Written by Trent Lindbom, Ashlee Bagnell, Deen Akiyode, and Samiyah Tariq
We live an age of social justice and progress. Social media and other outlets have empowered many marginalized people, allowing them to assemble in opposition to outdated laws, unfair public perceptions, and outrageous statements from public figures.There is a definite push towards equality and fair treatment these days, and yet there is an almost as large push back against this relatively new culture.
Feminism, in particular, has become something of a dirty word to many people, but the question is why? How exactly can someone justify separating themselves from the movement when it advocates equal rights? The easy, misguided answer is that people are ignorant or misogynistic. The truth is that modern feminism has a serious image problem, perpetuated by vocal minorities and poor practitioners in the public sphere.
Feminism has come in many forms. Today’s version of it is typically referred to as “third-wave feminism,” with Women’s Suffrage being considered the first true wave. For many, “feminism” has become a dirty word. All kinds of pejoratives have been popularized based on the term (feminazi, man-hater, etc). A common view of modern feminism is that it serves to put women “above” men, even if very few self-identified feminists espouse that position. We asked our survey group whether or not they considered themselves feminists. Those who answered “no” often explained that their reasoning by stating that they did not support the idea of female dominance or “man-hating.” And yet, we did not see a single response from the “yes” camp that advocated for this. None of the self-identified feminists said that they wanted to elevate women above men professionally or socially.
However, in regards to the Women’s Suffrage movement of the 19th and 20th centuries, no one appears to disagree with its fight for equality among the sexes.
When we asked our participants what they thought about the backlash to third-wave (the 1990s to today) feminism, many cited the first wave as the only real movement of consequence. No one flat-out disparaged it.
The bottom line is, modern feminism is seen by many to be a toxic perversion of the original ideology, even though most modern feminists disavow or are completely ignorant to this idea of “female domination.”
So where does this perception come from?
Well to start, the term feminazi was coined by a male professor by the name of Thomas Hazlett. There is no record of a feminist applying this label to themselves before Hazlett cooked it up. So we have a clearly negative portmanteau, one that combines over half of the population with the Third Reich, that was created by a man to describe “militant” or “radical” feminists. And yet, whenever even level-headed feminists speak out on issues that affect them, this label gets applied. How is this acceptable? How has this word not been deemed completely worthless and without meaning? Because the female-superior, misandrist rhetoric of the dreaded “feminazi” does exist, it just isn’t being spewed out by reputable, notably young figures such as Emma Watson.
In 2014, Watson addressed the UN in regards to feminism, and she not only does not advocate the stripping of male rights but actively speaks out against it. Then you have people like Robin Morgan, who have at least some influence in the public discussion of feminism, who say things like this:
“I feel that “man-hating” is an honorable and viable political act, that the oppressed have a right to class-hatred against the class that is oppressing them. And although there are exceptions (as in everything), i.e., men who are trying to be traitors to their own male class, most men cheerfully affirm their deadly class privileges and power. And I hate that class.”
It is frightening to think that Watson and Morgan both subscribe to the same ideology, at least in name, and that’s precisely the problem. The word “feminist” is so widespread and distorted that for many people, it carries no real meaning anymore. As a result, anyone who does decide to actively wear the label must be (in the minds of outsiders) some kind of militant or extremest, even if their views are nothing of the sort.
This has fed into a more important issue than women want to admit. By demonizing the term Feminism, we have hurt, further, the voice of women. By discrediting the movement to equalize us, it’s discrediting anything that any woman would have to say on the issue.
The fact is that women’s voices are still not being heard. This isn’t simply about changing the channel when an activist gets on the news and speaks their mind. What about literature written by women? Movies directed by women? Articles? Works of art? I could go on, but I think you get the point. When the audience (particularly male audience) realizes that they must listen to a woman’s point of view, there are often a good deal of eyes rolling. It’s not a problem of being physically heard, it’s a problem of being understood and taken seriously.
While we have made significant strides towards equality, there is still no room for a woman’s voice to be heard. Rebecca Solnit of The Guardian stresses the importance speaking up and speaking out. She states in her article Silence and powerlessness go hand in hand – women’s voices must be heard
“Words bring us together, and silence separates us, leaves us bereft of the help or solidarity or just communion that speech can solicit or elicit.” If we remain silent about the misrepresentation of women, then it will never change. “
We don’t see this more clearly than when we look at media’s representation of women. We took a survey to determine what people thought about the representation of women in the media.
16 People said that they were for the idea and 6 people said that they were against the idea. Of the people who agreed that women needed more representation, one of our respondents said,
“Yes of course! If they are in entertainment, I believe they should took lead roles that’s aren’t sexually related. They should be police officers, ninjas, etc. Women in the industry will tell you they have to present themselves as a trophy to please men and the male public. It makes me sick. And don’t get me started about weight and color. No woman is perfect and it’s crazy how men look at chubby women like it’s disgusting.”
And we had multiple responses why people did not think women needed more representation, however, this was a common theme:
“Women is already considered to be the best source of entertainment. What more do they want?” [sic]
Fortunately, there are some examples of positive representation for women, like this article from Marketing Week How the Portrayal of Women has Changed Leonie Roderick. Roderick sees the progression and makes the statement that “Look magazine, which is a weekly young women’s magazine, placed its first curvy model on the cover last year. This was done in partnership with Simply Be, a clothing retailer for larger sizes. Three years ago, that wouldn’t have happened. So it’s a positive move in terms of being more reflective of their audience. And brands can also get closer to the content and tap into issues that matter to women.” We are seeing more women who don’t match the traditional standards of beauty step into the spotlight and be praised for their beauty both inside and out.
So, we are finally starting to hear the voice of women-at least a little– when it comes to our media outlets but what about in the real world?
Across the US, girls are speaking up and taking action against the over sexualization of women in particular regards to the outrageous dress code policies put in place by school systems to keep boys from being distracted during school. The young women are being pulled out of class and penalized for dressing “inappropriately” in front of the boys. Instead of teaching the boys to stop sexualizing girl’s shoulders, they are teaching that “boys will be boys” and it’s OK for them to think of girls as sex objects. This article from Mashable gives a glimpse as to how the girls are fighting back.
The Feminist movement is helping women’s voices be heard but we are nowhere near winning this battle.
The sad truth is that to be heard you have to be a white male of privilege. If you take a good look at the feminist movement, it is easy to see that not even all women involved in the movement have a strong voice. Women of color have even less representation in the movement than white women. This is a problem on so many levels.
At the end of the day, this movement is supposed to be about equality and it is turning into something I don’t think it was intended to be.
So what do men have to do with this? A good deal actually.
In action movies we see our main character, fresh from battles against their many foes– strategically cut shirt in tow, punch out the villain with a precision of effort that is never in excess an always saves the day. In practice, things are much more complicated and much more muddled.
Consider the current iteration of feminism, with its focuses on righting rampant abuses committed by those in positions of power and the pursuit of equality across genders.
Consider, also, that which would oppose these efforts. Toxic masculinity is best defined as “the constellation of socially regressive male traits that serve to foster domination, the devaluation of women, homophobia and wanton violence” and it stands, shoulder to shoulder, in the face of progress alongside factors of a similar scope to systemic abuse.
To understand the reach of such dangerous elements, we must understand what it has done to real people, to real action stars.Terry Crews is a celebrated actor, a skilled artist has had a multiyear career in the NFL.
Terry Crews was sexually assaulted and speaking up almost destroyed his marriage and his life. And while he has broken his silence, becoming an outspoken activist for those in similarly dire situations, public support of him has become divided at best.
Some cheer him on the in streets saying “ ‘Keep going, Terry, keep going.’” while others ridicule him for not being like the heroes he often portrays and punching out the person who would abuse him. Crews’ response is self-aware in a very tragic sense. He cites the supposed aggression of a high schooler found dead with a bag Skittles and elaborates on how this would undermine his image, and how that single moment would invalidate every positive thing he’s ever done in the public eye.
“Oh there it is, that nice Terry Crews was a joke and he’s really a thug. He’s really, this is the real Terry Crews, we always knew that all these big black guys just want to kill us, and they’re waiting for excuses.’ I’ve been approached like that many many times, and it changed the narrative for me. Because I couldn’t even feel like I could defend myself, honestly. And I grab my wife’s hand, and we ran out of there. “
In a very similar vein, Brendan Fraser knows how these type situations shake out. His story, like many others, is as commonplace as it is tragic; put into a vulnerable position by someone he trusted, Fraser sought out an apology or an explanation and, his offender deflected.
Then, simultaneously, Fraser’s career began to decline and he retreated into himself, never going public with his experience. Until recently. Until he saw his abuser on stage, declaring Time Is Up, alongside of people who respected, who he feared the safety of. Brendan has now retaken the center stage, not just for himself but for anyone else who felt the same as him.
For both actors, the need to speak up was present from the moment the assault occurred. But it was that singular moment; of seeing others stand in solidarity, to support one another in defiance of their detractors and their abusers — that was the moment these two actors stepped forth. Which must not be misconstrued as a condemnation or critique, there is power in numbers and in protecting people from further harm. In this moment, it is important to noHeforShe andf organizations like HeforShe and MeToo.
Through their efforts, resource sharing, and ardent support, they brought their argument to the center stage where it could inspire so many others. Furthermore, we must acknowledge that this is a problem that men go through but it is important to note this is a problem that women face on a much larger scale. In cases of both Fraser and Crews, they took much more public action based off of the efforts of women who have fought and bled to bring these issues into the public eye. The rate at which men are assaulted is large and likely larger due to under-reporting but by those same standards 1 in every 6 women are assaulted. It is important to note suffering in those around us but it is almost important to note the proclivity and level of severity in these same situations.
All of our findings in our survey, we condensed into a visual story that you can watch here!
- Baron, Zach. “What Ever Happened To Brendan Fraser?”. GQ. 22 February 2018.
- D’Anastasio, Cecilia. “Girls Speak Out Against Sexist School Dress Codes.” The Nation, 29 June 2015, www.thenation.com/article/girls-speak-out-against-sexist-school-dress-codes/.
- Dupere, Katie. “6 Ways Students Are Fighting Back against Sexist School Dress Codes.” Mashable, Mashable, 31 May 2015, mashable.com/2015/05/31/sexist-school-dress-codes/#l.SLiEGjaPqT.
- Francois, Myriam. “Feminism Has Been Hijacked by White Middle-Class Women.” New Statesman, www.newstatesman.com/politics/2015/02/feminism-has-been-hijacked-white-middle-class-women.
- Iversen, Kristin. “Here’s Everything Wrong With White Feminism In One Photo.” NYLON, NYLON Media I, LLChttps://Nylon.com, 23 Dec. 2017, nylon.com/articles/jessica-chastain-white-women-la-times.
- Kupers, Terry. “Toxic Masculinity as a Barrier to Mental Health Treatment in Prison”. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.600.7208&rep=rep1&type=pdf
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- Muller, Marissa G. “Emma Watson Addresses Her White Privilege and ‘White Feminism’ in Letter to Her Book Club.” W Magazine, 9 Jan. 2018, www.wmagazine.com/story/emma-watson-white-privilege-feminism.
- Old Spice. “Isaiah Mustfa And Terry Crews” Fast Company . https://images.fastcompany.net/image/upload/w_1280,f_auto,q_auto,fl_lossy/fc/3049565-poster-i-1-isaiah-mustafa-and-terry-crews.jpg
- Roderick, Leonie, et al. “How the Portrayal of Women in Media Has Changed.” Marketing Week, 18 Jan. 2018, www.marketingweek.com/2017/03/08/portrayal-women-media/.
- Rodriguez-Cayro, Kyli. “7 Ways White Feminism Is Sneaking Into Your Life.” Bustle, Bustle, 20 Mar. 2018, www.bustle.com/p/what-is-white-feminism-here-are-7-sneaky-ways-it-shows-up-into-your-life-7921450.
- Saturday Night Live. “Welcome to Hell – SNL.” YouTube, YouTube, 2 Dec. 2017
- Scott, Eugene. “Don’t forget about the men who said they’ve been sexually Assaulted, Too”. The Washington Post. 16 November 2017.
- Sen, Rinku. “The Lefty Critique of #TimesUp Is Tired and Self-Defeating.” The Nation, 9 Jan. 2018, www.thenation.com/article/the-lefty-critique-of-timesup-is-tired-and-self-defeating/.
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