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?