Michelle proclaimed herself to be a feminist in high school at the age of 16 and found the label deliciously radical. The opinion of friends and family was more lukewarm. Michelle spent the next few years considering why…
I was still in high-school when I first began to identify as a feminist, and I proudly proclaimed to everyone I knew that this was so. For sixteen-year-old me, there was something deliciously radical about assuming the label, and I delighted in the fierce discussion it stirred up among my friends and family.
Nevertheless, I began to feel a little slighted by the lack of support I was receiving from my female friends. Most did nothing more than laugh a little at my passionate ideas, or mention that there was a bra-burning taking place next Thursday afternoon if I’d like to attend. On a family drive, my mother told me that she didn’t like “feminism”, and preferred to call herself an “equalist”, whatever that was, and this experience stuck with me. I felt betrayed, and a little indignant. It seemed to me that women had reached a point at which they felt comfortable, and then jumped ship, leaving the last feminists to endure a barrage of insults and allusions to man-hating.
Two years on, I’m a little more informed than I was when my feminist persuasion first became apparent, and I know for certain that the feminist struggle has not concluded. There are still battles that remain to be fought, and it is frustrating to see the lack of interest from many women. There is a negative perception of feminism floating about that is just as damaging as the negative perception of women that persists. Feminism is no longer viewed as productive, but rather as something quite alien to the modern woman’s experience. There is a fear that feminism is no longer about making men and women equal, but is rather in support privileging women over men. I think it was this fear that was preying on my mother when she hesitated to identify as a feminist.
There have been suggestions, even within feminist circles, of rebranding feminism. The title “gender equality” has been brought up, among others. It seems like a good idea at the outset, as a new word could effectively strip the movement of its negative connotations in modern society, and therefore signal in a new surge in popularity. Even with this in mind, though, I refuse to support such a proposal. I refuse to abandon the word that has been with me throughout all my growth as a believer in women’s rights.
Feminism has a proud, proud history. Though the word conjures up all the negative imagery it has accrued in modern times, it also conjures up memories of the suffragettes, the advocates for the contraceptive pill in the late 60s, Mary Wollestonecraft herself, and indeed decades of intelligent discourse. The word is inextricably linked to the magnificent achievements of all the great women who have come before us, and to separate ourselves from this rich history would be criminal. Using the word “feminist” is, in essence, an act of gratitude.
Feminism does not need rebranding, but it does need reclaiming. My great hope is that the meaningful work done by feminist groups in 2011 and beyond will inspire a renewed appreciation for the label “feminist’. I hope that somehow we can eradicate the squeamishness that has developed among women faced with the question of whether or not to identify with this powerful word. I hope that women will ultimately be able to appreciate the solidarity that comes with declaring “I am a feminist”, and not be afraid to share this with their peers.
I am fiercely proud to call myself a feminist.