by Zhanna Kutsenkova
You’re sitting in class, discussing politics, environmental issues, or even the latest episode of Scandal, when someone drops the F bomb. You’re taken aback, not sure how exactly you should respond, maybe you’re shocked that someone is so radical, or maybe you agree wholeheartedly, but it’s certainly clear--the word feminist has been garnering an intense reaction as of late.
Feminism is defined as the advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of political, social and economic equality to men, and has been a major, or leading presence in almost every social justice movement in U.S. history: the revolutionary war, campaigns to abolish slavery, mobilizations for suffrage, fights to establish social security, unions, universal childhood education, plus the environmentalism, anti-war and peace movements.
The goal of feminism is just as clear and applicable to the 21st century--women should absolutely be able to live and move through the world as freely and with the same inalienable rights and bodily autonomy as men.
The word floats fluidly through the media with celebrities rejecting or celebrating the title, but it has become clear that there is some sort of disconnect between the intention of the movement and the word itself. In Time’s poll of 2014’s worst words, “feminist” was included with the explanation: “you have nothing against feminism itself, but when did it become a thing that every celebrity had to state their position on whether this word applies to them, like some politician declaring a party? Let’s stick to the issues and quit throwing this label around like ticker tape at a Susan B. Anthony parade." The poll immediately sparked a spur of fiery backlash and Time's editor Nancy Gibbs issued a retraction apologizing that the originally “nuanced inclusion of the word was lost, and instead had become a distraction from the important debate over equality and justice."
The inclusion of the word was certainly irresponsible. Instead of highlighting the disproportionate influx of gender demeaning, racial and homophobic slurs that are a part of our society’s daily vernacular, a word with incredible historical significance and positive intentions was featured and then joked about.
Misinterpretation appears to be at the head of the negative connotations of the word. Feminism is no way targeting or “hating” men in order to take away their power or self worth to instead offer it to women. Nor is it emphasizing that women need to give up facets of their lifestyles that are considered to be more traditionally feminine, such as being a stay at home mother, wearing makeup, or any other personal choice. The entire goal of feminism is equality so that half of the human population can be heard instead of spoken for, so that the power, energy, and intelligence of women can be used to help the world instead of being pushed aside. With those goals, feminism is certainly something that the world could use more of, but if people are afraid to even use the word, it will hinder the progress that we are all so eager to make.