The F-word: Why There’s a Dangerous Stigma Surrounding the Word “Feminist”
“Feminist” is a dirty word.
In recent years, the Feminist Movement has been plagued by several misconceptions that have curbed its growth and thwarted its ability to influence legislation. Perpetuated by men in power who feel threatened by the growing number of women climbing the corporate ladder, these misconceptions have penetrated the minds of the American public, demonizing the word “feminist” and painting it with a thick layer of stigma.
According to a HuffPost/YouGov survey, only about 20% of Americans identify as feminists. Yet the majority of Americans––82% of survey respondents––believe in equality of the sexes. The Feminist Movement, at its core, promotes the idea that men and women are inherently equal and should be treated as such. Why, then, are so many Americans reluctant to call themselves feminists, and how has the stigma surrounding the Feminist Movement hindered pro-women legislation?
Many Americans shun the Feminist Movement because they believe that it seeks to replace the patriarchy with a matriarchy. However, Merriam-Webster dictionary defines feminism as “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.” On no occasion has the word “feminist” ever denoted a desire to destroy a male-dominated society in favor of a female-dominated one. In reality, feminists strive to uplift women without bringing men down. Moreover, the feminist movement aims to achieve gender equality by leveling the playing field for women, who have historically received fewer opportunities and freedoms than their male counterparts.
In pop-culture, feminists are often portrayed as man-hating, bra-burning radicals. This stereotype not only distracts from the feminist movement, but it repels supporters of gender equality who don’t want to be associated with these traits. And while the stereotype may be true for some, the feminist movement consists of a diverse group of people with varying beliefs and practices. It is not only unfair but factually inaccurate to lump all feminists together in this manner. More importantly, this negative stereotype has caused the Feminist Movement to become a sort of comedic trope. Once a movement becomes the subject of laughter and ridicule, it stops being an effective tool to push legislation or encourage societal change.
Bipartisan support of feminism is crucial to advance pro-women legislation and dismantle sexist institutions in the United States, but partisan divisions heavily contribute to the fact that few Americans identify as feminists. According to the same HuffPost/YouGov survey, 32% of Democrats identify as feminists, compared to just 5% of Republicans. The aforementioned misconceptions surrounding feminism run rampant in the GOP, which discourages Republican politicians from promoting feminist ideology or labeling themselves as feminists. The Republican Party also tends to support pro-life legislation, in contrast to the pro-choice policies that are generally seen as hallmarks of the feminist movement. What many Republicans don’t realize is that it is possible to oppose abortion but still support gender equality and feminist ideology.
Lastly, many Americans are reluctant to call themselves feminists because they believe that modern feminism has “gone too far.” Some argue that women have already received the basic rights to vote, own property, and divorce, and that sexism no longer exists as a result. Therefore, any attempts to further dismantle sexist institutions, discourage sexual harassment in the workplace, and promote new opportunities for women is a direct attack on men. The pay gap, however, serves as a clear example of the fact that sexism is still pervasive in American society; women are paid just 82 cents for every dollar that a man makes. Other issues facing women also remain unsolved, especially those surrounding reproductive health, sexual assault, and transgender women’s rights.
The word “feminist” has clearly been corrupted by various misconceptions, making it synonymous with radicalism and hatred towards men. It’s no surprise that the term does not resonate with most Americans. Still, it’s heartening that so many Americans believe in equality of the sexes and desire to create a more just society. Hopefully, more Americans will begin to see the Feminist Movement for what it is: a campaign to bring about gender equality. After all, feminists can only engender true change with support from the masses.