A male friend of mine recently confided that he couldn't think of the word 'feminist' without immediately thinking 'lesbian', 'unfeminine', 'angry.'
The fact that I, a staunch feminist, was sitting across from him, engaging in a perfectly civilized lunch conversation, somehow caging my violent tendencies and my rampant lesbianism, managed to escape him.
A girlfriend of mine recently sent me a screenshot of someone's online dating profile she'd come across. He'd written: "Racists and feminists need not apply." I stared at it, dumbfounded that someone had equated something so intolerant and ignorant as racism with a movement that aims to do nothing more than define, establish, and defend equal political, economic, and social rights for women.
Because, really... that's all feminism is about. Equal rights for both men and women...
And yet, for some reason, the term is still the source of derision, distrust, and downright ridicule. Hatred, even. Men cross their legs at the mere mention of the word. Women disassociate with it. And, judging by the vitriolic and vicious attacks that many feminists are met with, can anyone really blame them?
Recently, in an interview with the UK Guardian, respected actress and well-known activist, Susan Sarandon, confessed that she no longer identified with the word.
"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....It's a bit of an old-fashioned word."
So if this is what feminism evokes in most men (and even many women) isn't it wise to disassociate from the term, distance ourselves from the negative images, and adopt something a little more conciliatory, a little more friendly, and a little less angry?
Let me just say this in my least confrontational, least alienating voice: Hell, no!
Just because someone has mistaken the word 'blue' to mean 'red', you don't throw out the word and start using another one to describe 'blue.' You explain to them what the word 'blue' means, and why it's important that the word 'blue' continues to be used. It's time to re-brand the movement, by focusing on the facts and not the popular misconceptions.
Feminism is nothing more than the desire for a world where women are equal. Equal. Not superior, but equal. Pro-woman does not mean anti-man. It never has. And the only people who want you to think otherwise are those whose privileged status is derived from women being treated as inferior. Because elevating women in a community where they are treated as inferior inevitably means that men must relinquish their privileged status. And that's something that many are not willing to do without a fight. And often, that fight takes on the form of resentful disinformation.
When Christian evangelist, Pat Robertson, tells his congregation -- and pretty much anyone else who will listen -- that "feminism is a socialist, anti-family, political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians," yes, it's idiotic. But ultimately it's nothing more than fear mongering, aimed at keeping women in their place.
In most cases, however, the threat doesn't even lie in blatantly misogynistic statements, but more so in the mistaken assumption that feminism is now outdated (an "old-fashioned" notion as Sarandon put it) and is no longer necessary.
I mean, take a look around you. We live in a post-feminist world, right? We won the fight, ladies! Gone are the days when women couldn't vote, inherit property or become President. It's time to sit back, relax and enjoy. Why spend time nit-picking and complaining about every little slight, and every little injustice done to us? We've come a long way, baby, and it's time we reveled in all the hard-won victories.
Here's the sad truth, though. This world is as much post-feminist, as it is post-racial. Meaning, it really isn't. If you believe otherwise, spend 10 minutes scrolling through the trolling that takes place when articles like this are written and see for yourselves.
Questioning the need for feminism in this post-feminism world would require selective observational skills, where we purposely choose to ignore the continued pay gap, the clear lack of women in executive and leadership positions, slut shaming, the overwhelming challenges of combining motherhood and a career, a pervasive rape culture, the constant need to blame and question the victim, and the daily perpetration of impossible standards of female beauty.
Saying that there's no longer a need for feminism, because it's an exaggerated reaction to minor problems is like stating that we no longer need to focus on anti-racism campaigns because Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation took care of that nonsense years ago. Just look at the character assassination young Trayvon Martin was subjected to, or the outrage a little biracial girl caused in a Cheerios commercial, for evidence that we still live in a world where deeply-seated prejudices remain commonplace.
There's still work to do.
A popular adage states that "the most serious threat to democracy is the notion that it has already been achieved". Replace the word 'democracy' with 'equality' and you'll see the danger in this type of thinking.
So much progress has already been made (particularly in the social and economic circles of the people who probably have the luxury of taking the time to read blog entries such as mine) that too many of us are incapable of seeing how much still needs to be done. Apathy and a belief that there's nothing left to fight for are the real dangers.
Too many of us overestimate the success of the women's movement because our perceptions are usually distorted by constant media coverage of successful and strong women. For every Hillary Clinton and Oprah, there are thousands of anonymous women and minimum wage workers toiling away. What about the women we don't see? What about the single moms on welfare, the battered and abused women with nowhere to go, the women out of options and out of luck? What about the women around the world sold as sex slaves and child brides, mutilated and murdered in honour killings? Who speaks for them?
Up to 50% of women worldwide continue to experience domestic violence during marriage. Two-thirds of the world's 1 billion illiterate adults are women and 80% of all refugees globally are women and children. Although women make up 51 percent of the world's population, they hold only 16 percent of parliamentary and congressional seats worldwide. That's worth shouting about.
And while things might be better here in Canada, they're far from perfect. Thirteen years after the Pay Equity Act was passed, women still earn 11% less than men. As long as only 21% of our Parliament is comprised of female MPs, as long as women comprise 84% of spousal homicides and the vast majority of people living under the poverty line and as long as we're still having debates over abortion rights, the fight for equality is not over. We may have come a long way, but let's not lose sight of the long way still to go.
And honestly, I'm tired of hearing people say that they're unable to listen to the message because too many feminists are angry. I'm sorry that pointing out continued and blatant injustice and inequality around the world upsets you. It must really suck when someone ruins your moments of tranquility. I mean, who needs that?
All sarcasm aside, you being uncomfortable at my anger does not make the message any less valid or real. Your discomfort or even dislike for the way women choose to be vocal about issues that affect our lives does not invalidate a movement.
Yes, there are some in the feminist movement who are unreasonably aggressive and clearly not impressed with men. But one can't let any fringe group sully the meaning and importance of a movement that is ultimately based on equality of both sexes. And men should get on board (and I know many men who have), because, ultimately, patriarchy does just as much damage to them as it does to us. Being raised to believe that they must live up to some deluded standards of masculinity, and are therefore unable to express emotion and vulnerability is not healthy. It's a terrible thing to ask of our boys to shut down a huge chunk of their humanity.
The weird thing in all this is that most millennial women are feminists without even realizing it, yet many are still hesitant to take on that label because the word has been drilled into them as describing bra-burning, man-hating females. They've been misled to believe that feminist isn't somehow... feminine. As if you're somehow forfeiting your femininity and your sexual desirability as a woman. Like it's an either/or proposition, and the minute you admit to being on board with the feminist movement, someone hands you a pair of Birkenstocks, a copy of Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex, and throws out all your razors.
Now, you don't need to call yourself a feminist to care about women's equality, but I think that it's important that you do. Denying that label makes a mockery of all the movement has achieved and implies that there's something you find offensive or non-representative in it. How can that be? What most feminists I know want is what all women want: equal pay, equal opportunities, equal representation. How are those goals not shared by all women? How is that an 'old-fashioned' notion?
And to suggest, as many do, that the fight is over, is to be wrong.
Tell that to the Norwegian woman who was raped in Dubai, and upon reporting her rape was sentenced to 13 months in prison for having sex outside of marriage. Only relentless outside pressure forced the Dubai government to renege on their decision and "pardon" her. And while they reluctantly let her go, they also pardoned her rapist.
Think that's an isolated case involving a backwards country? Don't pat yourselves on the back just yet.
Tell that to the Steubenville rape victim who was victimized all over again by mainstream media, as they focused on those 'poor' college boys who had such a bright future ruined by one bad decision. You know... that pesky decision to RAPE.
Tell that to Texas State Senator, Wendy Davis, who took part in a 13-hour filibuster in an effort to kill a bill that would ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. In the end the bill was signed anyway, and, once again, women's vaginas and our reproductive rights were legislated by a bunch of old men who biologically will never run the risk of ever having to make such a difficult decision.
And forget the most blatantly outrageous of examples. There are everyday cases of sexism that blow your mind. So subtle, so ubiquitous, so innocuous in many cases that we don't even notice them. Unless, of course, we're paying attention.
I recently watched an episode of Quebec TV show, Tout le monde tout lu, where the subject matter was feminist literature. Jean Barbeau, the male host spent most (if not all) of the interview discussing feminist preoccupations with another male guest, while the sole female guest sat around awkwardly doing practically nothing, waiting to be asked a question.
It was the most absurd things I had ever seen, and yet no one commented on it. Not one person found it strange that two men were discussing the female experience while someone who could actually impart personal knowledge had been invited to the show, yet not asked to share it. We're so used to men being the self-proclaimed "experts" on something, that even when they aren't, they are.
Examples are never hard to find. Society continues - in ways subtle and not so subtle - to always define and ultimately limit what women are and ultimately can be. Despite the progress, there is still much to be vigilant about.
Now, more than ever, feminism needs to be reclaimed. It's not about abolishing a term that many consider irrelevant to today's world, but in succeeding in getting more people - men and women - to embrace it as the positive movement that it is; in broadening its scope to include us all.
If history has taught us anything is that it's too easy for hard-earned rights to be tampered with and taken for granted. Being vigilant about that isn't something women should have to apologize for.