Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Reclaiming feminism

By Hannah Sparks

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Feminism – simply say the word and some people run for the door, others get ready for a fight and others will nod politely but never engage. Some people might get involved in civil conversation, and a few brave souls might even own up to actually being a feminist.

I am one of those brave feminist souls, and since a lot of people aren’t totally sure as to what that truly means, I intend to set everyone straight on feminism’s most basic tenets.

A cursory Google search for feminism yields an interesting assortment of results. The first page is mostly definitions, but as you keep descending into the depths, you run into stuff like “Feminism is Evil!,” “Feminists Love Divorce!,” “Feminism has held back working men,” and, my personal favorite, “Will the feminists ever stop their incessant bitching?”

To be fair, much of the criticism of feminism is based upon the fact that it seems that the people we don’t want deciding its definition are often the ones who do. Radical feminist ideas, which can scare people off, are given a lot of attention and thereby skew the picture of what the average feminist believes. A minority of men who range from insecure to blatantly sexist also skew the image of what feminism is by painting it as something ugly, irrational and unfeminine.

The existence of these two incorrect pictures explains why a lot of people reflexively jump to say that they’re not feminists when the topic comes up. This reflex is foolish but can’t really be helped in a world that likes to paint things in extremes and allow for no middle ground, much like the virgin/whore complex that feminists hate.

Feminism has its root in reaction to male privilege and the inequality of patriarchal society, as well as to violence against women. I’m not going into the topics of privilege or violence at length because a lot of it seems to be common knowledge. Most of you probably know that straight, white men are privileged in our society – bonus points if you’re rich and Christian – and that, generally, women are the victims of sexual and relationship violence more often than men.

Remember that Google search? The official Google definition for feminism is “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.” The Oxford English Dictionary, Merriam-Webster and all say something similar, but I like Wikipedia’s variation the best: “a collection of movements aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women.”

Notice a trend here? Feminism, even though it is a woman-specific term, is about equality of the sexes – not about hating men. While some people whine that it’s even called feminism, when you consider that there is no White History Month or International Men’s Day or straight pride parades, it makes sense. There is really no such thing as man-ism or masculinism, because man-ism is typically the default setting for the world.

However, equality does not necessarily mean equivalency. Some feminists might disagree with this, but in all practicality, men and women are different and many believe they have different responsibilities, and with these different responsibilities come different priorities. For example, having access to birth control is not as high of a priority for men as it is for women, because pregnancy affects women more than men. Different responsibilities and priorities aside, the chief tenet of feminism is that men and women should have the same political, social and economic rights.

So, if you believe that women should be able to vote and run for office, be educated, be employed outside of the home, have control over their finances, have access to birth control, have social roles outside of wife and mother, be independent and be safe from sexual or relationship violence, then you’re pretty much a feminist. In other words, if you respect women and care about the inequalities they still face, then you’re a feminist.

By my definition, it seems that one is either a feminist or a completely reprehensible person. It’s a stark black and white picture, but it serves a purpose.

Chances are most people believe that women should have the rights listed above, but many of them are afraid to call themselves feminists as the word carries negative connotations of bra-burning, man-hating radicals. The fact of the matter is that feminists have to reclaim their title by removing its false stigma, and work together both to change the way people react to feminist ideas and to apply those ideas for reform.

If this all seems unnecessary, and it seems like feminism has run its course and should be left in the 1970s: it’s not, and it hasn’t and it shouldn’t.

The issues of the 1970s are popping back up again in the much-publicized Republican “war on women.” The fact that a prominent group of people is actually considering – and in some cases implementing – these ideas shows that feminism is far from reaching its true goals. It’s easy to write off the politicians and pundits involved in the “war” as crazy, but when you consider how insidious sexism is in our culture, it becomes clear that we still have quite a way to go. The first step, it seems, is to side against inequality – on all levels – and not be afraid to do so openly.

Hannah Sparks is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at [email protected]



10 Responses to “Reclaiming feminism”

  1. David Hunt '90 on April 5th, 2012 6:29 am

    Hannah, Hannah, Hannah…

    There are few “non-feminists” – certainly none that any mainstream person would call “mainstream” who would argue FOR violence against women, FOR keeping women out of politics, FOR keeping women from being independent. Please show me mainstream ANYBODYS who are arguing that women should be denied the vote, or the ability to run for political office, or get an education… most men don’t care. You’ve won all these things, and rightly so. Congratulations.

    But having organized an entire infrastructure to attack, the modern women’s movement still needs an enemy. Heaven forbid all those in their nice, cushy positions with money and influence say “Hey, we got what we wanted, let’s go home!” Instead, NEW battles need to be ginned up to keep the grievance machine – and money – flowing.

    Take your sentence “…access to birth control.” Can you not go to CVS and buy condoms and foam? Are they being taken off the shelves? Is the pill not available – even without insurance – for less than $20, and very commonly under $10, a monty? Even most mainstream Catholics are not talking about a ban…

    You conflate “access” with “having someone else pay for it”.

    I am sure someone will cite the fact that there are more male CEOs, etc., etc., etc. I’ve seen more than a few studies that find that it is the decision to have children that hampers careers – how could it not? Many women make the DECISION to stay at home to care for and raise children – and are DERIDED for not choosing “rightly” by Feminist Doctrine and sticking the kid in day care… ironic that a woman’s DECISION should be the subject of scorn by those who advance that women should be respected.

    You’ve won. Stop sputtering and conflating equality of ability and opportunity do not mesh with equality of result.

    Now, go get me a beer and a sandwich! 😉


  2. Nicole Mitchell on April 6th, 2012 10:31 am


    I find your argument extremely offensive and lacking any real research or knowledge of the issues at stake. Anybody who has been paying attention to the Republican presidential candidates for the upcoming election are well aware that there is, in fact, a stubborn effort to take away women’s access to birth control and reproductive freedom, primarily because those particular candidates are part of the religious right who believe that women should not be “promiscuous.” Yes, presently there is birth control available for women, but because this allows women to have sexual freedom, the GOP have been attempting to take away this right. One way that they are trying to do this is by not allowing birth control to be covered under insurance. We are not asking for people to “pay for us,” we are asking for the right, just like anyone else who needs a prescription, to not have to pay hundreds of dollars for it. Birth control, unlike condoms, cannot be bought for under $20 at some convenience store.

    And about women’s careers. There are several reasons that make it difficult for a woman to have a career after having children. 1) Men typically don’t help raise the children (as a consequence of patriarchy), and being a mother is a full-time job; 2) Because husbands/fathers do not contribute as much in raising children, mothers often have to miss work more than men to take care of sick children, which in turn means that husbands/fathers receive a higher chance of getting promoted to top positions. It is not only motherhood that prevents women from reaching those top positions. It is the culture of patriarchy that prevents them through an entire lifetime of socialization and internalized oppression that tells them again and again (through schools, churches, family, the media) that men are better speakers, more powerful, better leaders, etc etc. This is not actually the case, but because men are privileged in these ways, they are socialized to believe that men deserve these types of positions over women. Feminism does not target women for staying home; feminism targets patriarchy and systemic oppression that causes certain outcomes that influence many women to stay at home and live in what society views as a submissive role.

    And your last statement contradicts your entire argument. You say the feminist movement doesn’t have anything more to fight for, but as long as patriarchal, chauvinist pigs like you continue to view women as your personal maid/cook and as something that you own and can tell what to do, then we will continue searching for a better future that does not allow room for women to be degraded in the way that people like you do.


  3. Moderate Man on April 6th, 2012 10:42 am

    It’s not any of those, it’s the hostility which many feminists present themselves as. I am friends with many, I support most of their causes, but even they admit that men are targeted for being male and nothing else. Once you disassociate feminism with radical attacks against men I’m sure you’ll see those numbers improve.


  4. Nicole Mitchell on April 8th, 2012 8:57 am

    I know a lot of feminists also and I’ve never seen or heard any of them “attack” men for any reason. What I have seen them, and myself, do, is point out sexist and patriarchal actions. Feminists are not out to hate on men, unlike popular belief. Most of us understand that it isn’t simply the men, but the social systems in place that socialize them to behave a certain way. Feminists are against those systems, not men themselves. Sometimes it is frustrating to see a man say or do something extremely rude and degrading (like Dave’s last comment) when it is so obviously not okay. Nonetheless, men don’t make those comments because they want to be rude to feminists, they make comments like that to any woman because they think it is okay. Feminism is a response to that, not a random movement that was created to hate on men.


  5. David Hunt '90 on April 12th, 2012 8:09 pm


    My last comment was a joke.

    “I’m sorry sir, this is a feminist book store. There is no humor section.”


  6. Moderate Man on April 17th, 2012 3:09 pm

    As a man you cannot understand me (as feminists claim I cannot understand them). I have been attacked numerous times. It’s not you, it’s your counterparts.


  7. mason on April 19th, 2012 3:12 am

    I think Feminism has factional elements and the elements which receive the most notice and attention are the radical elements, which unfairly are seen as representative of the movement.
    I think feminism can expand beyond it’s current role. Women have been oppressed and mistreated since the inception of mankind, the very word itself is not inclusive of women. Women have been repeatedly mistreated and it was only less than a century ago did women gain the right to vote in america and only less than 40 years ago were they guaranteed equal rights and began to participate in the workforce.
    Yet the influence women can have over directing the future of the world and society needs to be greater. We can look to certain leaders like secretary of state Hilary Clinton, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Facebook, CEO Sheryl Sandberg.
    These women are not simply representative of women in positions of prominence and power but extend beyond that to offering a perspective and executive quality that is not seen enough in the world. Women can offer so much to this world and we need to not encourage their increased participation but ensure it.


  8. hmm on April 24th, 2012 5:58 pm

    in spite of your formulation, i “respect women and care about the inequalities they still face”, but do not consider myself feminist (nor masculinist). semantics, maybe. i don’t appreciate sexism or the gender norms of this society any more than you probably do, but to me that is a wholly *negative* position rather than a positive one in favor of femininity/ism – one has to ask oneself what’s being constructed or construed therein. gender roles have changed through time and continue to do so, largely due to economic and political factors. for instance the gender pay gap, i mean if you wanted to quantify social sexism with a single number that’s probably as good as any, is still significant but is also still declining. the development and imposition of gender norms is not an “issue” that happens in some kind of separate, vacuum-sealed dimension of society. meaning, rich and powerful women are not the answer. i also have to add that a lot of feminists do their cause no favors by acting as if nothing’s really changed since the 1950s or so, it’s just objectively not true.


  9. hmm on April 24th, 2012 6:01 pm

    and yes for gods sake there are certainly feminists who hate or are prejudiced towards men in general. this is not to say that all feminists do, far from it i’m sure. but to deny that such people exist or have an influence on feminism (especially its ‘radical’ sectors where they are much more likely to be found) is also just objectively not true.


  10. S on May 10th, 2012 5:46 am

    The majority of the comments here only prove the author’s point – that most people know jack about feminism, preferring their facile stereotypes & victim-blaming to actual knowledge of the socioeconomic and cultural issues that act upon both women AND men.

    Oh, and David Hunt, the reaons most women are unlikely to laugh at your “make me a sammich” blather is not because they’re humourless; it’s because the joke is poor, facile and doesn’t get any funnier for having been heard a million times. You do realise it’s functionally equivalent on the bigotry scale to telling a black to go eat some fried chicken when they complain about your treatment of them, then acting like they’re being uppity for not laughing along with you? I mean, you see that, right? Or are you seriously so conditioned by patriarchy, that you are horrified by the comparison, and view the two scenarios as completely different?

    In short, ignoring and silencing marginal voices is a questionable enough stance in itself, but let’s leave that aside: for now, all I’ll say is that the only legitimate time to complain about someone’s sense of humour is to say something funny. No such test has been applied.

    C-, see me after class.


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