The true meaning of feminism

By Katrina Kervin

High School students from a Feminist Majority Foundation Chapter at New Roads High School in Santa Monica, Calif., protest in front of the Beverly Hills Hotel. The Feminist Majority Foundation led the protest across the street from the hotel on Monday, May 5, 2014. (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times/MCT)
High School students from a Feminist Majority Foundation Chapter at New Roads High School in Santa Monica, Calif., protest in front of the Beverly Hills Hotel. The Feminist Majority Foundation led the protest across the street from the hotel on Monday, May 5, 2014. (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

Since the feminist movement started in the late 1800s, it has been labeled as a negative motion to advocate for. Labeling yourself as a feminist often comes along with stereotypes of angry, radically aggressive women who hate men and believe in the superiority of their gender. Because of this, many women are uncomfortable when faced with questions about their position on feminism, and they try to distance themselves from it.

Feminists receive some of the most hateful and violent harassment online for bringing attention to the inequality among genders. Scroll down any pro-feminism website or YouTube video and you’ll see hundreds of misogynistic comments and threats pertaining to rape, murder and other acts of violence.

Anita Sarkeesian, who runs a video web series that explores the representation of women in pop culture, and spoke at UMass this past Wednesday afternoon, is no stranger to violent threats. She’s received them before many public speaking events, had her private information shared online and even had a video game made about her in which online players could beat an image of her until it was seen bruised and battered on their screens.

What did she do to deserve this? She made rational critiques about the way female characters were portrayed in media, film, video games and music.

Why such an irate, irrational and downright vicious response? Ingrained misogyny, of course, but also a misconception about the true meaning of the word “feminism.” Feminists are often labeled “feminazis,” and to be fair, some individual “feminists” do hold unfavorable and hateful opinions about men. However, these individuals are not real feminists; they’re misandrists.

The word feminism is not synonymous to man-hating. Labeling yourself a feminist does not mean that you want to burn bras or that you believe men are evil. It does not mean that you want men eradicated from earth and for women to singlehandedly rule it. Being a feminist means that you believe in gender equality. It means you believe that women should not be making 77 cents on the dollar, or only making up 20 percent of Congress. It means that you want to see better representations of women in media and film, where they are often portrayed as overly sexualized and accessories to male stories. It means that you take issue with the fact that although women hold almost 52 percent of all professional level jobs, they account for only 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs. Admitting you’re a feminist is admitting that we still live in a patriarchal world and that something should be done about it.

Feminism isn’t radical. Admitting that you’re an advocate for gender equality shouldn’t be a complicated thing to admit, but the negative stigma surrounding feminism stops so many men and women from coming out as feminists.

Shying away from a word because you fear the stereotypes that go along with it hinders the movement toward gender equality and sets us all back.

Katrina Kervin is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]