Just a Label
Feminism is a subject that many people in modern society have a great deal of difficulty understanding. The main question that most people struggle with is ” What exactly does it mean to be a feminist?” In my opinion, the word” feminist” is basically a label that has no specific meaning. The meaning depends upon personal opinions, beliefs, or stereotypes of a specific person. In other words, a feminist has a different meaning for every single person. Some people associate feminists with negativity and others find them to be courageous individuals who are not afraid to stand up for what they believe in. I plan to dissect the concept of what a feminist is by looking into the areas of the labeling and stereotypes of feminists, the difference between gender feminism and equity feminism, and the effect media has on feminism.
When people are asked what they think feminism is, most usually get a clear idea or picture in their head. They may think of specific person that they correspond with feminism, or they may simply think of women’s rights. As Farnham notes in “Male Bashing or What’s in a Name?” , the most important definition of a feminist at this historical moment is the common meaning of the term on the street, in the dorms, and on the talk shows. That definition of a feminist can be summed up in the label ” male-basher” (9). Along with the many negative labels, come many stereotypes of what a feminist should believe, look like, and even sexually prefer. Sternhell, author of “The Proper Study of Womankind,” adds input into the categorization and stereotypes of feminists.After studying Sternhell found that many feminists are categorized and labeled as foolish people who are known for their closemindedness, hypocritical points of view, and infighting (331). Indeed, these stereotypes do have a definite effect on the thinking of many young women and men. These young men and women have the misconception that to be a feminist one must live in poverty, critique constantly, be hostile towards men, never marry, censor pornography, and /or worship a goddess (Farnham 9). “When I think of a feminist, I think of a single, short-haired, blameful, hostile woman,” states a students a the University of San Francisco (7). According to Farnham, this reflects the contemporary shift from a focus on who is a feminist to what a feminist believes- a shift from equating feminists with lesbians to insisting that feminism is nothing more than male bashing. Yet, if feminism is seen to be nothing more than trashing half the population, then who could be for that?
Because there are feminists who share different points of view and focus on specific areas of feminism, there are many different branches of feminism. According to Beth Sommers, a professor of Women’s Studies, feminism today is bad feminism, or what is known as ” gender feminism” (Sternhell 331). As described by Farnham, gender feminists believe that women are systematically oppressed, and that our social and political arrangements assume and support male dominance. What she means by this is simply all the power and control of our country is in the hands of, for the most part, men. Sternhell states, “American feminism is currently dominated by women who seek to persuade the public that the world is built around a ” sex/gender system” in which the dominant gender (men) work to keep women cowering and submissive” (331). As mentioned before, women with this belief seem to portray a negative image towards feminists. For example, Wendy Schwags, a self-declared feminist, claims, “?men are enemies, they are colonizers.” (Gage 264). These examples are all connected to the fact that feminism is simply a label and revolves around personal points-of-view.
Another type of feminism is equity feminism. Practitioners of equity feminism simply want equal rights under the law; they don’t feel like victims and they aren’t angry at men (Sternhell 332). However, the concept of equity feminism, for the most part seems to have died a hundred years ago. It seems as though society has been focused on what is sexist, what is offending, and what is feminism that we have lost sight of the original form of feminists, equity feminists (Farnham 8).
Also, the media has had quite an impact on feminism and feminists. Teachers have long been familiar with the reluctance of students and undergraduates to identify themselves as feminists. Farnham states, “A lot of young women don’t want to be called feminist because, hey, listen to Rush Limbaugh, and you’ve heard it all. It’s equated with being a lesbian, fat, and ugly!” (7). Unfortunately, women who might be attracted to the movement’s push for equality are turned off by what they think being a feminist entails. The reigning media stereotype does not permit a feminist to like men, relish being sexy, enjoy fashion, or find satisfaction in homemaking (Sternhell 330). Yet, actually, the stereotype fits closer to that of an anti-social than a woman fighting for equal rights. This notion of what people think it means to be a feminist in everyday terms explains why polls show most Americans favoring feminist goals, like equal pay for equal work, but frequently disavowing the term. In fact, when “feminist” is used in polls instead of ” women’s movement”, support drops (Farnham 7). Once again, this evidence proves the point that “feminist” is a label that automatically triggers negative thoughts into people’s heads. Moreover, in 1990, a poll found that only 29 percent of U.S. women considered themselves to be feminists (Sternhell 330). Many women simply do not want to put themselves into a category or group that is looked down upon.
As you can see, the negative images, stereotypes, and labels associated with being a feminist have a strong impact on who considers themselves one, and who actually is one. We can also see that many of the women who claim to be feminists are merely ” gender feminists” who are more concerned with male bashing and critiquing society, than trying to make a difference or change in the equal rights movement for women.The media also has a great impact on feminism by using television, specifically talk shows, to their advantage. In closing, equity feminists should remember to strive for equal rights and not to lose sight of that intended goal. Personally, I would define feminism as a goal towards equal rights in our gender system, but would also have the same labels and stereotypes of a feminist in the back of my mind. After realizing that feminism is often labeled and stereotyped, what would you personally consider feminism?