The word 'feminism' undoubtedly has a bad reputation - something Emma Watson pointed out in her speech to the United Nations last September. For many, the word is synonymous with man-hating, bra-burning and readers of Germaine Greer. But it's not the 1960s anymore. What feminism actually stands for, which misguided stereotypes such as these serve to hide, is equality between men and women.
I agree that there is an issue with the word, aside from the reputation though. I have never understood why the word that represents gender equality has “feminine” in it. It implies that women (or females, to be more precise) are the only ones who need it. While still sadly true in many aspects of the world, this entirely misses out the fact that we ought to be sharing this fight together - men and women alike.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines feminism as the "advocacy of equality of the sexes and the establishment of the political, social, and economic rights of the female sex." For such a broad definition, the word ought to be far less gendered, female-focused and exclusionary. Right now, this word doesn't seem to reflect the current struggles of inequality faced by all sexes, races and cultures.
Feminism is a movement - it has to move, adapt and evolve. As each hurdle is conquered, it faces the next challenge. It has to become what it needs to be, but also what we as a society need it to be. But this relies on a shared understanding of the definition. It is the fight for equality and the right of everybody to live without discrimination. So how do we move forwards?
Some might ask why we don't just call it ‘gender equality’ - completely rename ‘feminism’ to something that is, well, more equal for starters. I believe, however, that scrapping the name would belittle what the movement has achieved so far. We still haven't achieved equal rights for women; it is a continuous battle and one of many.
The key, therefore, is to find ways to break the stigma associated with the word ‘feminism’ and make the definition much clearer and more widely accepted. While I agree that Elle magazine printing the word “feminist” on a t-shirt last year, worn by both influential men and women alike for a glossy photo spread, helped in some ways to remove the stigmatism that feminism is a female-only fight, these images didn’t go as far as explaining what feminism is or what the word really represents.
We need to start talking about the definition more too. Feminism is not just a logo to be sprawled across the pages of glossy magazines and merchandise; it's a battle we should all be a part of - together - men and women, fighting for gender equality in all possible corners and crevices of society. So next time someone turns around and dismisses feminism in front of you, make sure you flip to the “F” section of the Oxford English Dictionary to find the word defining “equality of the sexes”. As exclusionary as your quirky literary-antics might be, it’ll be the start of a revolution.
Words: Katie Aske