I resisted calling myself a feminist for a brief period of my life. I had some pretty valid reasons, I thought: I didn’t fully understand the fight for reproductive rights, and I wasn’t sure which stance to take for personal and religious reasons; I didn’t read feminist blogs or magazines, I didn’t attend marches or rallies — and that’s what feminism entailed, I assumed; but mostly, my hesitation stemmed from the strange looks I got when I used the F word.
I didn’t, and still don’t, associate myself with any political party (I like to think my seven years of journalistic experience are at fault for my pretty consistant objectivity). Social activism, gender issues in particular, is really the only political realm in which I take a particularly vehement position, and even there, I tend to read news articles and blogs with a discerning eye.
So I was bewildered at the disarming reactions to my feminism. I had always associated the term with strength and activism; it brought to mind the years of effort that innovative women put forth to give us all the things that we take for granted today. But for many others, I quickly learned, feminism was something of a dirty word. Actually, I think Susan Sarandon expresses the mindset best in this article from The Guardian:
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 and because you want everyone to have equal pay, equal rights, education and healthcare.
It’s a bit of an old-fashioned word. It’s used more in a way to minimise you.
So there it goes. Decades of rallies and protests and outreach, no longer relevant. Those brave women who made so much possible for women today identified their work as feminism. Celebrities like Sarandon, in erasing that term from their vocabulary, are disassociating themselves from all the incredible years it encompasses. Even those who do consider themselves feminists to some degree or another feel the need to defend and distance themselves from the term. Beyonce, for instance, had to back up her use of the word this April: “That word can be very extreme…’But I guess I am a modern-day feminist. I do believe in equality. Why do you have to choose what type of woman you are? Why do you have to label yourself anything? I’m just a woman and I love being a woman.”
It’s true, words carry connotations, and those connotations warp over time as associations and ideas shift. But a word like feminism — which stands for so many admirable qualities and ideals — shouldn’t be shaken off simply because some people don’t understand it. Sure, there are people who are intimidated by feminism because they associate it with bra burning and hairy legs; but isn’t that all the more reason to use the word as much as we can? Yes, as Beyonce reminds us, feminism is a label. But it’s a label that recognizes all the women who worked to give it meaning; and I’m personally proud every time I label myself a feminist.
I was disheartened to read about Sarandon’s stance on the word. But just as I prepared myself to respond to the article on my blog, I discovered another Guardian article about Ellen Page. And I think her words sum up everything quite beautifully:
I don’t know why people are so reluctant to say they’re feminists. Maybe some women just don’t care. But how could it be any more obvious that we still live in a patriarchal world when feminism is a bad word?…Feminism always gets associated with being a radical movement – good. It should be. A lot of what the radical feminists [in the 1970s] were saying, I don’t disagree with it.