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Rebranding feminism to be more inclusive

Rachel Strohm/Flickr

Rachel Strohm/Flickr

If you’re reading this, congratulations. You have gotten past the first hurdle of not allowing the words “feminist” or “feminism” in this headline to scare you away. I know I have been scared away from posts, groups and activities because of those words. Why is that? Why is a cause I should be so should invested in as a woman alarm me?

When I was in high school, a group of students formed a women’s and gender studies club focusing primarily on women’s rights and feminism. I never joined and would still never consider joining it. Although I absolutely support women’s rights and believe in furthering the equality of all parties, the group at my high school was an example of the worst representation of the feminist movement.

The women’s and gender studies club at my school started out hopeful, but soon became so haughty in its beliefs that its mission became more about proclaiming the superiority of women than furthering gender equality. It was the kind of subgroup whose members became so extreme and worked so hard to change the minds of those who disagree with them that they ended up attacking people in the very same way their opponents once attacked them.

I still see this deterioration of purpose in the wider feminist movement. This is why it took me until after high school to confidently and definitively state that I am a feminist. Because I am. I firmly believe in the values and mission of the movement. But I didn’t believe in the word.

In recent years, the movement has spoken out more forcefully against criticisms like “man-haters” and “feminazis,” debunking many of the myths I was concerned about. This was a side to the movement that I didn’t have the chance to experience in high school. It was not until I saw this different side, until I could see that not all feminists supported the notion of female superiority and in fact very few do, that I could finally identify with the word itself.

“Feminist” is a scary term to many people who otherwise are entirely aligned with the goals of the movement, just as it was to me. The word “feminism” needs to be redefined, because right now, identifying as a feminist is more about the word itself than about the movement behind the word. The word has extremely negative connotations that have been perpetuated through years of denigration.

However, feminism is merely termed that way because females happen to be the gender plagued by presumed and forced inferiority. Feminism is considered a women’s issue only because it deals with women’s rights. As a result, people connect “feminist” to “female,” and even to “man-hater” and the like, but the word itself is not inherently connected to a specific gender. Feminists can be women, but it is not a requirement. Realistically, men may actually be some of the most influential feminists.

Feminism was just a women’s issue, though it has taken us until recently to realize that it also a men’s issue. Simply put, it’s an issue of equality, and as such, it concerns every gender and every person on this planet.

More women and even more men need to support the feminist movement to continue its progress. To be a feminist is to believe in gender equality regardless of what gender you personally identify with. It is speaking out against injustice and oppression. I don’t think anyone should be afraid to identify with that.

Jenna Careri is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at jcareri@umass.edu.

Comments
One Response to “Rebranding feminism to be more inclusive”
  1. JB says:

    I enjoyed reading this. Over the years I have certainly noticed a difference between the feminists who approach various issues with genuine concern and compassion, and those who show a great deal of vitriol and do nothing but divide the population. Some feminists seem more concerned with displaying a type of moral superiority and act as if it is a contest for who can be the “best feminist”. I consider myself a feminist, but I recognize that most people who do things that I consider to be slightly sexist do it out of ignorance, and attacking them is not going to accomplish anything. That principle doesn’t apply only to feminism of course, I think educating people out of general concern in a non hostile way is the best method for accomplishing anything. Sorry if I got off topic here.

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