Fear of feminism: 2014 Edition

A few nights ago, I received a picture message from a friend of mine in Chicago. The image sent was a meme of Amy Poehler, the hilarious female actress, speaking to women who renounce feminism. She stated, “That’s like someone being like, ‘I don’t really believe in cars, but I drive one every day and I love that it gets me places and makes life so much easier and faster and I don’t know what I would do without it.” This message speaks to a long-standing issue that I have come across as a young woman today. The first issue being that this meme was sent to me directly because, in my belief, pro-feminist messages aren’t always well digested within the larger social media community. Sadly, the truth of the matter is that social media is simply a reflection of what exists within the larger culture.
The Amy Poehler meme then reminded me of a piece I read as an undergraduate written by Lisa Marie Hogeland called Fear of Feminism. Hogeland used the words “of course” to acknowledge the blatant stance that women have taken regarding feminism when she stated, “Of course young women are afraid of feminism.” (Hogeland 722) After all, “It is far easier to rest in silence, as if silence were neutrality, and as if neutrality were safety. Neither wholly cynical nor wholly apathetic; women who fear feminism fear living in consequence.” (Hogeland 724) I believe that Hogeland makes a valid point about feminism being dangerous by stating, “We do young women no service if we suggest to them that feminism itself is safe. It is not.” It is not easy to question and “stand opposed to your culture, to be critical of institutions, behaviors, discourses.” (Hogeland 725)  We find it much easier to stand silent and agree with terms because of subconscious cues that enhance our gender consciousness. If a young woman were to question the limits put on her and wanted to challenge these very norms, this ironically could cause her to limit herself further because this “limits the options of who they might become with a partner, how they might decide to live…feminist identity puts them out of the pool for many men.” (Hogeland 723)  I am aware that comment endorses a heteronormative attitude, and therefore also hope that women who identify as a sexual minority will not experience the same set of limitations. Limiting a woman with her partner options shouldn’t be such a great risk, but in fact it is. This is due to the fact that “our culture allows women so little scope for development, for exploration, for testing the boundaries of what they can do and who they can be, that romantic and sexual relationships become the primary, too often the only, arena for selfhood.” (Hogeland 723) Here we see women in a double bind, which is not surprising. The concept of limiting women strikes me as a recurring theme. I view women’s silence and  inaction as further reinforcement to self-limiting behaviors. However, this should come as no surprise considering social norms value women who stay silent, although this form of behavior continues to perpetuate these oppressing cycles.
However, that is not the issue today. Instead, I am saddened to say that we are worse off. Women are not staying silent about their oppression as before. Instead, women are screaming out loud and running in the opposite direction. I believe that we are dealing with a different beast today. After coming across an article in the Huffington titled “9 Photos That Prove These 'Women Against Feminism' Still Need Feminism” and receiving many reactive comments to my status as a feminist, I have realized that the beast we are dealing with today is simply the lack of understanding about the word feminism and what it means to be a feminist. It seems as though Derrick Clifton, the author of the Huffington post article, caught onto this issue by stating his first sentence as, “Anti-feminist woman. Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn't it?” The truth is, yes. The sad truth is that today many women are not subject to the dangers of protests; this is not the second wave feminism era. We are not starving ourselves and being force fed through tubes in a jail like Alice Paul in order to fight for the right for women to vote. Although these things sound treacherous, they created meaning and value for the word feminism for women. Instead, women are fighting the horrific battle of being called the ever so nasty word; feminist. The word feminist has caught such a rancid connotation that it is used as an insult.
The reality is that many people, including women themselves, are not aware of the actual definition of feminism. Feminism poses equality for all, including women themselves. How could one knowingly choose to stay oppressed? The concept itself goes against everything we know to be evolutionarily true about humanity. Of course the discussion has been presented many times where women may state that women’s right to vote was a political movement and should not be identified as a feminist movement. But they stand unaware that it was women who worked together to attain the right to vote because “the personal is political” and at that time the inability to exercise that right was personal to women and eventually became a political issue. Then to add insult to injury, the next statement usually follows as such, “Well, we can vote now. So who still needs feminism?” The actuality is that more times than not feminism and its purpose is not understood correctly and that if it were to be accurately comprehended, it would only seem sane to grant yourself the desire to want equality. Instead, we as a culture are stuck and fixated on the falsely created narrow conceptualization of a word. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Most of the time feminists are women and men who simply would stand against the misunderstandings of culture and fight to see equality.
I would love to say that the issues we face today are issues of value and honor, or existing due to binds where women are stuck in the role of a martyr as Lisa explained in her beautifully written piece. But the truth of the matter is that today our issues with feminism can’t be reached because we can’t get past the false connotation of the word itself to actually do honorable work. We are nothing like Alice Paul. We are not starving ourselves protesting for the right to vote. Instead, we are on Facebook and Tumblr protesting about how much we hate being called a feminist.

 - Written by Sevan Makhoulian, B.A.





 Clifton, Derrick. 9 Photos That Prove These 'Women Against Feminism' Still Need

            Feminism. Huffington Post. 20 September 2014        
Hogeland, Lisa Marie. "Fear of Feminism." Women’s Voices Feminist Vision.
            Susan Shaw. Janet Lee.   New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2009. 722-725


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