So I’d like to start this post off by sharing an image. This is a poll from yougov that shows the percentage of people who would call themselves feminists before and after learning the true definition of the term.
As you can see, the before side is significantly smaller than the after side. When people hear the word feminism or feminist, typical ideas tend to pop into their heads. First, there tends to be a mental image of what a feminist looks like. A typical description may include words like hairy, thick-rimmed glasses, lesbian, yells a lot, etc. Then there are a few ideas on the definition of feminism. A lot of these definitions infer that feminists think that women are better than men, and that women should have the upper hand simply because of their sex. But let’s take a look at the real definition of feminism:
Although some may disagree that women and men should be treated equally, the majority of people would agree with that. For example, I have yet to meet someone who has truly believed “women should make less money than men”. Knowing the true definition changes things for people. In terms of feminism, it seems as though we are lost in translation. Why is this? Many reasons! However, a giant culprit the portrayal of feminism by the media.
This seems like a bold accusation, but let me explain.
We all know the media likes to blow things out of proportion. Remember last year’s Ebola crisis? Yes, it was a big deal, but thanks to the constant media coverage, people over here were absolutely freaking out, believing that we were on the brink of some sort of apocalypse. Then, when the media switched over to another topic, the fear completely dissipated, despite Ebola still being around and still being a problem. The fact of the matter is that media coverage, however accurate it is, is important. So when the media covers a topic like feminism and portrays it in a negative light, that is where the issue arises.
Sure, there are some “normal” feminists who receive media coverage –the prime example being Emma Watson when she made her speech (Watson 2014)– but the media has a tendency to put feminism in a negative light.
Whenever someone claims to be an extremist or acts in such a way, the media is quick to report. In 2015 in the United States, it is not popular to be radical. It makes us feel uncomfortable, and we like to poke fun at it- for example, the meme above. It’s easy for the media to focus on extremists in general because of how crazy their views seem. There may be people who claim to be feminist and hate men, but that does not mean that all feminists believe it.
So with all that said, we have to ask: does the media do more harm than good for feminism?
It does focus too much on the negatives, so much so that some very famous women don’t even want to be associated with the term.
“This aversion to the word “feminism” is not uncommon: The well-publicized portrayal of feminists as angry, man-hating women has preserved the notion that feminism is destructive, dangerous, and to be avoided at all costs. As a result, many celebrities like Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga and Madonna have all rejected the term, claiming that ‘I don’t really think of it as guys versus girls,’ ‘I love men,’ and ‘I’m not a feminist, I’m a humanist,’ respectively” (Tan 2014).
People are afraid of seeming like radicals and would rather distance themselves from the cause than educate themselves about them. This is where the good side of the media comes in.
Despite the negatives, the media has also done some good for feminism. As mentioned before, Emma Watson’s speech about feminism promoted equality for men and women alike.
“If we stop defining each other by what we are not and start defining ourselves by what we are—we can all be freer and this is what HeForShe is about. It’s about freedom. I want men to take up this mantle. So their daughters, sisters and mothers can be free from prejudice but also so that their sons have permission to be vulnerable and human too—reclaim those parts of themselves they abandoned and in doing so be a more true and complete version of themselves” (Watson 2014).
More recently, Jennifer Lawrence has written an essay about the sexism in Hollywood (Boboltz).
And Beyonce’ is a feminist. So that’s pretty cool.
With the internet as big as it is today, it’s easier than ever for people to educate themselves about topics. Whether or not they choose to do so is up for debate, however, they are more likely to if people they like are backing the cause. With beloved stars like Emma Watson, Jennifer Lawrence, and Beyonce’ Knowles showing the world that feminism is not a negative thing, maybe we can start to redefine the term so that people aren’t afraid to call themselves feminists.
Has “Feminist” Become A Dirty Word? (2013, May 1). Retrieved October 27, 2015.