I chose title of this article in jest, but there are many people out there who truly consider feminism to be a dirty word.
First, let’s tackle the issue of why there are people who feel that way. For many men and women alike, the image of a feminist is a radical bra-burner with hairy armpits and a disdain for all things even vaguely masculine. In other words, there are a ton of misconceptions.
I recently gave a speech on this subject in my public speaking class, and part of the assignment was to distribute a survey to the class beforehand and use the results as a talking point. 85% of my class felt that men and women should be treated equally in all aspects of life, but only 15% self-identified as feminists.
Most of the class was shocked when I told them that the 85% from that survey were actually feminists as well because the definition is simply someone who believes in “the rights and equality of women.”
And that’s it.
Not a single mention of hairy, man-hating lesbians. But this caricature of feminists is so pervasive that it causes people to be dismissive towards the cause.
I know that this anecdote represents a very tiny cross-section of our society, but it was a big moment for me as a feminist because it made me realize just how much work still needs to be done to end people’s misunderstandings of the subject.
Whenever I explain why we need feminism to someone (trust me when I say that this comes up quite a bit in my daily life), I usually bring up Elliot Rodger and the #NotAllMen and #YesAllWomen hashtags.
If you need a quick refresher, Elliot Rodger was the young man who went on a killing spree in May of 2014 that ended with thirteen people injured and seven dead, including Rodger. His reasoning was that he felt contempt after being rejected by women and that they needed to pay.
This prompted the rise of #NotAllMen, as in not all men would go on a shooting rampage after being spurned, which is a completely reasonable assumption. However, even though #NotAllMen would act violently towards women, #YesAllWomen live in a world where violence and harassment are real threats. #NotAllMen are sexist or misogynistic, but #YesAllWomen face the consequences of these harmful viewpoints. #NotAllMen would slip something into a woman’s drink or follow her home or rape her, but #YesAllWomen are taught to constantly be vigilant about these things for the sake of their own safety.
We need to work towards a society in which the oppression of women is no longer institutionalized, and understanding feminism can help us make it happen.
By: Annie Waschko