I have a lot of friends who don’t call themselves feminists anymore. It may have something to do with the fact that most people now equate feminism to not shaving your legs. It makes feminists sound unattractive.
But being called a “feminist” today conjures up a lot of negative images, such as being nitpicky about small issues regarding men and behavior, getting offended when someone calls God “he,” and refusing to even try to wear heels. For many young people, modern feminism is a hypocritical state where women don’t have their priorities straight.
And I agree. Don’t get me wrong—it’s the modern version I’m aiming at. Feminism started originally as a movement in the late 19th century to fight against domestic violence and sexual harassment and a lack of job opportunities. Original “feminism” was fought to ensure a better and widely different quality of life for the female population.
We do need feminism—the old one—here in our country, because these issues that people fought for in the first wave still exist. We need the old feminism because that rich husband is still beating up his wife and his daughter. We need feminism because our maid still won’t (not can’t) vote. But we don’t need feminism because the boy held open the door and paid for the dinner date. And we certainly don’t need feminism because a woman was accidentally called a “girl.”
Female anti-feminism is nothing new. In the 19th century, plenty of women were hostile to the women’s movement and to women who pursued nontraditional paths. In the 1970s, Marabel Morgan’s regressive manifesto The Total Woman sold more than ten million copies.
Again and again, modern feminism stereotypes men as predators and women as helpless victims who need outside protection—ironically, probably more protection than in any macho film. Focusing on the idea that all women need to become overachieving corporate leaders who don’t “need a man or children” in their lives has countered what feminism originally stood for: allowing women freedom to choose the life they want. It belittles any woman who consciously chooses to be a mother or pick a “girly” profession. Upon being questioned as to why she would choose something so demeaning, Joan Brandwyn in Mona Lisa Smile replies:
To you a housewife is someone who sold her soul for fine china. She has no depth, no intellect, no interests. You’re the one who said I could do anything I wanted. This is what I want.
Feminism today has quantified what a modern woman is supposed to be like, and anything else seems regressive. Maybe that’s why most feminists have come to be known as man-haters who can’t stand being belittled for the littlest things. Unfortunately, this persona today has come to be further abused by women who claim to want equal pay at the office but are appalled by men who slap a woman in defense.
The truth is, a lot of the issues (systemic gender inequality, hierarchy issues, denial of reproductive rights, sexual violence, domestic abuse) that made feminism a necessity still exist. But they don’t feel the same. And we don’t approach them the same way. They say if you want to change the world, then do it! We say women change the world all the time. You can, too. Get your law degree. Run for office. Make it happen. Those things are real, and they’re possible. Just don’t use your sex as a reason as to why you get ahead.
So it isn’t that women shouldn’t get called feminists anymore or work in the law department and get offended at whatever offends them. It’s that women should be able to fit whatever role or stereotype they want to. It’s about having the freedom to be exactly who you want to be, even if you haven’t figured out what that is yet. It’s that we should focus less on a word and more about the person—about the experiences she’s having and about the solutions she comes up with because of her IQ. Because it’s not about defying the system or breaking a tradition. And it’s definitely not about leg hair.