is a negative identity, but it is not. It means finding a way to stand up for equal rights and opportunities for all genders.
You may think, “Hasn’t feminism already made things equal? Hasn’t it already done its job?” Yes, laws have been passed for equal rights and gender discrimination, but there are so many more arenas that women are losing in. Many important issues that feminism is addressing get ignored because they are not “newsworthy” feminist issues. They are not radical enough to get public attention. What the public does not see is the fight for reproductive rights, the over-sexualization of women, or pay equality. Women still make “only 82 cents for every dollar made by men”. Feminism is still a very relevant movement because, despite what the media will tell you, things are still not equal.
A movement of powerful women can seem threatening to a patriarchal society, but feminism is misunderstood and needs to be reclaimed.
The best way to spread a positive message of what feminism accomplishes is to educate people. Teach the public about the goals of feminism and what still needs to be accomplished. Show women that there are more ways to support and be a feminist than the stereotypical idea that is put forth by the media. Feminist writer, Kia M. Q. Hall (2016), says that women need to stand in solidarity. Hall writes that “solidarity comes with an understanding of oppression and a commitment to act upon it with others” (p. 35).
I call you to reframe your understanding of feminism. Create a new definition. One that includes all aspects of what a feminist could be, not just the public assumptions of what feminism is. Research the misconceptions of the women’s movement and create a new space for positive feminism. Only then will people be able to understand the oppression that is facilitated by society. Only then will women be able to stand in solidarity with each other as publicly identified members of the feminist movement.
Hall, Kia M. Q. (2020). A Transitional Black Feminist Framework. Susan M. Shaw, Janet Lee. Gendered Voices Feminist Visions and Contemporary Readings, (pp. 32-37). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Jackson, C. (2019, October 22). National Geographic/Ipsos Poll. Ipsos. Retrieved from https://www.ipsos.com/en-us/news-polls/national-geographic-gender-issues-2019
Morris, C. (2019, November 25). Less than a third of American women identify as feminists. Ipsos. Retrieved from https://www.ipsos.com/en-us/american-women-and-feminism
Murry Law, B. (n.d.). What feminism means today. American Psychology Association. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2006/09/feminism