In light of the recent hubbub surrounding Kim Kardashian and her essay where she discusses why she isn’t a feminist, I took to social media to read more about what has been going on. I was surprised to see a lot of negativity circulating Facebook, Twitter and the like; from both men AND women. This confused me at first, however after looking into what these Facebook posts/ tweets and YouTube videos are saying, I realised a couple of things.
It seems to me, that many women feel a disconnection with the word ‘feminist’ and an eagerness not to be labelled as such. As well as Kim Kardashian, Sex and the City star Sarah Jessica Parker recently stated that she doesn’t consider herself a feminist. This got me wondering why people are so reluctant to call themselves feminists, and I think it is down to a misconception of what feminism is.
Feminism is a noun and is defined as the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of equality of the sexes. However, this is not how a lot of people see it. To Kim Kardashian and Sarah Jessica Parker, they see it as a taboo word, which causes separation of the sexes. Kim Kardashian says in her essay that labels such as the word feminist or ‘plus size’ or ‘bisexual’ create barriers between people.
“It’s not about he, she, gay, straight, black, white. The fight for equality is about ALL human beings being treated equally – regardless of gender, sexuality or ethnicity,”
I have a couple of issues with that statement, the first being the nature of the labels and how different they all are from each other. Descriptors such as black, white, gay, straight, male, female etc. are not the same as being labelled a feminist. Gender, race or sexuality are a part of who you are, parts of your identity that you have less control over and that are normally permanent. Being Scottish is not a choice, being born female isn’t a choice, who you are attracted to is also an intrinsic part of you. However feminism, is, and should (hopefully) be a temporary label. While being a feminist is a very empowering thing, the goal is that it should only have to be a temporary. By this I mean that the goal isn’t to keep feminism in existence, any feminist would hope that eventually it need not exist. In the future, while one may still be Scottish, one may still be female, male, gay or straight, I would like to think that eventually, the necessity to keep fighting the feminism fight may not exist, as that would mean that we may have finally reached a stage of equality. Thus, to me, comparing these labels to each other does very little to further Kim’s point.
A second issue I have with this statement is that while in ways she is right, equality should be about ALL human beings being treated equally, the harsh reality is that they are not. Women are not equal to men, just as people in the LGBT+ community are not treated with equality either. While we may wish we lived in a world where equality for everyone existed; unfortunately it does not and we need to address the problems that exist, one of which is that there IS a necessity for feminism and the need for feminists to advocate for women’s rights.
In addition, another aspect that I disagree with is the idea that it is the word feminist or feminism in general that creates a separation between genders. The way I see it, women are damned if they do, damned if they don’t. There has ALWAYS been a separation between men and women, there has always been an inferior gender, there has always been a hierarchy structure and this would exist whether people labelled themselves feminists or not. In fact, I would argue that without the existence of feminists fighting for the rights of women, there would be even more separation, as there would be nobody challenging the patriarchy or its ideas. Without opposition, nothing would change. The development of the feminist movement has not caused this separation, but aims to eradicate this separation. At least with the existence of this movement and the existence of those who label themselves feminists we can be seen to be doing something about a division that has always existed.
I do understand why people are oftentimes uncomfortable with using the word feminist, as it is often greeted with negativity. There are many misconceptions as to what being a feminist is, and this leads to a reluctance to learn more about the cause or to get involved. I think a lot of the time there is also a fear of being labelled as a feminist as people don’t want to come across as ‘man hating’ or ‘angry’ or any other negative stereotype that is associated with the word. As well as this, as so many people have a skewed perception of what being a feminist is, using the term can be a pointless exchange. While some may see feminism for what it actually is, a movement which aims for an equal society for all and in doing so seeks to elevate women to the same level as men, this definition may not translate to somebody who has been fed the idea that feminists are angry, butch, attention seeking, over dramatic, man hating people who care only about making men look bad. Using the term feminist relies on the assumption that those around you have an accurate perception or understanding of what the word means.
In my opinion, these kinds of disputes arguing what makes a feminist or who feminists should be or what feminism does distracts from the whole point of the matter and the goal that everyone should be striving for which is at the heart of the debate; equality and fairness. Feminism is not about hating men, it is not about being angry, it is not about separating genders, it is not about prioritising women over men or women’s struggles over those of the LGBT community or other groups facing stigma. For those who say they are not feminist, they are egalitarian; it amounts to the same thing. Feminism is about creating a society where all genders are mutually respected and treated as equals. Feminism is about creating a society that everyone can be proud of. Feminism is an inclusive movement, which is ever fighting towards a better world for everyone; and that better world can only exist when we acknowledge the issues and the necessity for change.