Freeing the Stigma: Why we Should All be Feminists

When some think of a feminist, the unflattering image of a hysterical, blue-haired, overly-emotional, man-bashing, hateful woman might surface in their minds. While considering this figure, the argument that we should all embrace feminism seems absurd. But before we commit to judgement, we should ask ourselves, is that really who a feminist is?

Put simply, a feminist is a person who supports feminism, a movement that strives to achieve social, political, and economic equality among the sexes. Where issues such as the gender wage gap, domestic violence, and reproductive rights exist, feminism works towards resolving them. Though this is the widely accepted definition of the movement, everyone has different interpretations of what it means specifically for them. To me, feminism embodies a form of empowerment and support for women, and advocates for equal opportunity for men and women. I outwardly identify as a feminist. However, I clearly don’t have colorful hair and I don’t consider myself to be hateful, overly-emotional, or hysterical; so why are people so afraid to call themselves feminists? The simple fact is that we should all be feminists. We should all support and promote gender equality because it contributes to a more just and ethically sound society.

Despite the movement’s positive intentions, feminism has been shown in a negative light by our generation and those of the past. Especially in high school, the word seems to be used mockingly, as if believing in equality of the sexes is something that should be socially looked down upon. But oftentimes, the agitator is not referring to the goal of the feminist movement at all, but rather to the classic stereotype associated with the feminist: the picture painted of an angry and hysterical woman. “Because of [that] negative association, I think sometimes people may not fully understand what it means to be a feminist,” said Jane Stapleton, UNH Women’s Studies Professor and Co-Director of the Prevention Innovations Research Center. There is an apparent stigma surrounding the word and its intentions, not just at ORHS, but in society as a whole. 

But the term “feminist” is not new, so how did we arrive at a place where it’s so stigmatized? Feminism itself actually emerged in the early 1900s and carried through the suffrage movement, where women began to step forward and away from their traditional roles and stereotypes. Many did so loudly through actions such as the burning of bras at the Miss America protests, coining the term “radical feminist,” with the hope of attracting attention to the movement. However, the attention they received was often negative. Decades later, society still looks at feminism unfavorably, even with the acknowledgement of their monumental role in advancing women’s rights. It’s our job to recognize the stigma around feminism and educate ourselves on what it truly means to be a feminist.

First, the stereotype of a feminist does not accurately reflect the average member of the movement. This stigmatized image of a feminist that we may think of comes from extremists that have unintentionally derailed the movement. Some women mislabel themselves as feminists while advocating for radical ideas such as misandry, the belief that women should be superior to men and have a prejudice against them. Yes, they may identify as part of the movement, but they are by no means representative of every other feminist. To generalize this in such a way is analogous to choosing a student at random and assuming that every other student shares the same beliefs and ideas about the high school they attend. This is obviously not the case, as is with feminists. By doing our part to eliminate this stigmatized stereotype, it would lead to fewer people shying away from the word feminist and more people recognizing the value in advocating for gender equality. 

Social media exacerbates this misrepresentation by highlighting exactly what we, as teenagers, want to see- entertainment. It’s humorous to see videos of angry women who shout strange words and express radical beliefs, but it also negatively affects the movement. “The way we portray feminism in such a bad light can be very harmful and even detrimental to the cause because it creates so much opposition,” said Tim Udomprasert (‘22). “It’s weaponized when people misunderstand it.” We, as consumers of social media, should aim to give more attention to sources and accounts that promote true feminist ideas to allow others to understand its actual goals. 

Especially on video social platforms such as TikTok, I find that it’s not uncommon to stumble upon accounts where people who identify as feminists say the phrase, “I hate all men,” referring to an experience they may have had. This has led to the stigma that feminism is simply an organization of women who enjoy bashing and complaining about men. Samantha Ble (‘22) explained that “if you are a true feminist, you shouldn’t be bashing either gender for simply being that gender. You shouldn’t judge a person on their biological contents, but rather the content of their character.” It is absolutely true that the core value of feminism is equality for all on the basis of sex, so the respect goes both ways. The commercial feminists that criticize a man because of his own gender are not representative of the movement. We should all aim to respect those around us, which is a major goal that the feminist movement advocates towards. 

This leads into the next stigma that surrounds the goals of the movement itself. Feminism is often equated with and mistaken for misandry. “That seems really counterintuitive because the whole point of the movement is equality,” said Shauna Horsley, Women’s Literature teacher at ORHS. By no means is there any intention in the feminist movement to belittle men or take their power away; we are simply striving for equality.

“There’s this antiquated stereotype behind feminism that it’s only for women and I think that’s the biggest reason that many people, not just men, don’t want to identify as a feminist,” said Ble. I believe that this stigma and confusion is due largely in part to the “fem” prefix on the word. Many think that the prefix indicates that involvement in the movement is exclusive to women, but it actually implies that women are the target gender to raise to the same platform as men. Anyone who supports gender equality and equal opportunity may and should identify as a feminist. By doing so, you can show that you’re an ally to the movement and its goals.

Another common misconception that I’ve heard from my peers is the belief that women are already equal to men; so why is feminism even necessary in this day and age? This question is formed by the fact that “it’s not always obvious at face value that women don’t have equal rights already,” said Ble. One of the biggest issues that feminism advocates for is the eradication of the gender wage gap. Although it’s illegal to discriminate on the basis of sex, working women in New Hampshire make 74 cents for every one dollar a man earns, according to “NH’s Gender Pay Gap” by Business New Hampshire. Shockingly, this is even less than the national average, which is 82 cents for every one dollar, according to the United States Census Bureau. As more women join the workforce, more of us will begin to recognize this significant difference in pay. By joining the feminist movement now, we can do our part to ensure that women in our generation and those to come are able to experience equal pay for equal work. The wage gap is just one of many inequalities that feminism aims to seek justice for; issues such as domestic violence, childcare inequity, and rape culture are actively spoken out against by feminists, as well.

So, what can we do to further the movement in its aim to achieve gender equality? The first step is to educate yourself and others about the movement. There are many opportunities to get involved in learning about women’s issues at ORHS, including the Women’s Rights club and the Women’s Literature elective. In the Women’s Rights club run by Elise Wollheim and Evy Ashburner, there are thoughtful discussions about issues surrounding women and society, along with many opportunities to get involved in state and national events. Horsley mentioned that “within the community, there are definitely ways to get involved with [the movement]. Volunteering at women’s shelters or doing that kind of community service around women’s issues would be a great place to start.”

We should all be feminists because we should all believe in gender equality. “Anyone can be a feminist and everyone should be a feminist. If you believe that men and women should be equal, then you are a feminist, whether you are concious of it or not,” said Natalie Lessard (22’). By joining the feminist movement, you contribute to the equality of not only our generation of women, but for the future generations to come.