The SheHawk: What is feminism? Unpacking the stigma behind the word ‘feminism’


Genevieve Guenther

Cierra Noffke, Staff Writer

The negative stigma surrounding the word ‘feminist’ is alive and strong today. If you are not sure, go ahead and bring the word up at your next family gathering or social outing with your friends.

“I am a feminist,” you could say casually in the midst of conversation.

You will receive a myriad of reactions. Some will ask why. Some will be silent nodding, though whether it is in agreement or as a way to get you to move on to the next subject is up for debate. Much of the reaction will be confusion.

That is because the word ‘feminist’ and feminism itself have had a long, tangled history in this country. Much of this is due to the media portrayal of feminists and of women in general.

Women have always been presented in a societally acceptable light, and any behavior that deviates from this norm is uncomfortable and wrong.

From the very beginning of its forthright declaration in 1848 at the Seneca Falls Convention, much of American feminism has been centered around more focused issues, like voting or wearing pantaloons, because to address the internalized and institutionalized misogyny upon which this country was built would call for calamitous anarchy.

It has not been until more recently such a great mass of women have gathered and bonded together to tackle sexism, in all its pervading and subtle forms, and in return they have been branded as crazy, unreliable and hateful.

Feminists fight for equality of the sexes. But in their fight to achieve this, they have left many crowds in the margins and have focused primarily on the woes of the white woman.

In this turn of the century, there has been a call away from the word ‘feminism’ because of the dense history it is saturated with.

But it is not impossible to reclaim words.

The feminist movement today is much more inclusive than it was when it first began. It still has a reputation, as proven by the stigma behind proclaiming yourself as a feminist. But it has made serious, beautiful gains in equality for everyone, not just cis white women.

There is always negative backlash when you decide to break the rules, especially rules that have simply always been. But fighting for the rights, the livelihood and the future for everyone who suffers under these rules is admirable and worth the stigma.