Feminism comes hand in hand with negative stereotypes, but what would our society be without it?
When asking the general public in Newcastle whether they would identify as a feminist, I was pleased when they were happy to answer their opinions on the equality of the sexes
Except that’s not exactly what happened.
In fact, I found people generally seemed apprehensive on approaching the subject: some even physically cringed at the word ‘feminism’, and a couple refused to answer at all.
One 19 year old boy Sam actually asked me “isn’t that just women’s way of hating men and passing it off as feminism?”
When asked whether they agreed that all people are entitled to the same civil rights, liberties and opportunities regardless of gender, on the other hand, everyone (including Sam) was quick to say yes. However, only one person admitted that she would identify herself as a feminist.
These results reflect that of a recent online poll on Buzzfeed where only 1% of over 3000 people disagreed, yet only 31% would identify themselves as feminists.
The Oxford Dictionary defines feminism as the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of sexes. So why is it that so many people that agree with this statement would then recoil at the word ‘feminism’ and feminists?
Some people say there is no need for feminism now as the important issues regarding the inequality of the sexes are that of history. This is partly true.
“Yes women can still vote, but issues are very much still there today” says student Caeilfhionn, “equality, rape and genital mutilation are the biggest issues for women right now, and these need to change.”
So what is it about the f-word that people hate? Well, there seems to be a large amount of anxiety about the current resurgence of feminism, and particularly what it might mean for men.
Given the stubborn repetition in the media and across the internet, it’s not surprising that these outdated and false stereotypes of feminism persist.
The impression that feminism must somehow result in either deliberate or collateral damage to men is simply not true. Almost every issue that modern feminists campaign about would have a knock-on effect for men.
The entries to the Everyday Sexism Project disclose this with clarity –“in the same week, we’ll receive one entry from a man refused parental leave and ridiculed in the office for asking for it, and one from a woman who has been refused a promotion because she is considered a ‘maternity risk’.
We hear from girls who aren’t allowed to join in football games but also boys who are bullied for wanting to take “girly” subjects such as art or drama.”
And of course feminism – or the f-word – has somehow become almost too shameful to admit. Like they did on the streets of Newcastle, it seems lots of men and women are prefacing their opinions with ‘I’m not a feminist but…..’
Margaret Atwood (a Canadian writer) came up with a definition with which I, along with most other women, might have found a comfort. ‘Does feminist mean large unpleasant person who’ll shout at you or someone who believes women are human beings. To me it’s the latter, so I sign up’.
We live in a diverse society now where different is accepted and unique is embraced – whether we wear short or long skirts, lipstick and high heels or trainer, thin or fat, short or long hair – the conclusion is whatever we want, and we can only appreciate it the way our ancestors never had to chance to.
So in the words of writer Karin Young and law expert Tessa Green “Women’s achievements need to be recognised… And not just women renowned for being successful, but the ordinary hard-working women too”.
Article by Molly Ashby