Gemma Styles: It's 2015 And Feminism's Still A Dirty Word On The Internet
The Debrief: Emma Watson was 'discouraged' from using the word feminism in her UN speech last year. Fortunately she just went ahead and did it anyway
Photograph by Matilda Hill-Jenkins
The modern face of feminism, Emma Watson revealed in an interview released this week with Porter magazine that she was strongly discouraged from using the word 'feminist' in her widely praised speech for the UN’s HeForShe campaign last year. Luckily, she went ahead and did it anyway – but why is feminist a dirty word?
'I was encouraged not to use the word ‘feminism’ because people felt that it was alienating and separating and the whole idea of the speech was to include as many people as possible. But I thought long and hard and ultimately felt that it was just the right thing to do. If women are terrified to use the word, how on earth are men supposed to start using it?'
Essentially, as far as I can see, a lot of the opposition to the word comes because people are fearful of turning off the people who don’t understand what the word means. Those people who hear the word ‘feminist’ and still picture an angry, man-hating person set on a future where we rid the world of Y-chromosomes entirely. Personally I never find this particular brand of opposition too tricky to deal with - as it tends to come from people don’t only misunderstand the word but disagree with the concept itself. They don’t want equality between the sexes anyway, so it’s easy for them to dismiss arguments as the hysterical and ‘unnatural’ ideals of unshaven women.
But i struggle far more when the word ‘feminist’ is attacked by other women. To me, identifying as a feminist isn’t a decision that should be difficult. Do men and women deserve equal respect and opportunities? Of course. But there are times when myself I have worried about publicly identifying as such because of the backlash that can follow – especially online. I’ve talked before about how incredible social media can be for educating ourselves and opening ourselves up to concepts that may be new; but it can equally be a competitive and elitist platform to share on at times.
It can be nerve-wracking to even support a cause when people are so quick to criticise others. Oh, so you think you’re a feminist? What about this thing you tweeted in 2013? What about the fact that you’re friends with this person? You watch this TV show? Who the hell do you think you’re kidding?
To me, feminism and equality in general are about letting people do what they want and be whoever they want to be – which is why Toys R Us recently made the news for it’s decision to remove the gender filter from it’s online store -and hey, if a little girl wants to play with dinosaurs and a little boy wants to dress up like Elsa then they should feel free, unjudged and able to do so. However if you buy your niece a doll this Christmas – is that being unfeminist?
The problem with the endless peer bashing is that it never fosters an environment where people can learn and encourage. It’s creating a competition about who can be the ‘best’ feminist of the bunch, and the most committed to being ‘right’ in every way possible. If you’re actively trying to add to wider conversation, adding information and commentary that could be helpful in evolving outlooks – then good on you. If you’re jumping in to undermine the effort that someone is making then maybe take a look at how your contribution is positively helping your cause.
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