Feminism is a sorely misunderstood movement. Former Republican presidential candidate and televangelist Pat Robertson said, “feminism is a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians.” This was said in the early 1990’s in opposition to an Equal Rights Amendment in Iowa. While Robertson is known as a radical conservative who commonly makes outrageous comments, anti-feminism sentiment isn’t just reserved for the ideological extreme. Obviously, women don’t want to be labeled as any of the things Robertson mentioned, so it’s easy to see why women might be hesitant to identify with feminism. The separation of the word “feminism” and female equality is extremely dangerous and is a major part of why the movement continues to fight an uphill battle.
Men reject feminism for a number of reasons, but at its core, men refuse to fully back the movement because they’re afraid of no longer being at the top of the social hierarchy. One would think all women would support a cause that fights for their equality, but some women reject feminism too. The patriarchy has twisted the movement and those who fight for it into something of malicious intent.
What many don’t understand is that feminism benefits all sexes. This is a lesson I learned my junior year of high school. Before then, if someone had asked if I supported women’s rights, I would’ve said “duh”. But even so, I disavowed feminism with conviction. I naively believed we had already achieved equality. My standard was that I could legally vote when I turned 18 and work anywhere I wanted. I failed to understand that just because there are a few laws protecting me from sexism doesn’t mean it no longer exists. Legislation is only one of many steps in the right direction when it comes to the rights of the oppressed. The rest of the uphill battle is educating people and working to reshape sexist values deeply embedded in our society.
In about a hundred year span, feminism has seen three different waves. The first occurred in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s—primarily concerned with women’s right to vote, own property, and gain some independence from their husbands. Its end was marked by the implementation of the 19th Amendment in 1919, in which women gained voting rights.
The second wave of feminism began in the 1960’s and ended in the 1980’s, and it focused on identifying political and cultural disparities women faced. Women were encouraged to understand and educate themselves on how institutionalized sexism affected their everyday life. During this time period, Roe vs. Wade determined the Constitution protects a woman’s right to choose if she has an abortion without excessive government restriction. Additionally, changes in U.S. law allowed for easier divorces, so the divorce rate spiked as many women left their husbands as a result. However, as progressive as the movement may have been at the time, there were many flaws in its execution.
The third wave of feminism began in the late 1990’s and was a response to criticisms of the second wave. The main issue many people held with the second wave was that it focused too heavily on the plight of middle-class white women. So naturally, the third wave emphasized intersectionality, or the inclusion of many different experiences in the feminist movement.
Its existence is debated, but some will say that we are in the fourth wave. This current wave is said to have started in 2012 and focuses on key issues like sexual harassment, body shaming, and rape culture. One way this new wave was (arguably) formed is the use of social media as a platform to spread its message.
All waves have one thing in common—the goals they were trying to accomplish were heavily opposed. Having an issue with women voting seems a little far fetched today, but there was an entire movement of “anti-suffragists” composed of men and women. They used female stereotypes that still exist to this day to invalidate the movement. Men felt as though their power was being threatened and so they lashed out at suffragettes. Today, this moment in history is taught in schools as a major win for women’s rights, and it was. However, history just continues to repeat itself.
Women who make progress are consistently called radical, hysterical, or are just plain invalidated. My point in this history lesson is that it’s well documented that feminists have gotten a bad reputation on purpose. They are characterized so harshly for two reasons— first, men in power feel threatened by women who know how powerful they are, and second, to keep women away from an empowering movement and thus keeping them subjugated. And it works.
Before I was a feminist, I connected the movement to angry women with far-left political views. It was something I didn’t think about often, nor did I feel the need to “fight for my rights” because I thought some women in long dresses in the 1910’s had already done that for me. I had internalized the smear campaign against feminism and it kept me complacent.
Feminists may be angry at times, but I think we have a right to be. The worldwide efforts to shame, degrade, and quiet women into our “place” is disgusting and grossly counterproductive. The solution is more people, not just women, identifying as feminists and consequently proving the stereotypes to be false. Being a feminist takes many shapes and forms, and that’s what is so beautiful about it. Modern feminism’s true strength lies in its capacity for acceptance and freedom to just be.