Feminists must make their positions clear to attract more supporters

TJ Parks

The concept of feminism is misunderstood. Several weeks ago, a series of articles debated the topic of feminism, but the authors did not know that both viewpoints could be considered feminist.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, feminism is “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.” Thus, in order to qualify as a feminist argument, a statement needs only to support the guarantee of equal opportunities for both genders, not necessarily that men or women capitalize on those opportunities. Furthermore, people also fail to realize that feminism is a cause open to everybody, not only independent women.

Today’s feminist movement needs to make its intentions more obvious and its organizations more inclusive, while we as a society need to grasp a better understanding of the term.

In a recent poll, Huffington Post reports that only 20 percent of Americans identified themselves as feminists, yet 82 percent of Americans agreed that “men and women should be social, political, and economic equals.” This means that, despite their lack of awareness on the matter, 82 percent of Americans are feminists. Equal pay for women, women’s suffrage and equal social opportunities for women are widely supported – according to NPR, 64 percent of Americans support equal pay for women – and all are feminist goals.

Despite the feminist movement’s support for such issues, many people deny being feminists because they believe the term inherently includes a variety of more controversial viewpoints. These facets range from a negative attitude toward stay-at-home moms to a desire to abolish all traditional “feminine” traits and replace them with traditionally “masculine” or “neutral” ones. Although there are people who support these viewpoints, this is not what feminism is about. There are many different brands of feminism – the movement as a whole has experienced three distinct waves and there are countless more branches. Like any movement, feminism has supporters scattered across its own spectrum. The civil rights movement was no different: Martin Luther King Jr. advocated a vastly different philosophy than Malcolm X, yet both men supported civil rights.

Because of this wide variety of viewpoints within the feminist movement, feminists need to better communicate what their beliefs actually are, especially the less noticed, more moderate feminists. At the same time, feminists also need to do a better job of welcoming a diverse set of supporters.

Because of the views held by radical feminists, many potential supporters feel unwelcome in the cause, and the remainder of feminists has not done much to dispel this feeling. If one visits the twitter feed of The University of Alabama Feminist Caucus, the cover image, found in its entirety further down on the feed, features a group of “Rosie the Riveter” figures with the caption “UAFC needs you!” All of the caricatures appear female, and if there is a male figure in the mix, it is not obvious.

Although this image was probably used because it enforces the idea that women can perform acts of great power, it also sends the message, intentional or not, that men have no place in the caucus. This fault is probably innocent, but if feminist organizations are to build their support, they need to make purposeful actions (and cover images) to enlarge their support groups. Men and stay-at-home mothers are two among the many untapped sources that feminist organizations could woo by marketing themselves as inclusive. Just because someone would not be affected by an equal pay law does not mean that they don’t support it.

Feminism, just like any other movement, should not be defined by a narrow set of its supporters and their ideas. If one is to truly gain understanding of the topic, one must listen to the perspectives of a variety of supporters across the spectrum and realize that perhaps their own views fit somewhere on the spectrum. After all, 82 percent of people have already admitted to agreeing with the movement’s fundamental principle.

TJ Parks is a freshman majoring in journalism, history and anthropology. His column runs biweekly.