September 18, 1997 · Cavalier Daily

Women Must Embrace Feminist Label

An opinion columnist asserts that people are afraid to identify as feminists, and seeks to clarify the misconception that the word "feminist" connotes radicalism or asexuality. Instead, she identifies feminists as a group of people that agree that women have been oppressed, and seek to reverse this condition, although they may disagree about the source of oppression.


1997-09-18 Cavalier Daily Women Must Embrace Feminist Label.pdf
Kathryn Hamilton
Cavalier Daily
Cavalier Daily
Women Must Embrace Feminist Label
THE OTHER day my roommate came home in an outrage. She had been to the first day of her women's literature class, where they spent the 50 minutes talking about misconceptions of feminism. After coming to the conclusion that feminists were not, after all, man-hating "feminazis,” the class took a poll: Who now would call themselves a feminist? My roommate was the only one to raise her hand. "Can you believe that, Katherine? And it was a women’s literature class!"
Although that makes me snarl in disgust, I can not say it surprises me. Many college-aged women today are afraid to identify themselves as feminists because of what they think the word connotes: radical asexual women who never would wear lipstick or date men. Even women who can see beyond that stereotype sometimes hesitate to adopt the feminist label. I have a friend who, in many ways, is more of a feminist than anyone I know. She is independent and outspoken, passionately connected to women's political and social issues. Yet she not call herself a feminist. “Feminism means something that I am uncomfortable with.”
Well then, what does feminism mean? The feminist community has yet to come up with a cohesive definition. There are as many flavors of feminism as there are degrees of Democrats. Dissension and controversy exist among the larger feminist umbrella just as they do in a political party. Feminists disagree about the cause of women’s oppression. Some attribute women’s position in society today to class, others attribute it to gender roles, still others attribute it to a patriarchal structure.
Logically, feminists also disagree about how women can liberate and empower themselves. Should society completely shed gender roles to become a world of androgynous people? Should women work inside the already established gender framework to guarantee their political and economic equality? No one “feminist” answer to those questions exists.
At the most basic level, feminists agree that women have been and are oppressed. Reversing that oppression is their goal. The tactics different feminists adopt vary, some being more radical than others. Seen this way, feminism becomes not some frightening, hard-line belief system, but the simple idea that women deserve the same opportunities men possess. That idea should speak to any woman who has been sexually harassed, teased because she was a tomboy throughout elementary school or suffering from an eating disorder. That idea should speak even to a woman who never has had to grapple with problems directly related to her gender.
There is a difference between calling oneself a feminist and being a feminist. Although my roommate was the only one in her class to raise her hand when asked "who would now call themselves a feminist?" I doubt she was the only feminist in her class. I do not think I know any women who would disagree that women deserve the same opportunities as men. Everywhere, I see evidence of the pull the idea of feminism has on college-aged women. On a local level, one could see the University’s sorority system as a feminist institution. Sororities are groups of women, united by the idea of sisterhood and a common purpose. They provide women with leadership opportunites and an all-female forum where subjects like sexual harassment and eating disorders are addressed.
Of course, another feminist could demolish my example: One can see sororities not groups of women bonding together, but as an institution that is on the whole subservient to the male counterpart fraternity. Here again is dissension among what different women consider to manifestations of feminism. But I would argue that the women I see around me — running for student offices, debating passionately in their history classes, running marathons, editing University publications — understand both the necessity and the fervor of feminism.
So, if women are feminists (even if they would not say so themselves), why does it matter that they do not call themselves feminists? This issue is not one of semantics but of unity and power. Adopting the name "feminist” allows women to find other women who also call themselves feminists. It allows women who believe in the same things to seek each other out.
Rejecting the name "feminist" allows opponents of women's rights to continue to demonize the word. and the concept. The idea that a woman could not want to identify herself with women's rights is what shocked me so much about my roommate's English class. Feminism will lose the stereotype that scares many women away only when those same women start to embrace the word. It's a tricky circle that needs to start somewhere. No one should be ashamed to call her/himself a feminist. There is nothing shameful about believing in equal rights.
(Kathryn Hamilton's column appears Thursdays in The Cavalier Daily.)
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Date Added June 23, 2016
Date Modifed December 23, 2017
Collection Cavalier Daily: articles about gender discrimination

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