Feminism. Why is it seen as such a dirty word?
It seems to me that most people simply do not know what the fundamentals of feminism are. Or, perhaps most likely, they are still operating under the extant influence of the feminist backlash of the 1980s. As a matter of fact, this more than anything else probably reveals just why feminism is greeted with sideways glances and caustic comments, whether designated with jocularity or not. Moreover, it even serves as an explanation for the overwhelming unawareness of just what feminism truly is in the first place.
The intricacies of this socio-political movement are detailed in Susan Faludi’s book, Backlash, a masterfully detailed as well as highly comprehensive analysis of the American political and cultural landscape that functioned to derogate feminism during the 1980s. I won’t bother recounting the particularities of the book here, but I assure you- the evidence is all laid out, and a critical analysis of all aspects of American life in the 1980s really does reveal how the many anxieties revolving around feminism were deployed in strategic efforts to counteract the feminist movement. The long and the short of it is that in the sixties and seventies the feminist movement broke lots of ground, opened many doors, and made many gains- in effect, helping lots of women across the U.S. secure greater economic, cultural, and political standing. When Reagan came into power engendering a largely right-wing hegemonic governmentality, the socio-political tides turned and the “backlash”, as it came to be known, ensued. Suddenly women were shown to be unhappy with their independent (and often “single and lonely”) lives, and their liberation via the feminist movement was targeted as the culprit of this unhappy demise. Feminism wasn’t helpful at all, as one’s right-wing milieu began to tell them- it was actually harmful…
And if it wasn’t this picture being promulgated by the mainstream media, (although I assure you, it most definitely was) it was that of the angry, man-hating feminist who declared all men as evil and desired a society devoid of all penises- hence, the beginning of the term “feminazi.”
Suffice it to say, I find both of these images problematic and ridiculous, not to mention sincerely hurtful and misrepresentative. The reality is, feminism did accomplish many wonderful things for women, then and now; And the truth about feminism, regardless of which form you take into consideration- indeed, there exists many forms of it- is that it overwhelmingly stands for equality and freedom of choice. That is what feminism is truly about.
Sometimes, within a certain kind of conversational context, I find myself telling someone that I am a feminist (in case they didn’t already know- not the most likely scenario, to be sure) and I am either reciprocated with a bit of a snicker or an honest inquiry as to what exactly that means. I am always tickled at the latter response.
I proceed to give them the general, sweeping phrase I have just stated above:
it means that I am in favor of equality and freedom of choice for all.
“Equality” meaning equal treatment, equal opportunities, equal social, economic and political standing, and “for all” meaning people of color, the disabled, the LGBT community, women, and men. “Freedom of choice” pertaining to job opportunities, which religion you choose, freedom of reproductive choices, your political affiliation, etc.
Obviously, this is by no means an exhaustive list, nor is it fully representative of the various feminist ideals and theories that I personally hold. Nor am I able to fully explore in detail the many benefits gleaned through feminist advancements over the past few decades in one short article. Nevertheless, I find it important to first dispel the myths and lies about feminism and affirmatively state, feminism is not, and should not be considered, a dirty word. It is with pride and certainty in my firm convictions that I say I am a feminist, and it is from this perspective that I write.