Why Is Feminism a Bad Word?

After reading multiple people’s opinion on other blogs/websites and after reading the fourth chapter in Rory Dicker’s book, A History of U.S. Feminisms, I realized something. Somewhere in the 20th century, feminism became a bad word. I wanted to further research where this switch in definition and perception happened.

The switch was noticed when “journalist Paula Kamen interviewed young women in the later 1980s” about their perceptions of the word “feminist.” Many of the young women had the the following associations : “bra-burning, hairy-legged, amazon, castrating, militant-almost-anti-feminine, communist, Marxist, separatist, female skinheads, female supremacists, he-woman type, bunch-a-lesbians” (an excerpt from A History of U.S. Feminisms).

In a previous chapter, Dicker explains how feminism was being connected to Communism during the Red Scare. I think Dicker explains why the connection was made very nicely: “To people who know little about either feminism or Communism, both philosophies challenged traditional social norms and threatened the American way of life.”

When I read this, everything finally made sense. The fear of feminism, the fear of ‘liberals,’ the fear of Communism, it just all started to fall into place. It made me realize how our past still has a strong influence on our future. After the first wave of feminism was over, most people thought that the feminist movement(s) was obsolete and anyone who called themselves a feminist after the first wave wanted more than just rights or was just complaining about nothing. I feel that the 19th amendment somehow numbed people and made people more complacent about gender equality. Many believe, and still believe, that the end goal for feminism was suffrage. The feminist movement goes beyond laws though. It’s great that it’s written on paper, but the society won’t necessarily carry out the law. Another thing that became apparent to me as I read about the history of the feminisms, is that feminism became more underground and had less of a presence since they were working behind the scenes.

The definition of feminism has been skewed to mean very odd things that just doesn’t fit the vision of feminism as a whole. For example, the idea that feminism is just a bunch of women who are supremacists strikes me as odd. The cause of the change in definition and which definition got the most popularity might be because the true presence of feminism perhaps wasn’t very visible or clear (or at least that is the sense I am getting).

Another possible reason why feminism was made ‘dirty’ is because “whenever a suppressed group starts demanding their basic rights, be it women or the blacks…” they are targeted by the privileged group as demanding too much and creating an unbalance, even though that unbalance was there to begin with or else no one would agitate and organize (1).

Going back to the idea that ‘people fear what they don’t know,’ I feel that many people who argue against feminism fail to realize that there are multiple feminisms and that there are different points of views. It would be ridiculous to say that John McCain speaks for all Republicans, or that Hillary Clinton speaks for all Democrats, so it just doesn’t seem possible that one small group or person out of a larger group can speak for everyone.

I would like actual feminists to reclaim the word ‘feminist’ and give it a clear definition. It needs to be reclaimed the same way women artists have tried to reclaim the female body in art.

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