We need a new view of feminism

Robert Sixto

I have often heard the word “feminism,” or “feminist,” used disparagingly. Too many of my acquaintances view feminism as an ideology of hate: a radical pattern of thinking that seeks to frame men solely as oppressors or otherwise accuse them. These peers will do anything to distance themselves from the label of feminist. From this characterization, you might assume I keep prejudiced friends, but when asked if they feel men and women should have equal rights, many of them answer with a quick “of course.”

According to a poll published by the Huffington Post in April 2013, majorities of both men and women, seek to avoid the label of feminist. The poll showed that 63 percent of people identified as “neither a feminist nor anti-feminist.” When asked how they viewed feminism, more people saw it negatively than positively – 37 percent versus 26 percent, respectively, with 29 percent viewing it as neutral and seven percent not sure.

Eighty-two percent of those questioned believed “that men and women should be social, political and economic equals.” Feminism is often defined by its supporters as “the belief in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.” That means 82 percent of people polled were feminists, though only 20 percent formally labeled themselves as such.

I believe people are afraid to call themselves feminists because the label has been stigmatized by the media and culture. Sexist individuals around the country characterize feminism by the actions of a few hateful individuals. With terms like “feminazi,” elements of the media undermine the average feminist who simply and honorably strives for gender equality.

By giving excessive attention to examples of unreasonable man-bashing, news outlets perpetually equivocate feminism with hate. Journalists and talk show hosts take the isolated views of extremists and project them onto every feminist. For example, on Oct. 1 an article titled “Well done, feminism. Now men are afraid to help women at work” ran in The Telegraph. It made workplace feminists appear to be over-sensitive whiners who would accuse a man of sexism for holding a door open. While there are an extremely small number of feminists who act in this manner, those holding such views represent an insignificantly small portion of the movement. One does not characterize Christian values solely using the beliefs of Westboro Baptist Church members.

The issue is further complicated by the fact that there is more than one kind of feminism. For instance, there is liberal feminism, radical feminism, eco-feminism, and many more, each interpreting feminism a little differently but keeping certain core values. Disagreeing with one is not alone a reason to avoid calling oneself a feminist. A Protestant doesn’t avoid calling herself Christian simply because she disagrees with aspects of Catholicism.

But one may ask, why does it matter if people are afraid to call themselves feminists, isn’t it enough to work toward its aims? Yes and no. Those who push for equal rights need a unifying word. When individuals who hold feminist beliefs refuse to label themselves feminists, it prevents solidarity in the gender equality movement.

Therefore, to promote solidarity and to avoid frustration, I believe we have to rethink the way society views feminism and feminists by proudly calling ourselves feminists if we support the social, political and economic equality of 
the sexes.

Robert Sixto is a senior majoring in history.