Feminism means equality, not matriarchy

Anumita Jain, Managing Web Editor

A recent group survey at Dougherty Valley found that a staggering 119 out of the 205 people surveyed did not consider themselves feminists because they were not aware of the actual definition of the word “feminism”. Yet after being informed that “feminism” referred to the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities, every single one of those 119 people decided that they were feminists.

When individual Dougherty students were asked to explicitly  define feminism, a surprising majority of the students interviewed stated that they thought feminism meant equality for both genders, contradicting the results of the poll described above. This implies that most Dougherty students may know the meaning of feminism but do not want to associate themselves with the word because of its negative connotations in today’s society.

Currently, feminism is a subject that is widely debated, but it shouldn’t be. Why not? Because the definition of feminism is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities, a belief that should be simple enough to accept in today’s world without arousing controversy.

Feminism is often perceived as a movement for the empowerment of women. Many believe that this movement wants to place women on a higher level than men, as exemplified by an anonymous Dougherty student. When asked to explain  feminism, the student answered, “A feminist is a person who believes in the empowerment of women, and sometimes that belief of empowerment of woman can go to extremes.”

Other people also believe in this definition, as demonstrated by the results of Time’s 2014 “Which Word Should Be Banned in 2015?” poll, which included the word “feminist”, a term that ended up leading a list  that also included particularly annoying words such as “literally” and “om nom nom nom”.

This leads one to wonder: how did feminism become associated with this reputation?

Feminism is conceived by so many to be negative for a multitude of reasons. Some people don’t want to be known as feminists because there is a popular, preconceived notion of the cookie-cutter feminist — an aggressive, bra-burning, man-hating, crazy woman. It is not a common practice for feminists — or any women, for that matter — to burn bras, nor does feminism  encourage a hatred for men. On the contrary, feminism also has many ideas on its agenda that help men. Feminists are not necessarily aggressive; they just want everyone to be treated equally.

There are many who are aware that feminism promotes  equal social, political, economic and legal rights for both sexes, but believe that such equality has already been achieved.  But as Emma Watson claims in her famous address to the U.N., “Gender equality is your issue too”, not one country can say that they have achieved gender equality. In fact, in the United States, women have pushed for the passing of the Equal Rights Amendment since the 1920s and it still has not been passed, which means the U.S. still has not ratified The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women.  The only other countries who have not done so are Iran, Palau, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan and Tonga.

Feminism is not just about legal and economic equality, however — it also aims to achieve social equality for men and women. Both genders are often expected to fit certain molds and have certain personalities. For example, men are expected not to show any emotion or feeling while women are expected to show an excessive amount. Men are expected to be the breadwinners of the family while women are — admittedly decreasingly so — expected to stay at home. Feminism wants to eradicate the idea that being emotional harms one’s masculinity, or that a woman going to work is irresponsible because she is leaving her house unattended, or that a man who stays at home is not a true man. Feminism desires social acceptance of women being assertive, or men crying.

The U.S. is the only developed country in the world where there are no laws mandating gender equality, a terrible title for a country that prides itself on being progressive. It is important for men and women to have equal rights and opportunities, and for someone to be able to openly support a cause that aims to achieve that, without being pegged as an aggressive, bra-burning, man-hating, crazy woman.