By Allyson Vaughan
It feels like a tired cliché to say that people think feminism is a bad word, the connotation being an angry man-hating, braless woman with a lot of upper lip hair (things a feminist actually looks like: your mother, sister, girlfriend, cousin, Beyoncé). But then there are a lot of clichés still happening in this world. Just the other day, as I was crafting a man’s Americano at the coffee shop I work at he leaned over the counter and told me I needed to smile. I was aghast, did men really still tell women to smile? YES. Just as often as they cat call from across the street, which despite popular belief is only a compliment if you’re shouting, “Hey you look like you really have things together. Keep doing what you’re doing.” I’ve always been a feminist, even before I knew the word I knew I liked being my own person, playing with the boys and girls on the playground, trying to decide if I would be a a) Doctor b) the president c) a writer. No one ever told me growing up that I couldn’t be anything because I was a girl. They told me I couldn’t be anything because I was the kind of kid who ate their own merchandise and hoarded the Thin Mints I was supposed to be peddling for cash to the neighbors. I was a liability to the franchise.
I talk a lot about equality with people because though some people are “tired of hearing bout it” that is not a conversation I will allow to become a considered cliché. A few weeks back, I saw a post that talked about how this woman hated feminism because it propagated a superiority of sexes. Women, it said, were trying to become a superior sex.And I sighed so loud my cat left the room to give me some space. It was so frustrating to read that there is still this idea that feminism is trying to pit women against men, men against women.And I just kept thinking the rest of the day how wrong this woman was. I understood what she was trying to say: that she feared the word feminist because it would make her stand out, it would send out a message she was unapproachable because she believed in something against the majority. It was fear.
In an ideal world, no one would be afraid of feminism. But that’s hard to achieve when women with gumption are labeled as bossy. When women with active sex lives are labeled sluts, whores, used. When women who stay at home with their children are accused of being lazy, complacent, not feminist enough. When a woman who works is guilted for splitting her time at home and work. When a woman who says no to having children is called selfish. There’s a lot of words for women, aren’t there? Feminist, of all those words, should not be the word that is feared. I saw a comment on another article about the history of feminism a few years ago where men and women alike were asking, “what fight is there?” This was the 21st century, women had achieved equality. In the documentary, She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry (available on Netflix), feminism was detailed through footage and commentary from the women who fought in the 60s/70s to gain women the right to birth control, workplace equality, and many other causes. They detailed the lengths women had to go to get an abortion, whether that be because of rape or a personal choice. And here now in 2016, that struggle is not so different.
With a presidential candidate that has repeatedly expressed disrespect towards women, I mean will any of us be able to look at tictacs the same way, issues of equality are more relevant than ever. But part of the misconception of feminism is that it’s exclusive, that it’s a hierarchy based belief system where women overtake the men. But feminism is trying to go beyond what has already narrowly been accomplished. In many ways, feminists today are the same as the suffragetes who gained us the right to vote. Though our methods are different, though our voices are better heard now, it’s not a separate feminism, it’s a continuation. The fight is not over because there are still divides, even in feminism. In the same documentary, it detailed how African-American women felt segregated from the cause of feminism, as well as lesbian circles during a time when feminism was just beginning to gain momentum politically. There were protests within the protests. But feminism is for all races, all orientations, all genders, all economic backgrounds. Feminism is for everyone because it’s for equality. It’s not for creating a superior gender, it’s for standing on a level field together. This world is a race for opportunity, as much of it as there is it’s still hard to achieve everything we want, and all feminism is asking is that we have the same Start Line that men do. And perhaps that is still frightening. But if it is frightening to any male, it is only because they too have been burdened with expectation.
Feminism is for men. Not against them. All my life, I’ve seen fathers, brothers, friends told to act like a man, stop crying, be a success just as often as I’ve seen girls told to smile, let him win, told they throw like a girl. In 2014, Emma Watson gave a speech at the UN for her HeForShe initiative in which she said, “Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong. It is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum, instead of two sets of opposing ideals. If we stop defining each other by what we are not, and start defining ourselves by who we are, we can all be freer, and this is what HeForShe is about. It’s about freedom.” HeForShe is doing work on a mass scale to educate and share what equality is for everyone. It is freedom. And yes, it may be sad to hear that individual freedom is still a fight, but should it be a surprise? Freedoms have never come easy. The HeForShe campaign is where I tell people to look if they do not understand feminism. Because Watson’s work is trying to bring equality on a global scale, in all countries, to all persons.
Feminism is about liberation, for men and women, to be free of expectations on their gender, to be given equal opportunity to be educated and valued. It may be idealistic to hope for a world where feminism isn’t even a word. It wouldn’t exist if we could go back and pinpoint the exact moment where women and men were set on different scales of value. If we could stop it then that would be to change history. But the fact is feminism is a word that is both valued and undervalued by the world. Misunderstood as often as it is utilized, feminism will always exist because this is a world that has demanded a labeled frame of mind to defend equality.If Feminism were called something else, say we only called it Equality, called it Choice, would everyone be so afraid of it? But it would be the same thing, just as Romeo would’ve been Romeo even if he were not called Montague. And who is not a feminist if not Romeo and Juliet? A girl and boy given no power over their fate, who make a choice outside of custom. She chose Montague, he chose Capulet even though they’d been taught to fear the name.