What's In A Name?

By: Emma Tessier  

Shakespeare may have claimed that a rose is a rose, no matter what you call it. Unfortunately for many, this does not appear to hold true for labels in our society or our politics. Recent television ads have featured respective campaigns’ perspectives on what women are concerned about, women’s health issues have been prominent in the political debates of the past several months, and after Tuesday night’s Presidential debate women are again a focal point going into the last three weeks of the election. In this election cycle candidates have been tripping over themselves to invoke “women” as much as possible, but “feminism” is still taboo. Feminism is just the name for the movement to represent women, women’s concerns, and to strive for social and political equality. So, why are the feelings toward feminists so much colder than toward women? Just as anyone who likes sand should like the beach, if we like women we should like feminists. But why don’t we?

I am a twenty-two year old woman, and being a feminist has never really been the cool thing to do. Until this election, I never called myself a feminist. I have never hesitated to say that I care about women’s rights and I have never been afraid to speak up on issues that matter to me. The problem is that I never thought feminism represented what I stand for. But I have come to realize that there is such a disparity between feelings toward women and feelings toward feminists that the name is actually becoming an issue, and the old stereotypes just don’t hold up anymore. If modern women’s issues have become such a big deal in this election, why has feminism not evolved to represent this modern movement?

Throughout most of the twentieth century and up to present, women have been reliably ranked more favorably than feminists – by over 20 points in public opinion polls. Women do not differ much from men on their perceptions of these issues. Overall, women tend to rank ‘women’ an average two points higher than men rank women (on a scale from 0-100). Similarly, women rank feminists an average three points higher than men do.

I attribute a lot of this discrepancy to the negative, and often inaccurate, stereotypes affiliated with feminism - like all that bra burning that supposedly happened in 1968 but never actually transpired. Somehow these, and so many other, inaccurate stereotypes continue to push their way into modern society and politics, but women don’t band together to overcome the misconceptions that plague feminism. Environmentalists have been pegged as “tree huggers” or “hippies” with the whole host of negative stereotypes that came with those terms, but they came together and turned “going green” into a positive and trendy movement. Women aren’t doing this. Somehow women not only let negative stereotypes persist, we believe them.

There are less than three weeks before an election that has especially high stakes for women. Access to women’s health services and equal pay are not issues that women should be so passive about. Feminism is as relevant now as it was during the women’s suffrage movement, but it is certainly not the same as it has been in the past. With so many people making assertions about the role of women in the upcoming election, it is even more important for us to make feminism into a movement that represents modern women’s concerns and feelings. But this can’t happen as long as we let outdated and arcane stereotypes hinder what should be a revival of feminism.

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Advocacy, Public Health, and the Media