At the UN in New York this weekend, Emma Watson sent a powerful message to the world: the fight for gender equality must be fought by men, as well as women. Marking the launch of the HeForShe campaign, her speech put into words the thoughts of feminists across the globe; that feminism has become a dirty, uncomfortable word; a word with which women choose not to identify. But, since when did feminism have such a bad rep?
You don’t have to look far to find evidence of the pejorative connotations hanging over the word feminism. A simple Google search throws up a plethora of negativity that leaves one truly baffled:
Stupid? Ugly? Annoying? Sexist?! Are we to glean from this that the negative perceptions of feminism far outweigh any positive thereof? Or is it quite simply that the negativity is more readily available? As Emma said in her speech: “Feminism has become an unpopular word. Women are choosing not to identify as feminists. Apparently, I am among the ranks of women whose expressions are seen as too strong, too aggressive, isolating, anti-men, unattractive even.”
The recent Tumblr movement Women Against Feminism has positioned itself as an enemy to feminism, yet despite its antagonistic presence on the Internet, it is patently clear that a complete lack of understanding of feminism is at its core. The followers of this movement are steadfast in their belief that feminism is tantamount to “man hating”; that feminism pertains to equating consensual sex with rape; and that feminism judges women who do not comply with a rigid set of rules. To say this is an inaccurate portrayal of feminism would be an understatement.
So, what is feminism? Well, to quote Emma Watson, “feminism by definition is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.” The word equality is of central importance here. Feminists are not female supremacists; we do not want to be superior to men; nor do we wish to have more rights than our male counterparts. We want to be equal. We do not hate men. Feminism is not a rigid set of rules to be obeyed. Feminists do not judge other women for the decisions they make. We believe in freedom, in choices and in rights.
Just as Germaine Greer reclaimed the C word, I believe we need to reclaim the F word. This word was, is and should remain a symbol of power and liberty, yet if these rampant fallacies persist, the word will become entirely detached from its original meaning. The misconceptions that form the driving force behind social media movements need to be addressed. Just as sex education is taught in schools, we should teach the basics of gender equality in our classrooms. Parents should talk to their children about gender equality. If you are a feminist, be proud, and don’t be afraid to tell people.
It is a sign of real progress that celebrities are coming out as feminists. Beyoncé’s iconic VMAs performance sent out the message that women should be proud to identify as feminists. High profile feminists such as Beyoncé, Emma Watson and Taylor Swift are already playing a pivotal role in inspiring younger generations of women to identify as feminists, promoting a positive image of feminism for all to see.
Feminism is getting a rebrand, and we are all brand consultants. By reclaiming the F word, we are active participants in the future of gender equality. By changing perceptions of the word, we encourage more people to become feminists and we move further towards achieving true equality.