The Feminist Identity Crisis

Just as those who reject feminism, such as ‘Women Against Feminism,’ distort the definition of the movement, so too do those at the other extreme who use feminism to advance their elitist, man-bashing, agendas.

But at what point does a distorted definition become the true definition?

In today’s Western culture, words are colloquialized more quickly and easily than ever before. In fact, the word “colloquialize” is itself not a word but a colloquialism. Modern slang has evolved such that new words pop up every day and sources such as Urban Dictionary are necessary to keep up with the modern interpretation of many words.

I recently read an article titled “10 Words That You’ve Probably Been Misusing” which struck a note with me, as a I was misusing over half of the words on the list. As it happens, the word “terrific” which, today, has become synonymous with the word “great,” actually means “of great size or amount” or “causing terror.” Somewhere along the way, the word was used incorrectly over and over and the definition became so distorted from the original definition that it took on a new meaning.

This is what has happened to feminism.

A 2013 poll found that just 16 percent of men and 23 percent of women in America identify as feminists. Yet, that same poll found that 82 percent of all Americans agree with the statement “men and women should be social, political, and economic equals.” Using this information, we can conclude that approximately 60 percent, or more than half, of American women interpret feminism ‘incorrectly.’

In The Daily Beast article “You Don’t Hate Feminism, You Just Don’t Understand It,” Emily Shire writes about the group ‘Women Against Feminism’ and their social media presence. On this subject, Shire writes, “One woman posted ‘I don’t need ‘feminism’ because I believe that men and women are EQUAL, not that women should belittle men.’ Those posts hurt a bit more because they reveal how deeply misinterpreted feminism is.”

I both agree and disagree with Shire on this subject. I agree that posts, like the one above, reveal how deeply misinterpreted feminism is. But, I disagree with Shire’s tone and approach in her writing.

Shire’s elitist attitude and tone, through which she attempts to educate readers on the ‘true’ definition of feminism, belittles any women who hold alternate definitions of feminism from her own, and treats ‘Women Against Feminism’ as a group of ignorant women.

Further, throughout the article, Shire never concedes that the majority of the posts on the ‘Women Against Feminism’ tumblr page are not misogynistic, but rather, are feminist. The aforementioned post reads, “I believe that men and women are equal.” When a young woman who believes in equality of men and women feels she does not need feminism, it should not reflect poorly on her, but should instead reflect poorly on feminism.

I argue this because I do see where the ‘Women Against Feminism’ movement gets its momentum. My naïve eighteen year old self used to proudly claim that I was not a feminist because, at the time, I associated feminists with elitist, man-bashing women. I too believed and still believe in the equality of men and women, and yet today I am still hesitant to claim that I’m a feminist.

And if I, an educated, socially liberal, businesswoman am hesitant to say I am a feminist, it is painfully clear that feminism needs some marketing and PR help. Feminism has become so misinterpreted by today’s world that it has taken on a new meaning. Just as ‘terrific’ now means ‘great’, for many people, ‘feminism’ means ‘bra-burning misandry.’

It is time to give feminism a new name and a new image.

And, why not use “Women’s Rights” as the name for this movement? Yes, women now have the right to vote, the right to independence from their husbands, and the right to wear pants, to name a few, but, there are many rights women still do not have today that men do. Putting the needs of today’s women in the perspective of women’s rights is indeed more powerful than the feminist perspective. The fact that women still lack certain rights in twenty first century America is abhorrent and framing women’s causes in this light provides more momentum for advocacy and a clearer, more united, definition of the cause.

Reproductive rights, maternity leave, childcare, and the gender pay gap (which also has taken on its own form of misinterpretation) are all major issues that hinder true equality for men and women in America. These rights are yet to be won for women and still need to be fought for. So, let us fight for them together as united women’s rights advocates, not as fragmented feminists.

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