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Is the term Feminist outdated?

Personally, I have never struggled with the word feminist. Growing up in a lone-parent home, I have been shaped by my mother’s independence. She has taught me not to be apologetic for my own values, and so, in our household the word feminist is never regarded as an insult, rather it is considered as an empowering word in the struggle for women’s equality. The definition for the word feminism is ‘The advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of the equality of the sexes’[1] (from the Oxford English Dictionary). This meaning does not dictate that women have to be the stereotypical ‘man hating’, alternative woman, but instead advocates giving women political, economic, personal and social equality. Essentially, it advocates giving women choice in how they look, feel and view the world. However, throughout the years, the meaning of the word feminist seems to have been distorted. Even with my own choice of this essay title, I have opened myself up to teasing from my peers at school, many of whom seem to have the opinion that ‘feminists’ are men hating ‘femi-Nazis’. This is not just the opinion of boys with whom I have spoken. Many of my female friends are extremely reluctant to use the word, considering that it does not represent their own feelings and opinions on equality.

 

According to a ‘Gender Issues Poll for females’ prepared on the behalf of the Fawcett society in 2016[2], from a group of 4201 women, 64.9% agreed with the statement ‘I believe in equality for women and men but I don’t describe myself as a feminist’. While doing my research for this topic I conducted seven interviews with my school peers and family members in order to hear a small range of different opinions on this topic. I found that within my mixed gender peer group most said that they consider the term feminist is outdated. This leads to the question; what deters people from using this word?

There are negative connotations surrounding the term feminist which are shaped partly by stereotypes. During research for the book ‘Repudiating Feminism, Young Women in a Neoliberal World’[3], Dr Christina Scharff interviewed a diverse group of young women from both Germany and Britain. She found that these women associated the term feminism with lesbianism, misandry, or lack of femininity. She identified that these stereotypes are key factors in the rejection of the term. While many of these women emphasised that they were not homophobic and themselves were a range of sexualities, they did not identify as feminist for fear of being associated with these traits.

 

The aversion to the term feminist is reinforced in various places within society, such as in humour. An extreme example of this can be found in the article ‘How To Stop Rape’ by Roosh V (aka Daryush Valizadeh)[4]. This article caused outrage, especially because he advocates to “make rape legal if done on private property”. Roosh V also uses pejorative language, referring to ‘overweight feminists’ as being a problem in educating teenage boys about rape culture. However, when criticised, Roosh V simply stated that it was a ‘satirical thought experiment’. Many felt that this article crossed the line between comedy and extremism. The reality is that extreme opponents of feminism exist and some women (and men) may fear that identifying with feminism could lead to being verbally or physically attacked, hence they are deterred, not wishing to stand out or feel vulnerable.

 

There are other less extreme anti-feminist arguments which advocate that feminist ideology is rooted in hostility towards men and of ignoring issues unique to men. The result being that some people feel excluded from the movement, especially some men. It is suggested that this could have led to a growing sense of discontent and disapproval meaning that some men and women tend to be less inclined to call themselves a feminist. In my opinion, our society remains essentially patriarchal and therefore, an aspect which deters some people from using this term may be the need to seek and maintain male approval and a desire to conform with convention. As a result of this, some people decide not to identify as feminists in order to avoid being labelled as ‘problematic, radical or unusual’. In my view this decision may be influenced on a conscious or sub-conscious level.

 

Research and my own experience would suggest that a number of people today consider that the term ‘feminist’ is outdated. Why this is the case is complex and I have only been able to touch upon some of the reasons. However, I remain of the opinion that being a feminist is not about hating men, conforming to stereotypes or losing women’s femininity. It is about women’s equality in society, something not yet fully achieved. Therefore, I consider that the term feminist is still needed, and I will continue to identify as one.

A view expressed by some during the interviews I conducted with my male peers is that the term feels ‘exclusive to females’ and overlooks the inequalities experienced by men. However, I do not share this opinion as being a feminist does not prevent me from recognising and speaking out about other inequalities in society. Advocating for women’s rights does not mean opposing the rights of men. For example, I recognise that there are specific challenges for men around society’s expectation that they have to be tough and not show emotion. This stereotype is damaging to men’s mental health and has been attributed as a relevant factor in the high suicide rate in men (in 2018, three-quarters of all suicides in the UK were male[1]).

What I find difficult is that, when calling myself a feminist, it often feels that I have to defend my position which is that I can still care about the inequalities for others in society.

Another response from a number of my male interviewees was that men and women are now equal, suggesting that a term is no longer required. I do not agree with this view, and I consider that when you are in a position of power or privilege, it is easy to underestimate the problems faced by others. As a child of a lone parent who has had to juggle work, childcare and society’s expectations, I have an awareness of some imbalances in our society that tend to fall upon the shoulders of women, and which need to be tackled.

 

It has been suggested that a generic term, such as egalitarian, should be used to address the inequalities of everyone rather than just women. However, I consider that we do not need to choose one term over the other. In order to continue using the word feminist, I think that it is really important to educate girls and boys from a young age about what feminism stands for. I feel that this could open up a new generation of people who have an understanding of the objectives of feminism and reintroduce it as a positive term. As said by an activist on the Feminism belongs in schools blog: "If boys and girls can learn to talk to each other about their hopes and fears, perhaps men and women will too."[2] I look up to those men and women who are strong and confident enough to stand up in front of society and say ‘I am a feminist’, such as Andy Murray and Emma Watson. Without these role models who are willing to make a difference, nothing will ever change.

 

Bibliography

 

 


 


 

[1] https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/feminism

[2] https://survation.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Full-Fawcett-Tables-F-Cover-1-12.pdf

[3] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-47006912

[4] https://www.rooshv.com/how-to-stop-rape

[5] https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/statistics/mental-health-statistics-suicide

[6] https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2013/nov/23/feminism-classroom-dirty-word-secret-teacher

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