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Between the Generations: Does Feminism Need a Makeover?

11/07/2013 05:24 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Two women from two different generations giving their perspective on issues that matter. This week we ask: does feminism need a makeover?

Elissa's perspective...

I've decided feminism needs a makeover.

A simplistic solution to an endemic problem? Maybe. But it seems feminism and its ideals are in a bit of rut lately. More so than usual.

As my fellow columnist Supriya Dwivedi so eloquently stated, "feminism is a collection of movements and ideologies, which at their core seek to establish the equality of men and women in the political, economic and social spheres."

Which is all true. But do people really get it? What's more, do they want to? If we look at feminism as a brand, I'd have to say it has neither widespread loyalty nor appeal -- at least not across the genders.All you need to do is look at the reaction to events of late:

• The overwhelming disapproval over feminizing the Canadian national anthem

• The skeptical undercurrent that bullied teen Rehtaeh Parsons may have deserved what was coming to her

• The now infamous St. Mary's University's rape chant where frosh week leaders felt they were unfairly called out by university administrators

It would seem if people better understood feminism and actually embraced its ideals, we wouldn't be dealing with such backlash.

To be sure, feminism has always had its haters, but perhaps its how and who has communicated its ideology that has resulted in its lack of acceptance. And that's where I think a makeover could come into place. But first let's dial back a few decades to the early 70s, when as a young teen, the positive images of feminism started to penetrate my consciousness.

I still remember the first time I saw a picture of Gloria Steinem. Smart and sexy sporting her trademark aviators -- her public persona was both appealing and intellectual. When she proclaimed "a woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle" it was humourous and poignant at the same time. Steinam's look and badass POV broke the negative stereotype of humourless, man-hating feminist shrews and gave a modern voice to women's issues of inequality.

Then in 1972, Helen Reddy burst onto the scene with what was eventually deemed feminism's first actual national anthem, "I Am Woman." While the tune eventually hit the top of the charts, it gave voice -- abeit via America's Top 40 -- to the burgeoning sense of empowerment women wanted to embrace.

In 1974, the Dici bra commercials hit the airwaves -- of which women of a certain age would most certainly remember. The slogan "Dici or nothing" was the industry's answer to 70s bra burning, without actually getting rid of the bra. I still remember the image of a bra floating effortlessly in the sky -- free of padding and underwire. Needless to say, that undergarment wouldn't work for me today, what with gravitational pull and all.

But the one similarity tying these three disparate examples of feminism together is the narrative was branded through the image of celebrity and carried by major media.

Which brings us back to how feminism could be better perceived today.

If the idea of creating gender-neutral lyrics of our national anthem had been presented by a cross-section of Canadian female superstars like Avril Lavigne, kd lang, Serena Ryder and Measha Brueggergosman, I'm willing to bet the reaction would have been different.

If "no means no" commercials were fronted by the likes of Rachel McAdams, Shenae Grimes or Mad Men's Jessica Pare, maybe men of all ages would sit up and take notice.

What I'm talking about is fronting the narrative in a way that is more palatable to gain public acceptance. Yes, one could say this is playing to the lowest common denominator and even sexist in its execution.

But whatever we're doing right now, isn't working.

Supriya's perspective...

Earlier this year, Forbes.com asked its readers whether branding begins at birth. The answer, according to Forbes is yes, as branding begins the moment parents choose a name for their child. No longer relegated to consumer marketing, branding now permeates virtually every facet of our interactions with one another. We have now entered what many experts refer to as brand culture, in that everything and everyone is striving to create a palatable brand for themselves.

Does the same logic apply to political ideologies, social movements and activism? This question has been put forth for quite sometime now, particularly with respect to feminism. Feminism, however, is not a brand; it is a collection of movements and ideologies, which at their core seek to establish the equality of men and women in the political, economic and social spheres. But does that mean feminism is immune to our branding culture? I'm not so sure. Women like Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer distance themselves from feminism, but have no problem reaping its benefits. Which would be akin to saying you hate the Coca-Cola logo, so you drink it with your eyes closed.

In a recent study headed by University of Toronto psychologist Nadia Bashir, it was found that the most frequent traits associated with "typical" feminists included terms such as "man-hating" and "unhygienic." Sadly, this research is rather unsurprising as I have a plethora of empirical anecdotal evidence that has allowed me to reach the same disturbing conclusion: people don't like feminists.

Or is it something deeper? Do people simply not like the kind of work often associated with feminists? Are people vehemently opposed to pay equity, reproductive autonomy, fair media representation and speaking out against sexualized violence? I doubt it. Arguably, the ideals of feminism are not what make the movement objectionable to so many people. Rather, it's the mere mention of the dreaded f-word, making the case for re-branding appealing -- but also misguided.

Feminism is inherently tied to what it stands for, in that what it seeks to achieve is conveyed with the feminism brand. By changing the name, feminism ceases to be an international brand capable of evoking raw emotion, and would be demoted to nothing more than an innocuous, unnoticeable term that seeks to please everyone, and inevitably fails to do so. Additionally, in taking the "fem" out of "feminism", the innate inequality that continues to exist between men and women is overlooked. It ignores every 80 cents to a man's dollar, the systematic slut-shaming that young girls face everyday, each and every sexist remark made by the media, as well as the denial of basic rights that women face internationally.

Feminism has evolved, so it's rather odd that the perception of feminism has not. Perhaps it is not so much an issue of needing to rebrand feminism, but rather attenuating our view of a social movement that seeks to better the lives of half of the population to reality.

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