Graphic by Lauren You

Let’s Remember What Feminism Actually Is

Why feminism isn't men-hating, and how to balance it with a Middle Eastern identity.

Sep 25, 2016

Around the first week of class I overheard some freshmen disparagingly call the floor I decorated “the most feminist thing ever.” I jokingly said that if boys don’t approve of my floor, it means that I have done a good job, but the more I think about it, the more this negative usage of the term worries me. The negative connotations that now surround feminism have led many women to explicitly state that they are absolutely anti-feminist. For instance, in an interview, Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer said said,
“I don’t think I would consider myself a feminist… I do think feminism has become, in many ways, a more negative word.”
The negativity that surrounds the term has come about from misrepresentations by the media and the general public. Feminism is the movement that aims to secure equal rights for both men and women. Feminism is not, as many have come to think, aimed at rejecting men and making them feel uncomfortable. It’s about rejecting oppression, creating opportunities and possibilities and allowing women the choice to be whatever they want to be. It’s not about granting women professional careers so they don’t have to be housewives. It’s about giving women the choice to work, be housewives or do both, with supportive partners who share the burden or with no partners at all.
By overemphasizing certain aspects of the movement, the media and the general public have twisted and misrepresented feminism to the point that many women and men have shifted away from the movement. For instance, because of the extreme attention the media has lavished on the Free the Nipple movement, people have come to regard it as the embodiment of feminism. Although Free the Nipple is a movement that started off as a fight to allow women to breastfeed in public, its purpose was distorted through media misrepresentation. People’s attention became focused on how feminists were overlooking very important issues such as genital mutilation and the lack of female education in third world countries, and instead focusing on going out without a bra. The portrayal of the movement in this way led people to dismiss it and, in turn, disregard feminism as obnoxious, pushing its limits and going too far.
The media, an industry that is mostly dominated by men, is one of feminism’s worst enemies as it perpetuates many of the stereotypes that feminism is fighting. Women are still portrayed as sexual objects everywhere in the news, blogs and papers while their intellect is deemed irrelevant. Articles are more interested in discussing the outfits worn by female politicians than their ideas.
The media also makes people want to detach themselves from feminism because it continuously focuses on the very few extreme cases of feminism — those women who believe that all men are innately bad. An extreme example of this happened when the hashtag #killallmen was trending on Twitter.
When Beyoncé danced in front of the word Feminist in the 2014 VMAs, social media critiqued Beyoncé’s feminism instead of acknowledging the strength of this woman and the benefit her support would bring to the cause. When all of this happens, and feminists become frustrated by having to reiterate the points they have been making for years, they are perceived by others as annoying. This is when women decide that they don’t want to be considered man-haters, and detach themselves from an important cause.
It is important to accept women who call themselves feminists as exactly that, not the women who want to #killallmen but those who are trying to involve themselves in the movement in ways that perhaps we do not all approve of. Let’s not tell women who listen to misogynistic music that they should not call themselves feminists. Let’s tell them why we probably should not support such music — because it encourages a negative and patriarchal culture — but not that it makes them any less of a feminist.
I am sorry if you think feminists are too angry, but if you lived our lives for a while, you too would probably think that anger is the most appropriate response. If anything, women’s anger only stems from years of oppression. Women still grow up being told to be nice and play nice. From day one we are taught that being feminine means tending to others’ needs, being a lady means that you should never get angry, that your laugh should not be too loud and that it’s important not to put yourself in the spotlight. An angry woman attracts attention, and when a feminist is angry about an issue that is very important to her, she is very quickly dismissed as psychotic or too radical.
Another dilemma that I face as a Jordanian feminist is what happens when I try to portray how rough it is being both a woman and a Jordanian. In such cases, many people disregard my opinion, and whatever statements I make — be it on social media or in person — as those of another angry feminist. Many students who may be feminists deep down may also feel as if their beliefs conflict with their nationality. This situation leads to having to make a difficult choice: to share negative news about misogynistic acts in one’s own country, or to overlook such news and instead shed light on all the positive things happening.
It seems to me that it keeps getting more difficult to be a feminist without unconsciously supporting the orientalist notion that Middle Eastern women are feeble and and Middle Eastern men are hyper-patriarchal. That leads some people to think that Middle Eastern women need a Western intervention. The situation makes me realize that I need to emphasize the importance of strong women in the region who are doing a wonderful job at being independent. It’s important to remind people, myself included, that this is not a hopeless place or case, but it’s an ongoing struggle that deserves hard work. However, many other Jordanians and Arabs believe that I am being unfair to the region.
So yes, I fully understand that it’s difficult being a feminist, and I understand the difficulties of being a woman. But I love it. I love being a woman, and I love being a feminist, because feminism for me is also the paying of a debt. It’s my debt to all the feminists who fought for women’s rights throughout history, those feminists who gave me the right to vote, the right to education, and a platform from which I am seen as a human being with real opinions and thoughts.
Lina Elmusa is a staff writer. Email her at feedback@thegazelle.org.
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