Why is calling yourself a feminist such a seemingly scary prospect? The fact that we are even in a position where we have to have a term that groups together women who want equality says a lot about our society, but what makes it even worse is the backlash that feminists get for merely wanting the same opportunities as men. We all know that when our Twitter bio says ‘feminist’, or our Instagram caption is about fighting for equality, then we will get judged. How and why has it become such a dirty word, and is this why I was so scared to call myself a feminist for the first time?
Since the start of lockdown I have been attempting new things. One activity that I have picked up on, and really enjoyed, is listening to podcasts, most notably The Guilty Feminist. Whilst taking my daily dose of exercise, I heard in the podcast discussions about women and likeability: why are women so obsessed with being ‘liked’?
This was something that I have always known that I have been preoccupied with, whether subconsciously or not. I have always strived to please other people, and to do what is right for others, sometimes at the expense of my own priorities. I am in no way saying that I need praise for this, but it is interesting to think about why I have always wanted this sense of gratification. Do I need to be reassured that I am living my life in a way that is approved by others? Is it an insecurity? After listening to the podcast and hearing how it is something common among a lot of women, I realised that I was not alone.
As Adichie says in “We Should All Be Feminists”, “culture does not make people. People make culture”. We teach girls to grow up this way, to have an innate desire to please. I think that the world is a better place if we all help each other out, if we look out for each other and we genuinely care about the needs and lives of others, I am not disregarding this. But we should not be doing that at the expense of our own needs. Women should know that they are just as worthy of desire and opportunity as anyone else in the world, and they should be able to verbalise that they have ambition. A woman should be free to set her mind on goals, and be proud in her strive to achieve them, no matter what they are. Sometimes, this may be at the expense of not living her life in the way that would please other people, but that is okay.
As an English Literature undergraduate, I have just submitted an essay on third wave feminism. I absolutely loved researching what lies at the heart of this movement, and I was interested to find that choice was at its foundation. I have been naïve in what this movement is all about, having a vague idea of equality but not knowing anything more in depth than that. But what I found is that third wave feminists strive for women to be able to choose a path in life because it is what they want, and they do not want to be judged for exerting some autonomy. A woman’s body is her own, she should govern it, and a woman’s life is her own, and she should guide it. And so, if feminism is purely about choice and respect, then why is society so afraid of it?
In my opinion, it is because feminism is misrepresented. Feminists are not something to be scared of, and they are certainly not against men. There is this whole perception that feminists hate men, that women want to be more powerful than men, kick them out of all of their jobs and RULE THE WORLD. Society needs to get its facts right. Feminists fight against the patriarchy and the subjugation of women, true, but men can be feminists too. If men want equality for women, they are feminists. It is that simple. For far too long women have been oppressed, and they are not wanting to inflict that same oppression on men, what they want is equality.
Equality, equality, equality, I have used this word in abundance. Have I reinforced it enough yet? Equality is what feminists want. It is funny that no matter how many times I say it, feminists will still get misrepresented. And this is exactly why I was filled with fear when I began to think of openly saying, “I am a feminist”.
I remember entering university and beginning to write for my student newspaper. I was surrounded by such opinionated people, people who could openly name themselves this and know exactly what they wanted from life. They could debate women’s rights and stand up for themselves, they could use theory to back up their points, and they could write strongly worded articles that riled other people up. I was not one of these people, and in fact I was intimidated. How could I call myself a feminist alongside people like this? If all I knew was that women should not be stopped from getting jobs because they are women, how could I ever proudly label myself in the same way that all these successful and hard working people did?
I am here to say that you absolutely categorically can. Feminism today prescribes no set way to act or think outside of wanting equality. Adichie taught me that it is not scary to be feminist, it is not scary to say it out loud. She taught me that society should change to allow men to understand the real motivations of feminism, and that when this is achieved, feminism will not be such a dirty word. I learnt that it is good to be as vocal as you want about feminism, to read as many books as you can about women navigating their way in the world based on their own desires, but most of I learnt that misunderstandings should not deter you from striving for equality for women. And yes, feminism is applicable to both men and women: if you want equality for women then you can call yourself a feminist, and proudly at that!
Words by Sophie Wilson