Feminism is a word that attracts a lot of attention. For some, the image that pops into their minds when they hear the word is bra-burning lesbians protesting on the streets and for some it’s Emma Watson giving her famous HeForShe speech at the UN.
The word Feminist is even more powerful. Most people are too afraid to announce themselves as feminists, they claim that yes they do too stand for equal treatment of both genders, but they think associating themselves with feminism is pushing things a little bit too far. Some go as far as labeling themselves as equalists or other made-up labels of that kind. Is that because they think of feminism as something notorious to be associated with, like communism or anarchism?
In order to set things clear from the beginning, here is the most up-to-date definition of feminism from the Meriam-Webster dictionary.
the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities
the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes
From any part of this, I can’t infer some hidden bad, criminal meaning; but hey, maybe it’s the historical connotation to the word that scares people so much right? Then let’s delve into a brief history of feminism to better understand why it was called feminism in the first place.
The feminist movement originated in the western societies as a primarily suffragette movement. When the people gained their basic rights from the monarchs (by people here I mean the male-identifying part of the society), women had way less in their hands than men did. As a result, in the beginning of 1920s emerged what we now call the first wave feminism: women (mostly workers) on the streets protesting for their basic rights such as equal contract, marriage, parenting, property and most critically vote. And they earned them.
While the first wave feminism dwelled mostly on political inequalities, the second wave feminism in the 60s, dealt with economical and social inequalities. It claimed that as long as discrimination of sexes in a fundamental level existed in the society, there would be no way of achieving equality. With the slogan of “The Personal is Political” they challenged the patriarchal domestic life and its influence on the society.
The third wave feminism of the 90s was the most empowering and inclusive wave ever to come. They questioned the issues around sexuality and femininity mostly because of the fact they were mainly developed around upper middle-class white norms.
In the past century, women were the ones that mainly protested for their rights and earned them. Women were the ones that needed empowerment and gained that through copious efforts. Seeing how much women have put into this movement for equality and claiming that it should be called equalism is simply patriarchy at it’s finest. The world we live in is so patriarchal and we’re so used to being the default of something should be male that it stops us in our tracks when a notion so influential, so powerful is associated with women.
Even I (yes, I didn’t get out of the womb as a feminist, I know shocking) questioned if the name feminism was fit for the movement. And yes, changing the name to equalism, if such thing was possible, would indeed convince people faster to be a part of it. However, that would mean negotiating, and giving out a major part of the ideology: female empowerment.
In everyday life, your brain is always looking for patterns, if it didn’t you wouldn’t be able to function. Obviously, all of us do this subconsciously and you cannot blame someone for doing this. Yet, the society is constantly conditioning us to a male-dominated mindset by the power of language. We hear as children and tell our children to “man up” or stop throwing “like a girl”. Being the man or masculine means being powerful and strong, whereas words associated with women are saved for profanities. This subconscious conditioning not only takes part in how gender roles are created but also why feminism sounds odd to people.
Feminism in its core is the celebration women. It’s talking about women, their problems, their achievements, their struggles and their conquests.Women not only earned the right to have the feminism movement carry their name, but ethically that’s what coincides with the purpose of feminism itself. Then what could be a better way to show everyone the importance of women’s presence in everyday life, than naming the movement after women?