A woman walks into the bar and declares herself, a feminist.
A) Abort conversation… for fear of extremity
B) Vacate the building, taking all your male friends with you
C) Continue the conversation (only out of politeness) whilst secretly scanning her body for ANY sign of femininity
D) Admire her bravery for admitting something that many women would not dare to do
I’ll wager that most of you did not answer D.
In 2011, Yahoo CEO Marissa Myer explained that while she believes in “equal rights” and that “women are just as capable,” she believes feminism itself is a “more negative word.”
She refused to box herself into the category of a feminist, for fears of its connotations.
Unfortunately, although feminism’s only true definition is the advocacy of equal rights for the sexes, the word automatically invokes images of bra-burning, unfeminine women who both refuse to marry and refuse to have children.
The word ‘feminism’ also sends a lot of men… running for the hills.
You could say it has a slight image problem.
I remember once in an English class, our teacher asked us to raise our hands if we would associate ourself as a feminist. The eight girls (including myself) did not raise our hands, yet the only boy did. When we, the girls, were asked to define feminism, we included tid-bits of over-emotional and extreme women, and women who were simply ‘too sensitive’.
Where we’d heard such things I couldn’t tell you. We had never had a formal education of feminism, but no doubt we were aware of the stigma; and we feared it.
To add a little context, we were all sixteen and seventeen, at an age where our image and reputations far surpassed anything else.
When the male in our class was asked to define feminism, he replied simply with feminism’s true definition: equal rights.
We were a little ashamed.
I guess the stigma clouded our vision; we were so scared of being coined with those negative connotations, that we automatically wrote it off as something we weren’t interested in. But after a few lessons, we soon changed our tune.
We realised just how much we take our lives now for granted, and just how much feminism had impacted our lives. (And I’m not just talking about voting rights). It seems harder to understand in our home countries because we know nothing different, it seems the norm, but when we look to the Middle-East, it becomes more overt as to why feminism should not be viewed as a negative term.
Caitlin Dewey, in this article for The Washington Post, catalogues just some of the most shocking restrictions on women in the Middle East. And the issue is not just of what the women can’t do, but what the rules are saying about these women.
A quick example. In Yemen, women cannot leave the house without their husband’s permission.
Are these women infants? Why is this acceptable in the 21st century? For a law to actually permit this sort of inequality and lack of choice is staggering.
Safe to say, that at the end of our education, we were all proud to call ourselves feminists.
So is this the problem with feminism? Is it simply misunderstood?
Separating the original aim of feminism, (equal rights) away from the lifestyle choices, the completely separate subject of femininity I feel is the key to rebranding feminism into a more positive term.
Women can still want to look their best, hope for marriage and children whilst still wanting to live in a world where there are equal rights between the genders.
It is not contradictory at all. And I think this is where feminism gets its bad reputation. The political notion of feminism is completely separate to the lifestyle choices feminists make. If a feminist decides to not get married, it doesn’t make that obligatory for all feminists, that’s just her individual choice. And that is the very essence of feminism. Choice.
Feminists have given us the right to vote, the right to not be ‘owned’ by marriage and the starting point to equal pay.
Feminists have also given us JEANS. (I’m not giving up my jeans for nobody).
They’ve stopped women from being viewed as incapable of making their own decisions and showed that there is more to a woman than getting the affection and adoring gaze of the male species.
Because, we feminists know that there is more to us women than that.