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Let it flow: Why is feminism a dirty word?

Let it flow: Why is feminism a dirty word?

Hello, dear reader. Pull up a chair and join us for our first ever “Let if flow” conversation. Today we’ll be talking about why so many women in popular culture and for reals life refuse to embrace the word, FEMINIST.

Tracy: I’ve been watching a lot of 90s TV on Netflix (don’t judge me) lately and noticing how freely and openly characters discussed their feminism. Even a show as cheesy as Dawson’s Creek discusses feminism (in the early seasons) and I’m not talking about the watered-down “girl power” kind. Why do you think feminism has become so culturally uncool? How did the image of feminism get downgraded just as American society was beginning to feel more progressive about other social issues?

Angie: I noticed there was a huge cultural backlash against being “PC” as soon as the 90’s were over. It was like the country collectively couldn’t handle the burden of being progressive and being told not to be racist, sexist jerks. Come to think of it, I wonder if it might have something to do with the whole post 9-11 mentality. Like, we have to rally together as Americans and that means not liking being told that we’re wrong about anything.There was a definite switch towards conservative, old school sentiment right about then. In the 90’s there was this huge uprising of rock music. We had Riot Grrl, Grunge… a lot more women playing rock music and being visible. And I think that assertive female presence was definitely reflected in television, movies and pop culture in general.In the 2000’s there’s been this gear shift to pop music escapism. It’s like we want our entertainment white washed. None of that angsty, uppity, cranky feminist, scary stuff, please. Like, we’ve had to muffle the sounds of feminism so that we, as a culture, aren’t encouraged to be self-reflective. If women get to regular people, then men can’t be macho, and if men can’t be macho, then how can we fight wars, and if we can’t fight wars, then how will we get to hate people for no reason? Okay, shut me up. I’m waxing WAY to philosophical here.

Tracy: No. I think you’re onto something. There’s definitely a real lack of a rebellious underground culture right now. Everything is so crafted to be palatable and feminism definitely doesn’t fit that bill.
I think that’s where Beyonce-style “girl power” stuff comes in. I think our culture has sold the lie that we no longer need feminism because we’ve arrived. We’re all equal now. Get over it. “Girls rule the world!” Blah blah blah.
In addition to 9/11, pervasive internet access may also have something
to do with this homogenization.

Angie: Totally. In a way all this easy access, technological knowledge has made us lazy. Sure there’s more and more information at our fingertips, but as a mainstream culture we rarely use it to ask questions. It’s more of a feeder tube/ticker tape of what someone else decides we should care and know about. Questioning authority has become so “un-American.” And feminism is all about questioning why things are they way they are and examining what a lot people are fond of calling “tradition.” When the reality is that so-called tradition is really only referring to a snapshot of culture during a brief period of time (really, we should just replace the word “tradition” with “nostalgia”). Just like the 50’s were a backlash against women in the workforce during the 40’s and the 80’s were a backlash against late 60’s and 70’s (anti-ERA/women’s lib). I think we’re just experiencing yet another blacklash. One step forward, two steps back kind of a cycle. There’s bits of “girl power,” like you say with Beyonce and others, but it’s still in this very palatable, pretty, don’t-rock-the-boat kind of a way. And if you cop an attitude, I hope you’re wearing heels and have the body of a porn star so I don’t have to feel grouchy when I look at you.

Tracy: What I find the most upsetting is when obviously feminist women reject the word, “feminist.”
Like, “I’m totally for female empowerment and stuff, but I wouldn’t label myself a feminist.”

I see this all the time on Twitter and in magazine interviews and it makes me feel like I’ve slipped into a hell dimension.

Sadly, I think fuckability is at the root of this phenomenon. Feminism scares boys (or so haters would have you believe) and so, I think some women don’t want to make themselves less attractive by talking about the problems of inequality and misrepresentation in our society.

I’m pretty sure that I shot out of the womb as a feminist. There was never a time in my life where I thought, am I a feminist? It was always just there. I remember being outraged at 7  years old about the prejudicial use of male pronouns as “gender-neutral” in books.

When I learned about feminism properly, I instantly recognized it and thought, yep. Sing it, sister!

But, this leads me to my next thought. I think part of the problem is that society as a whole views feminism as one, completely structured philosophical view-point (i.e. MANHATE), when in reality – feminism is
quite varied and nuanced depending on the person.

My feminism is not your feminism or at least it doesn’t have to be.

Tawnya: This makes me think of a Feminist Frequency video I watched last week.

There’s a point where the usually awesome TV show, Veronica Mars, is singled out for the third season story arc about rapes on campus. A group of campus feminists are portrayed as angry man-haters and they’re so over-the-top! Watch the video…it’s a really cool discussion about the idea of the “straw feminist” in Hollywood and how its something invented to make it seem like we’re past needing any sort of real feminism and that anyone still focused on feminism is behind the times.

Watching these representations in the media of late, I wonder if girls (especially girls just coming into their own, philosophy and social-justice-wise) are left thinking, “Is that what I’m supposed to be? If I’m not acting like these people, am I not a real feminist? If I love the men in my life, am I not a real feminist?”

It’s complete bullshit and so destructive.

I think this kind of representation of this weird ultra angry, fake feminism is so damaging to our culture because it perpetuates (just like sexism does) an “us and them” mentality and “us and them” is good for no one.

Tracy: Ugh – the “angry campus feminists” from the 3rd season of Veronica Mars!!! It’s the perfect example of what I was saying earlier. Veronica Mars is obviously a feminist character on a show with a largely feminist agenda and yet the only openly feminist characters are these heinous stereotypes of shrill and irrational man-haters.

Tawnya: EXACTLY!!!

Tracy: Our friend Tracey (with an e) just posted an interview with Caitlin Moran on Facebook.
And I think Caitlin captures what we’ve been talking about perfectly,

The word “feminism,” Moran said, has for some reason gone off the
rails to connote, incorrectly, preachy humorlessness and grim
separatism. “When I talk to girls, they go, ‘I’m not a feminist,’ ”
she said. “And I say: ‘What? You don’t want to vote? Do you want to be
owned by your husband? Do you want your money from your job to go into
his bank account? If you were raped, do you still want that to be a
crime? Congratulations: you are a feminist.’

Yes. Yes. A thousand times yes.

Angie: I don’t what it is about that word that freaks people out. Even female rockers like Chrissie Hynde and PJ Harvey are really hesitant to align themselves with feminism. it’s like some women think that by claiming feminism it means they’re complainy whiners or asking for special considerations a person wouldn’t normally get or that it will alienate men – or maybe because the subject matter of their work doesn’t directly address feminism, but, much like Caitlin Moran said, just getting up and being a visible strong woman is feminist, so, whether you like it or not…
I remember in high school one day riding the bus home I was talking to a friend – I don’t remember about what exactly, but whatever it was caused me to utter the words, “Well, I’M a feminist.” Then some boy in the seat in front of us spun around and said, “You’re a feminist? So you hate men?” and I said, “No. I don’t hate men.” To which he responded, “Then you’re NOT a feminist.” I think people get really defensive when they hear that word. Like it’s a threat.

Tracy: I think what people need to be more clear about is that feminists don’t hate men – they hate assholes.
Really though, feminism isn’t constructed around hating anyone, it’s about hating oppression, discrimination and inequality. It’s about NOT hating ourselves.

Tawnya: I should probably be ashamed to admit this, but there was a time when I was scared to say that I was a feminist, even though I’ve been one since I was 4 when I got all up in arms because my parents made me put a shirt on when my brother and I were play boxing (We had just seen Rocky and were trying to replay the Balboa/Creed match). But, growing up, I was sometimes nervous to say that I was a feminist out loud because I thought a feminist had to be derogatory towards men (thanks popular culture and sexist girls I met throughout my life who had an inherent problem with dudes, including myself at certain points during adolescence).

It was a great day when I realized that being a feminist is something I’ve always been and that I love it!
To me, feminism is about treating everyone with respect and securing equality for all. That may sound crazy, because the word itself implies that it deals with women. But I think that when you treat any group with less respect than another, you’re failing all groups in different ways, even the groups who seem to be better off.

I heart feminism!

Want to join the conversation or send us ideas for our next installment of “Let it Flow?” Leave your comments below.


Tracy (192 Posts)

Tracy lives in a tiny, blue house with her dude, her dogs and her cat. She is the bossypants of a web development and graphic design department, but in her spare time enjoys playing dress-up, eating clementines and covering anything she can with sparkles. She fears mutant hillbillies, Scientology and people who don't watch tv. Her floors definitely have a waxy, yellow buildup. You can find more of her writing at Lateshoes or follow her on Twitter @lateshoes.

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