Having recently started university, a place of education and thinking, what has struck me most is the ignorance of otherwise intelligent people – especially when it comes to feminism.
To start with, let’s clear up a few myths, as it seems that many who consider feminism to be a dirty word do not even know what it’s about. Feminists do not hate men. Feminists are not all lesbians. Feminists do not all have hairy armpits and legs. In short, we are not hairy man-hating lesbians constantly looking for something to moan about. We believe in a simple concept: gender equality.
It is a concept that the vast majority of people believe in, yet it is rare to find someone who will openly say that they are a feminist. When discussing gender equality, most people will say “I’m not a feminist but…” because they don’t want to use the ‘dirty word’ and separate themselves from the crowd – they do not want to be ostracised. For identifying as a feminist, I am the butt of pejorative jokes on an almost daily basis. It is both intimidating and exhausting to defend myself against these comments whilst attempting to point out sexism, which stems from the same thing: ignorance.
Many people think that the work of feminism is done, and that it is no longer relevant in modern society. Women can vote, women get equal pay, women can own property… we are, in the eyes of the law, equal. However, just as anti-discriminatory laws have not stopped racism in society, they have not stopped sexism either. Therefore, feminism in the 21st century tackles sexist attitudes in everyday life – it is now about pointing out the awkward, uncomfortable things that people don’t want to hear. For example, if I point out that I shouldn’t be called a ‘slut’ for sleeping around when a man would be called a ‘lad’ or a ‘player’, I am met with a chorus of groans. Everyone knows that it’s wrong, but they don’t want to put their neck on the line to change it.
There are also many people who think that feminism is anti-men. Whilst this is of course not true, the prefix ‘fem’ gives people the wrong idea that feminism is some sort of women-only-man-hating club. The reason for this prefix is simple – feminism was born from the women’s rights movement; men already had those rights. As feminism now tries to tackle sexist attitudes, it can help all genders. For example, a friend of mine is training to be a children’s nurse and for the second year running they have had no male applicants. She explains this to me simply – men are called paedophiles for showing an interest in helping children. It is a similar story for many men who wish to become primary school teachers. Some people would claim that it is feminism that has caused this by ‘hating men’ and making them ‘villains’. This could not be further from the truth – as these men are being judged because of their gender, this is exactly the kind of issue that feminism can help with.
There are, of course, those people who do not call themselves feminists because it is a dirty word, but because they do not agree with the issues modern feminism considers important. To an extent this is understandable, and it is true that there are aspects which are not important to me personally, and that I don’t agree with. However this does not stop me identifying as a feminist. It is the same in many situations – for example, my Catholic friend has had sex before marriage. Whilst she does not agree with her Church’s teachings on this particular issue, she still identifies as Catholic because it boils down to her belief in God. In the same way, feminism boils down to a belief in gender equality. By splitting ourselves into feminists and people-who-believe-in-gender-equality-but-don’t-want-to-be-called-feminists we are only splitting the power and resources that we hold as a group with the same basic aim.
So, what can be done to stop feminism being a dirty word? It all comes down to attitude – feminists aren’t only fighting sexist attitudes, but derogatory attitudes about their own movement. Chances are, the feminist you make jokes about is actually trying to help you. Heck, give a feminist a break!