There is one word people seem to be terrified to say. Recently it seems almost taboo to bring up in public conversation. The word has taken on a life of its own, becoming possibly the dirtiest word a lady could utter. The word feminism seems to repel even the strongest of men. I’ll admit, even I was wary of connecting myself with the word before I understood its true meaning. A feminist is a person who believes in social, economic, and political equality of the sexes. Simply put: feminism is equality. Contrary to popular belief, feminists are not all bra burning, man hating lesbians. Some feminists are heterosexual. Some feminists are even men!
In early September, Emma Watson gave a speech about feminism to the United National headquarters in New York. Watson, famous for her prominent role in the Harry Potter franchise, graduated from Brown University earlier this year and has since embraced the role of the UN Women Goodwill Ambassador. Due to the large fan base of the Harry Potter franchise, Watson’s message has the ability to reach millions. With the support of the United Nations, she launched the HeForShe campaign, which aims to bridge the gap between men and women and change the perception of feminism. Many male celebrities have contributed to this campaign over twitter using the hashtag #heforshe, including One Direction’s Harry Styles, Glee’s Chris Colfer, actor Russell Crowe, and President Barack Obama.
Emma Watson is not the only celebrity to publicly announce her support of feminism. Lena Dunham, creator of HBO’s Girls, has said, “Women saying ‘I’m not a feminist,’ is my greatest pet peeve…People think there’s something taboo about speaking up for feminism.” At the 2012 MTV Video Music Awards, Beyoncé illuminated the word feminism behind her during her performance. Her public declaration was one of the first nationally broadcast public declarations I had seen.
Despite the apparent widespread support of feminism recently, many still seem afraid to associate themselves with the title. Shailene Woodley, star of Divergent and The Fault in Our Stars, refuses to call herself a feminist, claiming that she doesn’t believe in women over men, instead supporting “equality.” In the past, singer Taylor Swift refused to identify as a feminist as she had grown up believing that feminism was about hating men and encouraging competition between the sexes. Much like my own uncertainty of what feminism actually means, many others have the same confusion. While many women would likely say they believe in equality of the sexes, a large percentage reject feminism due to the stigma attached.
It is important for people like Watson and Dunham to be outspoken in support of feminism. The only way to correct the misconception of the movement is to educate young girls, and even adults, about what they’re rejecting. Taylor Swift, after becoming close friends with Dunham, now proudly declares herself a feminist. Referencing Watson’s speech, Swift said, “I wish when I was 12 years old, I had been able to watch my favorite actress explaining in such an intellectual, beautiful poignant way the definition of feminism.”
When I was younger, I felt like I could accomplish anything I set my mind to. As I got older, it became apparent that in our society there were certain hobbies and even careers considered appropriate only for men or aimed specifically at women. There seemed to be a time when young women were expected to take the backseat and allow men to make decisions for them. There were times when I felt as though my opinions about certain things were invalid and got tossed aside. I learned to say sorry when asking a question, to doubt the worth of something I’d written or drawn or said, or to be embarrassed for liking certain boy bands or a particular type of music.
Growing up, feminism was not something I—or many of my peers—were knowledgeable about. Once I became aware of the concept itself, I was more than ready to say that I believed in equal rights for men and women. Honestly, I was shocked that there were people who did not believe in this equality. Unfortunately, those who are anti-feminists tend to scream loudly, and they attempt to shame or quiet down those who are feminists.
It’s incredibly important for celebrities of both genders to show their support for feminism. When fans of Taylor Swift or Harry Styles hear or see their idols supporting feminism, they won’t be so scared to identify with the title as well. We need more Emma Watson’s in the world: people with a huge influence who aren’t afraid to stand up and fight for the rights of young girls who might feel like they’re alone. We, as a culture, need to erase the stigma behind the word feminism. It’s not a dirty word. There’s nothing wrong with being a feminist. I’m not scared to say that I am. In fact, I’m proud to call myself a feminist, and you should be too.