Recently, there have been an increasing number of vocal women who have been proudly declaring their antifeminism, as though feminism were a dirty word. But why aren’t women proud to be the F word? And why have feminists got such a bad reputation?
Celebrities such as Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry and even Susan Sarandon, have all publicly denounced being feminists in recent interviews. They have been quoted as saying:
“I don’t really think about things as guys versus girls.” Taylor
“I’m not a feminist. I hail men. I love men.” Lady Gaga
“I am not a feminist, but I do believe in the strength of women.” Katy Perry
“I think of myself as a humanist because I think it’s less alienating to people who think of feminism as being a load of strident bitches.” Susan Sarandon
Could it be that feminists are seen as hairy, man-hating, bra-burning, angry, Birkenstock-wearing lesbians that feel entitled to more rights than men?
A Tumblr group called ‘Women Against Feminism’ seem to think so. On this site women hold up notes explaining why they’re not feminists. Statements such as “I don’t need feminism because being in the kitchen is actually kind of fun.” “I don’t need feminism because I’m not going to empower myself by bringing others down.” “I don’t need feminism because I don’t see women as victims.” “I don’t need feminism because it has weakened marriage, the building block of civilisation.” Their Facebook page, created in January 2014, now has 20,600 ‘Likes’, but it begs the question, do women really know what feminism means?
A feminist is a person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes. It’s the advocacy of women with equality as the end goal. Feminism respects all genders and all humans. It’s the movement for equal respect.
It’s important to make clear that equal rights does not mean more rights, or special treatment or wanting to be treated like one of the guys. In the western world this means being paid the same wage as a man for doing the same job, or giving up on the idea that childcare and housework are women’s work, or to end discrimination at work where women are not able to progress over their male counterparts. It’s the freedom to be strong, tough and direct, without being labelled bossy or bitchy.
To denounce feminism is to denounce women’s equality. But many do it as a means of “saving masculinity from pollution and invasion” states Michael Kimmel, a men’s studies scholar. But it also seems that many oppose feminism, as a means of avoiding the negative associations.
Pat Robertson, an American media mogul responsible for The Family Channel, a cable television network, famously said in the 90’s that “The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.”
It’s a clear understatement to say that feminists have got a bad reputation. But why do people believe feminism is about women wanting to gain an advantage over men, rather than what it really is, women wanting to be treated as equals?
Perhaps taking a look into the history of feminism will help us to understand where it all went wrong.
The history of modern Western feminism is split into 3 waves. The first wave of feminism of the 19th and early 20th centuries focused on overturning legal inequalities, particularly women’s suffrage. The suffragettes regularly chained themselves to railings, smashed windows, detonated bombs, were arrested and went on hunger strikes. They became more violent and more extreme as the movement grew. The second wave relating to 1960s-1980s broadened the debate to include cultural inequalities, gender norms and the role of women in society. During this period the contraceptive pill was introduced, women were legally allowed to keep any money that they earned and the abortion act was passed. The third wave (1990’s-2000s) sees a distinct shift in attitudes and a backlash towards the feminist movement and all they had achieved in previous years. Today, high profile feminists such as Gloria Steinem and Germaine Greer continue to insight hatred with their views, and have become the poster girls for feminism. In 2011 Germaine stated on British TV that British troops could turn into rapists and little girls learnt how to flirt through ‘kissing their fathers goodnight’.
I guess it’s easy to see now why women today don’t want to associate themselves with feminism. It’s just a shame that what has been achieved by these women has been overshadowed by the way they have gone about seeking change.
Without feminism our world would look a lot different today. We wouldn’t have been able to vote, work, use contraception or have any of the other personal freedoms that we enjoy today.
But perhaps Susan Sarandon is right when she says feminism is old fashioned, and that we should all strive to be humanists instead. The word doesn’t bare the same shackles that feminism does, and it believes in equal pay, rights, education and welfare for everyone, no matter what their race, sex or economic status.
Watch Emma Watson’s speech to the UN on gender equality