The word “feminist” carries a great deal of negative baggage in today’s media. Female celebrities have said that they don’t identify as feminists. TIME Magazine banned the word “feminist” in a recent publication. A pervasive misconception about the true nature of feminism abounds in popular culture. In the words of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “A feminist is a person who strives for the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.” So how did being a feminist become something to be stigmatized and dismissed by the general public?
There are a lot of reasons, ranging from lack of awareness to plain old misogyny and bigotry. Tweets by women saying “I don’t need feminism; I need my husband to open jars for me!” and fetishization of Asian women and eroticization of black women are only a few by-products of marginalization and isolation of women proliferated by the media. The common mold for reality TV shows feature women cutting each other down, and/or being foils for the stronger, male characters. Women are pitted against each other in sensational gossip magazines and it is commonplace—worse, it is encouraged. The most significant reason behind division of women by society is the Patriarchy’s fear of a strong, independent, powerful woman. An educated woman who thinks critically about her place in society as a woman—and refuses to accept that place—presents a considerable threat to the power of sexism. Further, when women come together as sisters rather than pick each other apart, great social change occurs (case and point: the #YesAllWomen, #WhyIStayed/#WhyILeft hashtags on Twitter).
Misogyny and bigotry are intimidation tools designed and employed by the patriarchy to subordinate women of all ethnicities and identities and keep us in subservient roles. Pregnancy and motherhood have long been used in Western societies to keep women in subordinate roles, when in truth, they are some of the most powerful and vital roles a human can play. When a man is assertive in a workplace, the words used to describe him are bold, driven, and dedicated, among other positive terms. The opposite is true when women assert themselves, as perfectly described by Scandal’s Olivia Pope: “If she were a man, you’d say she were formidable or bold or right.”
The media clearly doesn’t portray women and feminism in the positive, truthful way that it can. Shows like Scandal, with strong, black, female characters, Beyoncé’s self-titled feminist album, and Malala Yousafzai are all slowly changing the tone of the conversation about feminism. Events like Pomona College’s art show called The “F” Word explore these negative connotations and what the negativity means for the freedoms of women. Featured pieces included a wall of clay breasts painted pink with the words “not for you” spelled in white across them, and a huge clay rendering of a woman’s breasts and shoulders with an industrial chain roped around her neck. It should frighten everyone that the indignity women suffer at the hands of sexism and misrepresentation of feminism exists in this day and age. It’s so easy to reevaluate your understanding of the movement—Scripps isn’t the only place to find a healthy conversation about feminism. Let’s change the dialogue about feminism from derisive and dismissive to supportive and understanding. Your next Yik Yak post is the perfect place to start.