Ideology should define feminism, not stereotypes


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Chanel models walk the catwalk in a finale featuring empowering signs and megaphones.

Feminism, by dictionary definition, is the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men. To most, advocacy for gender equality (and equality of all kinds) is morally equitable. So why is antifeminism rising in prevalence so quickly?

Feminism carries with it plenty of stereotypes– the man-hating, bra-less, and angry woman wielding a large bush of armpit hair– but this radical picture is not an accurate depiction of feminism as a whole. That’s right; there’s no need to fear the f-word.

“What makes me a feminist is I believe that every person of every gender has the right to do what they want. They have the right to disregard gender norms and achieve their potential, and their potential is endless,” said Samantha Paul, junior and vice president of Junior Statesmen of America (JSA). “I think that feminism had itself evolved from being a primarily women’s movement to, today in America, a movement which encompasses all genders. I think everybody is a feminist if you really think about it.”

Over the years, society has developed an irrational fear of the feminist label because of a slew of misconceptions. While many feminist causes have just intentions, which is to promote the true meaning of equality, many so-called “feminist” protests seem to promote a perpetual aura of oversensitivity, irrationality, and victimhood. Many are also under the impression that, to be a feminist, one believe must believe that females are innately inferior to other genders.

The primary issue with the first-world feminist movement and the reason it is repelling so many is that many feminists have now shifted their focus to trivial issues, especially in America. While the U.S. has progressed significantly in achieving gender equality, thousands of women in other countries are being shot, abused, and ridiculed for expressing any desire for educational opportunities. Yet, in the meantime, Americans are spending hours at protests for the alleged right to wield their breasts in public.

To clarify, I am not denouncing feminism or ‘free the nipple‘ movements, but many feminist causes in America have gotten lost amidst confused intentions. Feminism is still necessary in today’s world, advocating for causes like equal pay, equal educational opportunities, reproductive rights, and action against domestic violence. But many individuals are misrepresenting feminism in order to garner social, political and economic benefits. Those who exploit that desire for equality, and those who take it to the point of advocacy for female superiority, are not feminists and should not be the representatives of feminism. Ironically, this minority of pseudo-feminists have created majority of the negative stereotypes associated with feminism.

“I think many people misunderstand the feminist movement, and therefore, being a feminist or a part of the feminist movement is regarded with a negative connotation,” said Shivani Govil, president of Girl Up. “Men are often threatened by the mere use of the word, but I don’t understand why. The stigma around the word has truly taken away from it original mission: to achieve equality among males and females.”

Unfortunately, the mindset of ‘tear down men to build up women’ has played a large role in  the formation of the feminist stereotypes of today. “I think feminism is poorly represented, because it’s not a man-hating movement,” said Paul. “Sometimes I see people say extremely ridiculous things that they label as feminism, but it’s not. I think a lot of [people], when they hear the word ‘feminism’, they identify it with that misrepresentation.”

There is a distinction between feminist ideology and the radical feminist movement. Too many are wrongfully basing conceptions of the feminist movement on people who are not feminists. In the same way it is inaccurate to base one’s conceptions of Islam on the actions of jihadists, it is inaccurate to base conceptions of feminism on the actions of radicals, men-haters, and female supremacists.

Thus, it is inaccurate to label oneself an “anti-feminist” unless one is completely and truly opposed to gender equality. Most “anti-feminist” movements today are not opposed to feminism in and of itself, but the way the movement was taken on by American society and the first world. Many anti-feminists claim to disagree with feminism in protest to the actions of people who are not really feminists. While the feminist ideology has sparked a desire to promote political, economic and social equality, many only promote violence and irrational justifications for female superiority.

“If someone wants to [be] a man hater, or they think that everyone should bend at their will, and are offended by everything, I would say that they are a pseudo-feminist, because that’s what they are- masquerading as something they’re not,” said Paul.

These commonly named “feminazis” and “pseudo-feminists” are not feminists and, again, should not be regarded as so.

Furthermore, while it’s understood that many have tried to exploit feminist ideology and the movement for personal benefit, or simply misrepresented it, that mentality is not common everywhere in the world. The fundamental difference between feminism in first world countries and feminism in third world countries is that American feminists tend to fight for social rights and third-world feminists tend to find for political rights. And though social rules can constitute restriction of political rights, American women have those primarily desired political rights.

“In many developing nations, their society and culture have not yet shed the stigma that girls are solely child-bearers and housewives,” said Govil. “For this reason, Girl Up helps girls in these nations fight child marriage laws, female-genital mutilation, and fight for laws ensuring documentation, which all point towards ensuring every female is on the same playing field to make her mark on the world in whatever way she may choose.”

The real solution is not to attack feminism, but apply feminist efforts where they are more needed. Instead of whining about the fact that we can’t be half naked in public and throwing a tantrum when a man opens the door for you, we should be empowering women across the globe who don’t have the rights and privileges we do.

Though movements like ‘free the nipple’ are somewhat relevant in our society, women’s rights should be representative of more than that. Fighting for political equality, reproductive rights, and maternity leave, in the grand scheme of things, encompasses the more essential needs of a wider variety of women than more social-oriented feminist movements.

Essentially, the American women’s rights movement is not necessarily fighting for total equality, and that’s okay. Women and men often have different needs in society- and feminism fights for many needs that don’t apply to men. While issues like domestic violence remain universal, issues surrounding maternity and reproduction may not be as relevant to the male population.

“I think [feminism] is really important, because, even in the 90’s, there were still those strict gender rules- it was still like, ‘go you’, if you were a woman doctor, it was like, ‘go her’, but I want that to be considered normal,” said Paul. “I don’t want it to be like, ‘she’s a strong, powerful woman’. I want [society to act as if] she were doing something normal; ‘this woman’s a doctor, this woman’s an engineer’- that should be common in our society.”