Being in high school is hard; it’s a time in which everyone thinks that the only things that matter in life are being popular or having opinions that align with those of the status quo. It doesn’t help being a liberal girl going to a preppy, private school in the south that is dominated by mainly rich white males that have a very restricted view on the world. Especially because of recent political events in the United States, tensions between different political parties were increased in the previous year. One topic that definitely did not go undebated was feminism, which began to create a strict divide between boys and girls of different races, genders and political beliefs at my school. Personally, I experienced severe backlash earlier this year when I told my English class that I identified myself as a feminist; after class, I was greeted by multiple guys ( that I have known since Pre-K) who referred to me as a “feminazi”, “libertard,” “cancer-causing b****” and many other violent words that I will not repeat. There is all this negative baggage that accompanies the term “feminism,” but I wondered if people at my school actually knew what feminism stood for, or if it was just the word that they did not particularly like. For these reasons, I decided to investigate the relationship between feminism and the students at my school and across the world, particularly the stigmas behind the term and movement.
My mission: To educate readers on the real definition of “feminism,” which can one day help to erase the stigmas surrounding the term in high schools and larger communities.
What is Feminism?
Before getting to the studies, it is important to know exactly what feminism is. According to Merriam Webster, a feminist is: “someone who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.”
Here is a Khan Academy Video that goes into more depth on the definition:
Feminism in students
It’s no secret that the kids at my school are not the only ones who have an issue with feminism. Paige Toller published a study conducted at multiple universities that tested the attitude towards feminism; her findings were not too surprising. She found that men with high SIS scores, which indicate high levels of femininity, were associated with” positive attitudes toward the women’s movement, willingness to consider oneself a feminist, etc,” while men with lower scores tended to have “negative attitudes towards the movement. “Men are often scared that if they associate themselves with the movement, their masculinity will waiver and thus they will be considered “weak.” 1
On the other hand, most women had little to no problems openly identifying themselves with the movement, and it has been found that “younger women are taking feminism forward, toward greater freedom if not always toward stronger laws or more organized protests.” Most women take pride in taking part in the feminist movement, especially the younger generations, who are taking more and more initiative to spark change in society.2
Anyone that has heard of feminism has definitely heard all of the negative ideas and critiques that surround it. One of the biggest issues regarding feminism is in the name itself, for lots of people tend to associate feminism with femininity, thus making feminists subject to stereotypes such as “anti-man” or “frustrated radical,” or “anti-family.”3 There has also been lots of internal issues with the movement in the past, which led to the evolution of “third-wave feminism,” which sought to try and break free of previous stigmas associated with the movement by encompassing different cultures and races with a new term: intersectionality.4 Of course, there is still that stereotypical image of a feminist that many people think of: an angry “lesbian” with hairy armpits that is not particularly attractive, which tends to also create setbacks for the movement. Today, I will be examining the different stigmas that I saw in my studies, and explore different approaches as to how society could erase those stigmas.
First, I conducted a survey with 25 students at my school, asking them if they were a feminist or not. While it does not show the amount of boys and girls that chose the answers in the images, I was able to calculate the results. Of the 13 boys that participated in the survey, 9 of them said they did not consider themselves to be feminists (69% males not feminists, 31% feminists). Of the 12 girls that participated, 8 of them were feminists (67% females are feminists, 25% not feminists the remaining undecided). This generally supports the findings above, which shows that men tend to not identify as feminists while a majority of women do.
To clear up: 52% men, 48% women
45.83% feminists, 54,1% not feminists, 1 person undecided
I decided to find out some more about the stereotypes about feminism, and conducted some interviews with students at my school.
Watch the interviews here:
This interview was with a male junior. He tends to be quiet unless you know him very well. He’s Asian-American, plays soccer and the violin in his free time, and does very well in school.
This interview was with a senior girl. She is known for being loud and having a sense of humor, but is very restricted when it comes to talking about political or social issues. In her free time, she hangs out with her friends and has a job at a local restaurant. She did not participate in any Women’s marches or any feminist clubs at our school.
This interview gets a little… interesting. It was with a junior guy, who is known as the “class clown.” He runs track and plays football, does decently in school, and plays the drums in his band in his free time.
This interview was with a sophomore guy. He plays football and the guitar, and runs a meme page in his free time. He is a member of a popular band in school and is often found playing football or basketball with his friends.
This interview was with a freshman guy. He plays soccer in his free time, and also enjoys photography.
How to fix this issue
There are many different approaches to try and solve this issue. Here are just a few:
- Educate boys and girls on what it really means to be a feminist. I’m sure that not everyone is sexist at heart, so if they knew that feminism was EQUALITY of the sexes then most people would have little to no problem supporting that cause
- Change the idea that you have to go out and protest to be a feminist, and there are tons of different ways to do this. People could set up more fundraising websites to support various causes, which will help the movement just as much as a march would, or create different clothing lines that could help support the cause as well by donating a certain amount to a certain business.
- Change the term that embodies the movement (this has been a growing issue, especially recently). Many people think that the only way to erase the stigmas surrounding feminism is to adopt a new word all together, and start a fresh slate. Whether the term is womanist or equalist, many women said it does not matter as long as the meaning behind the word stays the same.5
In almost all of my interviews/ interviews conducted by other sources, people had a very blurred understanding of the term “feminist,” and did not actually know what the movement stood for. So, it was not the actually meaning of the word/ what the movement stood for that made them hesitate or deny referring to themselves as feminists, but the word itself. Also, lots of the guys thought that having the term “feminine” in the word made it automatically exclude them from the movement. Hopefully over time, society can help dissolve the stigma that a feminist has to look or act a certain way in order to include more races, genders, religions, and cultures in the movement.
Thank you so much for reading! In the comments, feel free to share what you learned, similarities to your local community, or any other ways that you think we can erase the stigma
Check to see where you and all the different viewers are from!
If you have any other questions, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
1 – Toller, Paige W.; Suter, Elizabeth A.; and Trautman, Todd C., “Gender Role Identity and Attitudes Toward Feminism” (2004).Communication Faculty Publications. 74.
2-LOVE, MEREDITH A., and BRENDA M. HELMBRECHT. “Teaching the Conflicts: (Re)Engaging Students with Feminism in a Postfeminist World.” Feminist Teacher, vol. 18, no. 1, 2007, pp. 41–58., www.jstor.org/stable/40546052.
3-Cichocka, Aleksandra et al. “Threats to Feminist Identity and Reactions to Gender Discrimination.” Sex Roles 68.9-10 (2013): 605–619. PMC. Web. 2 Apr. 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3629279/#CR10
4-Rand, Jennifer. “The Third Wave Of Feminism Is Now, And It Is Intersectional.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 04 Jan. 2017. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/the-third-wave-of-feminism-is-now-and-it-is-intersectional_us_586ac501e4b04d7df167d6a8
5-Stewart, Dodai. “The Catchy New Word For Feminism.” Jezebel. Jezebel.com, 11 Aug. 2011. http://jezebel.com/5828798/the-catchy-new-word-for-feminism