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In Defense of Feminism

[Editor’s note:  Several days ago, the Merriam-Webster dictionary named “feminism” as its 2017 Word of the Year. This guest commentary is from Lesley sophomore Chloe Fay.]

Some conservative columnists have accused feminism of being negative, stating that feminism is dead and has done more harm than good. Some conservative talk show hosts continue to demonize feminism. However, in my opinion, the feminist movement has never been stronger than it is today.

Throughout the years, the word “feminist” or “feminism” has gained a negative connotation in the view of some; “feminists” have become stereotyped as being “men-hating,” “bra-burning,” angry women. However, this is far from the truth. Feminism is defined as being the social, economic, and political equality of the sexes. In fact, men can be feminists too.

In the past, there were strong traditional expectations put on women; women were not expected to be educated, they were meant to have children, stay at home cooking, cleaning and raising children while men worked. They had very little voice; men were in charge of the household and controlled them. The expectations society had of women, and the dreams of women, were limited. Over time, through the power of feminism and feminist activists, women have gained a substantial amount of rights and voice. The purposes of feminism have changed over time. In the article “Feminism — What’s in a Name?”, written by Jennifer Robinson, Robinson writes in reflection of the work of feminists throughout history, “Suffragettes thought women should have the right to vote; modern feminists think that women should have the right to vote and be elected to office. ‘Women’s libbers’ thought women should earn what men do for the same job; feminists think men and women ought to have the same earnings and job opportunities.” Early feminist movements fought for the civil rights of women, latter and modern-day feminism focuses on equality and advocacy of body, gender, and sexuality rights. However, women continue to be underrepresented in politics and media, continue to have their voice dismissed, and face discrimination because of their gender.

In media, acts of feminism can be portrayed as inspirational and empowering, or as demanding and whiny. Some people are still opposed to feminism, even demonizing it. For many, men or women, inequality issues, injustice, and discrimination are not experienced personally or directly, so many believe it is not as a great of an issue as it truly is. Some conservative media outlets especially view feminism negatively. Infamous (and viral) conservative commentator Tomi Lahren, in an interview with Playboy regarding feminism, said, “To say that a woman can be simplified into wanting free abortions or free birth control, and by using false statistics like the 77 cents on the dollar bullshit; to day that’s what female empowerment is? That’s discrediting and insulting to a woman like myself. Saying, ‘give me..’ is not female empowerment… I don’t wake up and think, ‘What can I get for free today because I’m a woman’ or use my gender to further some kind of entitlement for me.” Many who think negatively of feminism believe it is about entitlement; why should women have the right to free abortions? Free birth control? Why is there a fight on the tampon tax? Many feminist issues and conversations do have political, religious, and ethical views surrounding them, and that’s why there is so much discussion and disagreement around feminism.

But despite stereotypes and criticisms, the current state of the feminist movement is incredibly strong. Social media, I believe, has played a positive role in modern day feminism; pages and posts spread awareness of issues people may not think of daily, hashtags gain momentum and go viral (#MeToo is a good example), and these messages are spread throughout the whole world.  Or consider the effect of electing Donald Trump, a man who has judged women based on their looks, has been accused of sexual harassment, and became known during his presidential run for saying because he was a star he could “grab [women] by the pussy” if he wanted to. He has said other demeaning comments about women too.  But right after he was elected, feminists, women and men, gathered, marched, and rallied for their rights.

Counselor to president Trump KellyAnne Conway has denounced the women’s movement as “pro-abortion” and “anti-male,” but that is a myth. Meanwhile, these negative views have not stopped women from fighting and rallying for their rights. In her article, “Donald Trump Is the Best — and Worst — Thing That’s Happened to Modern American Feminism,” author Jodi Enda writes, “In the age of Trump, the movement is not fixated on one isolated goal, but on a combination of causes that begins, first and foremost, with preventing… the president and Congress from curtailing existing rights.”

Today, more than ever in the past, there are problems being discussed for the first time and there is great intersectionality among people around issues like abortion rights, gay rights, transgender rights, immigration, reproductive rights, racial justice, equal opportunity, etc. It is so important for men and women to face these issues, and to continue to fight for progress.  Compared to many countries, America is incredibly progressive. In other areas of the world, women are seen as the property of men, must cover their bodies up completely, are treated as objects, raped, trafficked, may not drive, etc. In America, women have more opportunities and more freedom.  But to keep moving forward, we must continue to empower young girls and women.  We must also defend the rights of women all over the world.  Feminism is especially important because there are so many countries where women still have few rights.  Even in America, where women have more rights than ever before, those rights are threatened by people who want to limit or take our rights away.  That is why I see feminism as necessary and important: if we are going to keep progressing, feminism is a part of that progress. And feminists must stand up and fight for the rights of women wherever they are, anyplace in the world where women and girls don’t have a voice.

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