From Our Readers Feminism: The Debate Continues… From Our Readers

Last week, the Daily Mail reported that UK TV cook, Mary Berry described feminism as ‘a dirty word’, saying “why on earth would they (women) need a movement to promote and protect them?” -and so the ‘feminism’ debate continues in 2013.

Last year, Katy Perry caused similar uproar when she accepted a Woman of the Year award and said, “I’m not a feminist, but I do believe in the power of women” and worldwide many shook their heads in disapproval when Yahoo CEO Marissa Meyer distanced herself from the term saying she “believed in equal rights,” but did not deem herself a feminist. “So what’s so bad about being a feminist?” many feminists continue to cry in frustration.

Although I consider myself a feminist, I completely understand why women would want to distance themselves from the label, but the idealist in me can’t understand why they don’t help re-market the term? After all, if it weren’t for the Feminist movement, they wouldn’t enjoy their current success, or it would at least be incredibly difficult to prosper in their fields.

The connotations associated with feminism are limiting and this is evident by the way some people’s facial expressions change when you say you’re a feminist. It’s often met with a look of repulsion, where you can see them picturing a hairy-armed butch woman with one hand on a motorbike and the other arm raised in the air, clasping a burning bra. Not that there is anything wrong with this imagery – the concern, as stated above, is that it’s just so limiting, especially to a younger generation of women who prefer to be like these pop culture icons, strong, smart and sometimes even stylish.

So, it seems feminism has experienced a serious case of bad PR, and as a result, these strong independent high profile women whose lives are centered on generating good PR naturally want nothing to do with the term. In addition to this, there are many strands of feminism, so the perplexity often leaves many wanting out of this often confusing and at times even judgmental group. Some vocal feminists are often perceived as cruel, insensitive and have an elitist attitude toward those who don’t fight strongly enough for the cause. But like all groups, you have your moderate and radical members, and believers in such an important cause shouldn’t flee at the sight of bad PR. Especially successful women who are soaking in feminist ideals but just don’t like the label.

Sadly, many modern women living in the western world don’t recall the severe injustices faced by women in the past. Rights today that we see as a ‘given’; equal pay, equal opportunities, and the right to drive a car or even vote! Progress was not achieved without the feminist movement. That’s why modern men and women of the feminist movement need to unite and change this limiting perception of feminism, because the job is not done, not yet anyway.

Sexism is rife, although often subtle – it’s still rife. So as a cupcake-loving, pink-sequined-dress-wearing, mother, wife and teacher, I proclaim that I am a proud feminist and my husband is one too (even if he doesn’t know it yet, he still has issues with the term, preferring to be called a ‘gender equalist’).

I look toward the future with a sense of hope, that feminism will be viewed differently. Until then, I refuse to be restricted by stereotypes associated with feminism. If you believe in gender equality and see that the job is not done yet, I challenge you to ignore the bad PR that feminism has had. I challenge you to raise your glass and celebrate the beauty that is feminism, that includes you Mary Berry, Katy Perry and you too Ms. Meyers – say it with me, ‘I’m a feminist – Yahoooooo!’ You’ll feel better, I promise.

You can read more from Naomi Tsvirko on her blog and follow her on Twitter.

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  1. FANTASTIC article! A one that was necessary to write, too. Unfortunately… :’( <3

  2. Bell Hooks defines feminism as this: “A movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression.” If that’s the case, the definition of feminism in it’s most organic sense, then I don’t know why anyone would NOT want to be a feminist! It saddens me when people A) claim that they don’t want the negative label and B) only understand feminism by its negative, age-old stereotypes.

    At the same time, I would argue that it is dangerous to push any average person to use the label. This leads to certain people claiming feminism as an identity when they really don’t exude it’s true definition. Sarah Palin for example, once claimed to be a feminist. I’m sure when that happened, Andrea Dworkin was rolling in her grave. And the wrong people saying they’re feminists contributes further to the bad PR.

  3. Democracy will die without discussion.
    It is not enough to read about life – we must take pat of it. So, an ongoing discussion, “even about feminism” ( :) ), is vital. Every new child will have to learn.

  4. Feminism nowadays should mean that women have the courage to stand in for the role they want to play. In family, society, work and everywhere else.
    Some women want to go for their career and not have a husband or kids. Some women want to be housewives and not work at all. And some want both.
    And they are all feminists in my eyes, as long as they stand in for what they want to be. A woman should be able to play the role she wants without being called whether a feminist or an anti-feminist. If I WANT to wear no bra and lead a company, well then I’m a feminist. And if I WANT to wear a pink, sweet dress and clean the house, then I’m a feminist too. Because I, as a woman, do what I WANT to do. And in my eyes, that’s feminism!
    We as women must teach everyone better who stands in our way and hinders us from being… us. In my opinion, that’s the assignment of feminism.

    • I liked your opinion mostly, but I think that your interpretation of “feminism” is what it SHOULD be, not everybody get feminism like that. The women should be free to choose the lifestyle and roles the they WANT, as simple as that. However, many “feminist” women try to impose their thoughts and values to another they don’t consider “free”.

  5. I would feel more comfortable with the term “feminist” if it was true to its origins and the real meaning of the movement. The feminist movement wanted to allow women to have a choice – to give them freedom to do what they love. This quickly turned into the idea that all women must be completely independent and have a career separate from family life. A lot of people feel that feminists frown upon stay at home moms — but how hypocritical would that be! If a women wants to be a stay at home mom, and that is what she is happy doing – then isn’t that something feminists should be excited for as well?

  6. I dislike the term “feminism” because I believe it is hypocritical. I want equality between the sexes. Feminism has become a movement used not just to empower women, but to elevate them above men. It has become an anti male movement rather then the pro female one it’s supposed to be. I believe all issues in today’s society including family planning and political rights of all citizens should concern everyone, male and female. If we let extremists take control and continue with an anti male agenda, we will do more harm to our cause then good. For years we have been saying we are just as good as men. Which is true, but it should stop there. We are just as good as men and they are just as good as us. Choice and freedom is what we have been striving for but we will never truly have it if we hope to raise ourselves up by putting men down.

  7. I think we have reached a point, at least in Western societies, where gender based oppression is no longer obvious or explicit. But I would argue that it is still deeply entrenched society and has deeply harmful effects on men and women. Equating someone like Katy Perry with feminism is a bit ridiculous in my eyes because she markets herself as a sexual object in so many ways, rather than the talented, intelligent individual she is. Such role models ensure that women view their only value as their ability to give men sexual pleasure, and see this as liberating. However, in my opinion this is what is oppressing women, benevolent sexism which holds that women are extremely valuable as sexual objects, as objects of beauty, as wives and as mothers – but not as everyday human beings. Statistics on issues as diverse as rape and eating disorders provide ample evidence of the powerfully negative effects of the objectification of women. So this is how I feel women are oppressed today, we can vote, we can work, we can hold office, but we’re still sexual objects. Hilary Clinton has to make sure she is wearing make up and has done her hair before she can go out and be a powerful woman (God forbid her outfit isn’t stylish). Barack Obama just has to get a hair cut ever now and then and make sure he shaves. This is not equality. Of course our femininity is important to us, but I think what feminism is trying to say is we must acknowledge this as oppression, even if we are happy to live with it. But as long as we objectify ourselves and do not demand respect from men, we will be raped for wearing a short skirt.

    • I couldn’t disagree with you more. In wearing a short skirt, a woman may simply be more comfortable that way and is by no means begging to be raped. I can’t believe people still say that. This is 2013. Individuality should be embraced on all levels. If a woman wants to be feminine in a traditional way or as you put it ‘objectifiying’ herself, so be it, but she should not be punished with unequal pay for doing so. And the only way to bridge that wage gap should not be for a woman to rock a power suit and no make-up.

      Plus, men are sexual objects to many liberated women as well.

  8. This was a very interesting read! Thank you.

    I definitely recommend watching the channel Feminist Frequency on YouTube: Tropes vs. Women #6: The Straw Feminist. Totally reminded me of this article and why women don’t associate themselves as feminists. A great channel to watch in general really :)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tnJxqRLg9x0

  9. Unfortunately, the feminism movement from the 80′s to these days has been really agressive with some life styles and traditional cultural characteristics, like the moms raising their own kids; women who WANT to be housewifes; women who LIKE and WANT to be and look femenine; women who like to be treated with manners and gentle, etc, etc… This exageration or radicalism of this movemente and ideology has caused the rejection from a lot of men and women around the globe.

  10. I don’t worry so much about the perception that so-called or self-proclaimed “Feminists” hate men…I worry (or wonder) if in fact they (feminists) hate themselves? Stay with me now. Feminists seem to be all about gender equality but they seem to struggle with accepting themselves and the idea that true equality means that it is okay to be whatever kind of woman you choose. Too many feminists seem to be under the impression that being feminine is actually a akin to admitting defeat in the “gender wars.” If they dress and look attractive then they are basically admitting that they “enjoy being a girl.” Gasp, not that! Gender equality does not mean that you must eschew all aspects of femininity in order to get men to see you as peers but more about showing men that being feminine is a very powerful thing and there is nothing inherently wrong with it. Wearing a skirt or makeup or nail polish is NOT a sign of weakness or inferiority but just an expression of how you feel on the inside. Embrace whatever kind of women you are but don’t do or wear or say anything because you think that you’re “suppose to” or otherwise you’re setting women and the feminist movement back fifty years!

    Also, live and let live. If I want to wear a skirt or heels or makeup etc… let me. I don’t have to carry the flag of feminism in every aspect of my life just because I enjoy the freedoms that the feminist movement achieved. The only thing more annoying to me than women who claim to be feminists but act ashamed of being female are those who also try to impose their choices on me and attempt to control how I dress or act etc.

  11. I find it very frustrating that feminism goes hand in hand with forcing women to have to work. I would have loved the olden days to be able to stay at home with my children and raise them myself. I am now forced to work to help support the family because now with women entering the workforce at excessive rates all the costs of living have raised as well. Why? Because they can. Why not when its possible to rob from two to force two to work? It has robbed me of my first years home with my children and I will never have back. That is way more depressing than empty nest syndrome in my opinion.

  12. The term “feminism” is what had led to this PR nightmare. You are labeling yourself based on an isolated subgroup of the population. One could argue that its “just a word” but if that’s the case, then this entire article and the PR problem would be a moot point.
    The term itself is defined as the advocacy of women’s rights to be socially, economically and politically equivalent to men. In comments I’ve seen below, the women’s suffrage movement had ONLY to do with the right to vote and did not include the bandwagon of issues that have taken the feminist ideology and spun it as their own. Just because an economic, social or political issue or agenda has to something to do with vagina’s, should not make it a feminist issue. Abortion? Not a feminist issue. Men cannot give birth, therefore they cannot have public policy regarding their wombs, or lack thereof.
    And yet, ironically enough, perhaps that’s exactly why there is such a disdain for feminists, even among women. Over time the feminist movement has grown into an advocacy for women’s rights ABOVE the rights of their male counterparts. We demand equality but simultaneously demand additions to that equality that pertain specifically to being a female.
    Personally, I feel that feminism has also done more to devalue motherhood and the traditional family than any other social movement in history. Take religion out of the equation and what you have is a nation of women screaming “let me work!” and a nation of children being raised by strangers. Over time its become necessary for women, even those who are married, to work outside of the home because the cost of living continues to increase and this fact has been taken advantage of and exploited by policy makers in regard to keeping the minimum wage low (too many workers), not providing certain aspects of healthcare, giving gender or ethnic preference to job candidates over qualifications…the list goes on and on.
    Feminism has singled out a subset of the population and over time has segregated women under the guise of equality. Women are now not only responsible for the very things that MAKE them women (motherhood etc.) but they are also responsible for living up to the social ideals set forth for men.

  13. I think because “women hating men” have become the central group of focus for the feminist party, many like myself do not want to be associated with it even though I am a strong component of women’s rights and equality. You can want equal rights and not hate every man who walks on the face of the planet. So I agree the term has been stained with bad PR and realistically I don’t think the term fits into today’s society. If you are for equal rights, you should be for equal rights for all, not just females.

    • Yes, the notion that WOMEN wish to subjugate MEN (as they have done us….) is an OBVIOUS tactic (don’t ask me WHO or what organization specifically is behind it, because I have no idea… well, Fox News is one of them.. but other than THAT…. I do not know! But the prejudice is so rampant and ingrained, it is clear that the prejudice is institutionalized) to take away the momentum of the movement. There are two main components in a civil rights movement: (1) you need the empowered (namely, the ones used as role models, such as: noble men, the inordinately wealthy, the beautiful, etc.) to “give power to” the disenfranchised and (2) you need the disenfranchised to unite, consolidate their grievances, develop a clear vision of the change they seek, and work towards that vision unremittingly. This dynamic is required for THREE consecutive generations., otherwise, nothing will “stick.” Now, ladies, if you will kindly recall, there were our grandmothers (and grandfathers, more so., sadly, in a way…) who fought for woman’s suffrage and a whole host of other things c. 1920s. Then, we had our grandmothers and mothers fight against discrimination in the work place, our reproductive rights and sooo much more! Now, there is us: the daughters. I don’t know if you guys have noticed, but it seems that when the third wave began to approach the shores of our consciousness, the public became inculcated with over-sexualized images of women (thus, objectifying us so that anything that comes out of our mouths will be seen merely as cacophony. So that when we speak, no one will take us seriously long enough to mentally register that YES there are still quite hefty problems that we women must contend with!). Based upon the media and my day-to-day experiences it is clear that we lost our momentum. We must start anew.; with each of the the generations to come, we must be sure to GAIN momentum EACH time (we need to be CLEAR about what we want. This mandates the we equip our fellow feminists with the analytical skills to know when anti-feminism is being cloaked as “empowerment”). <3

    • The problem here isn’t just the issues you stated in your article but also that people (men and women both) keep thinking feminism is synonymous with “women hating men”. The movement that championed that were 2nd Wave Feminists. They felt angered by oppression and unequal rights and felt that men were strictly the cause. For that time, “women hating men” was detriment to changing some of the laws and garnering equality. Now, in 3rd Wave feminism, men and women are looking simply for gender equality. A lot of the time, feminism should really just be called humanism because it has nothing to do with hating anyone or blaming anyone or even victimizing anyone. It’s about equal rights through and through and ousting oppression for good.

    • Here, I find you to be very wrong. The modern view of the feminist party is gender equity. There are going to be a few extremists in any group, but the platform of the entire party is NOT “women hating men” whatsoever. In fact, that platform is a main deterrent used by people like Rush Limbaugh to reduce credibility for the feminist movement (that and the term “feminazi.” If you ask the average modern feminist what her views are, I would personally guarantee that you would receive little to no hostility toward men; only hostility toward misogyny of any kind.

  14. Great article! I would love to see someone write a critique on men’s rights activism.

  15. I think a lot of the problem is that women are afraid to identify as feminists because they don’t agree with everything that every other feminist believes, and they don’t want to be tied to the “crazy” feminists. If more women started identifying as feminists, though, other people would see that it’s not just a group of radical women, but a group that has room for all women, and perhaps the face of feminism could change. As someone mentioned below, all groups will pretty much always have some radical members, but to some extent, refusing to identify as a feminist because of that, even if you believe in equal rights, is the same as someone saying she won’t identify as religious, even when she believes in the general ideals and goals of the religion, because there are some radical people in that religion. It’s definitely true that a lot of people just don’t know what the word means, but I don’t think that’s the only obstacle to getting more women to identify as feminists.

  16. The reason feminism is a gendered word is because it really needed to be at the time of its inception. Now it has just stuck. I am 100% a feminist. However, this to me, means I am individualist. I judge people upon their own merit and I hope I am judged in the same way. That means it is okay for me to be a female “anomoly”. I am a girly girl with an overflowing closet and too many shoes…but I sometimes throw on a pair of guys’ jeans. I own several aprons and wear them when I bake cupcakes and cookies galore, but I couldn’t cook to save my life – I am mortally afraid of cold/raw meat. I am a dedicated academic but I have a Virginia Woolf half sleeve and a pierced nose. I play Magic the Gathering and World of Warcraft, but I like to catch up with girlfriends over drinks. I prefer beer over cosmos and attend craft beer festivals, I love camping and hiking, I am often considered one of the guys; but I am definitely going to enjoy a cocktail once in a while, freak out when I see a spider, and be a girl/woman in whatever stereotypical sense of the word you would like to use. The point is, we all have things about us that don’t make “sense” when we consider them in the context of today’s stereotypes. But they don’t have to make sense. Let’s change what “makes sense.” Dichotomies are a thing of the past; they are what promoted misogyny and racism in the first place. I’m not sure that “feminism” as a term has to go, but people definitely need to re-learn what it means. It’s a dynamic ideology that’s changed over the years and is probably going to change again.

  17. I wish more people would use the term. Like Jenn says, teenagers these days take a lot of their rights for granted. I’ve heard a lot of teenage students say that sexism just isn’t a problem anymore, not for them, but if they heard how their male teachers talk about them in the staff room….

  18. I fit the bill of a feminist but I don’t call myself one. I just want and fight for gender equality and I don’t feel as though I need to be labeled for that to happen. If someone were to call me a feminist, I definitely wouldn’t be offended but I think that equality is something we’re entitled to, regardless of labels.

  19. My husband was raised in a really conservative family and it took a long time to make him realize that he was a feminist, too. We watched “The Makers” together and he got so livid I thought he was gonna punch Phyllis Schafly through the TV. What finally did it was when I told him it wasn’t about women having special rights or women hating men, but about men and women working together so that we all get to make progress together.

    It’s not about pointing the finger at men and saying that female oppression is “their” fault, but taking a critical look at how culture treats men and women differently, and finding the reasons why. I think that in many ways, we are the new face of feminism, his beardy face and my smiling face, looking forward to a future in which our sons or daughters don’t have to settle for what the culture assigns them based on what’s between their legs.

    • I completely agree! I feel like a lot of people think that “reverse feminism” IS feminism, and that all feminists hate and blame men. This just isn’t so for the majority of people who call themselves feminists. Every movement is going to have radical and moderate proponents, of course, and it’s unfortunate that the extremists in one direction or the other often color people’s judgment of an ideology as a whole.

  20. Feminism in my opinion means having your cake an eating it too for women. They want to be equal with a man… when its convenient for them.

    • Do elaborate on what you mean by ‘when it is convenient’. It is undeniable that we live in a patriarchal society, yes? Feminism has such a loaded word because of the disparity that exists between men and women right now. The female gender IS at a social disadvantage. Think of your government. Consider the gender ratio of your law-makers. Your LAW-MAKERS. Patriarchy is deeply entrenched in the global culture. Women are allowed to have opinions at all at this point of time is because of the feminist movement of the past. But to say that equality exists IS a delusion. Feminism is NOT for hating men or burning bras or having rights when it’s convenient. It’s establishing a gender in equal footing with the other.

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