Man-haters, Feminazis, and Steinem–oh my!

Newsweek had a great article this week by Rania Kelly defending the all-too-popular claim that feminism is dead, is only popular with man-haters, and that women are too afraid of association with the term because feminists are thought of as bitches. Kelly writes:

“The slow degradation of the word “feminist” continues to be one of the most powerful weapons in the backlash against the women’s rights movement. How better to diminish the cause than to create an atmosphere where young girls believe that to be a feminist is to be a loser, where women feared that speaking their minds made them a bitch? It opens the door to tainting and tarnishing any issue, like the rape shield laws or the Fair Pay Act, that promised to make the country a better, safer place for females.”

I couldn’t agree more. There’s no better way to undermine the work of a movement than to sully its name to the degree that the common person reacts with disgust, contempt, and fear of being associated with it. That’s what backlash has done to feminism–it has made the word feminist so unpopular, so misunderstood, that it is scares people who identify with its mission into silence.

So why are we letting the media-society-corporate-america (etc.) dictate how we DEFINE a word, both denotatively and connotatively?

Kelly’s article continues by turning to an interesting source for guidance:

“So I decided to ask my personal hero what she thought. I e-mailed Gloria Steinem and asked her if she thought women lost interest in feminism once the word became synonymous in some circles with “witch.” … “There has been a long campaign against ‘feminism’ as a word and as a human rights movement,” she wrote. “I would say the introduction of the word ‘feminazi’ by Rush Limbaugh was the low point and beginning of the worst.” But the rest of her answer surprised me; “Every feminist issue has majority support in public opinion polls, and the word ‘feminist,’ even with no definition, causes at least as many women to identify with it as with the word “Republican”—about a third in both cases. With its dictionary definition, more than 60% of women identify with ‘feminist’ and, when they are measured, more than half of men … So some people may support the content and be afraid of the word, at least until they know who’s asking them and why.” And finally she reminded me that the proof is in legislation like the Fair Pay Act last year, and it doesn’t matter what people like Limbaugh or Beck think. “This is a revolution,” my hero reassured me, “not a public relations movement.””

Steinem makes a great point– Beck and Limbaugh are full of it. And I love the way she shows it. So why do we keep talking about their crazy bumper sticker politics when we could be talking about this woman, Rania Kelly, and the millions of others like her who call themselves feminists.

For all we talk about the sullied name of feminism, the argument about what feminism really is, and countless arguments about why we should abandon the name and re-brand altogether, how much do we talk about all of the self-proclaimed feminists who embrace the term?

I embrace the term feminist to the chagrin of my family–“feminists don’t get married” and “nobody likes extremists” are comments commonly made to me.

I embrace the term feminist to the confusion of some of my Christian friends. I embrace the term feminist to the revulsion of many, many first dates that turned into kick ass nights spent with a book on the sofa. I embrace the term feminist to the professor who readily admits that he doesn’t know what feminism means, but still asserts that I don’t either, and I should really consult some experts (after 4 years of graduate school, btw). I embrace the term feminist to my friends who find it annoying the way I’m always “ruining” movies by pointing out the un-egalitarian potrayls of men, women, and sexuality.

 Why do I call myself a feminist? Well, lots of reasons, but here is my favorite quotation on the matter:

“To deny indentification with the term “feminism” but to speak and to enjoy the politics and the privileges that are available only because of feminist movement, agitations, sacrifice, and costly commitment seems to me to express an enormity of arrogance and self-importance as well as historical disregard.” – Dr. Tate Pedersen

Do you identify as a feminist? Why or why not?

Posted on: March 7th, 2010 by Fair and Feminist 7 Comments

7 Responses

  1. nobody says:

    In my personal experience, I have found that nobody will take you seriously if you are a woman and you identify as a feminist. It kind of extending the cycle- but at the same time, its hard enough as it is to get something accomplished while being female.

  2. Schnee says:

    Yes, I do identify as a feminist, and I too make eyes roll by pointing out sexism on TV and cinema.
    Love the quote from Dr. Tate Pederson, so true.
    I do like the term ‘gender equality’ as well as feminism though, because it seems to me that misogyny and homophobia are rarely, if ever, seen apart, and LGBTQphobia IS a gender issue.

  3. Shelly says:

    “nobody,” I’m sorry you feel that way. Saying you’re a feminist definitely does cause a reaction, sometimes one we really aren’t expecting. But I guess I get a lot out of proving people wrong, making them take me seriously as much as possible.

    Schnee– i love it! im glad i’m not the only one out there making my friends throw popcorn at me. Also, I agree that gender equality is the goal of feminism, which includes advocating for the LGBTQI community!

  4. Taylor says:

    Oh, I most certainly do call myself a feminist! I enjoy using my identification with the term as an opportunity to shake people up a bit, and think about what the word really means.

  5. Russ says:

    Gloria Steinem response seems to nullify the question. If feminism has gone mainstream in public opinion, then why does everyone need to say they are feminists when they all believe the same things? Typically the identity label is used to identify those not part of the mainstream.

  6. Shelly says:

    taylor– I love it!

    Russ– interesting! I guess I still don’t see that feminism has gone mainstream. Not to seem tautological but just look at the responses people get for calling themselves feminists.

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