Taking Back ‘the F Word’

By Debra Miller

Just when you were hoping for another feminist hero to call your own, Marissa Mayer ruined the party before it began. In an interview with Makers, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer stressed that she does not call herself a feminist because it has “become in many ways a more negative word.” She elaborates, “You know, there are amazing opportunities all over the world for women, and I think that there is more good that comes out of positive energy around that then comes out of negative energy.”

Apparently, Mayer is yet another American who associates feminism with man-hating and complaining. Mayer, and those with similar views, naively believe that opportunities are available in abundance for all people, and all they need to do is use them wisely. While the feminist movement is responsible for opportunity generators like Title IX, women, the LGBTQ community, people of color, those with disabilities, and other underrepresented groups still have a long way to go. The current debate in Congress over the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act is one example of the failure of policy makers to grant ALL women equal rights.

Unfortunately, Mayer is not the first successful woman in the public eye to denounce feminism. The list of such women includes Lady Gaga, Sandra Day O’Connor, and Michelle Bachmann. Sarah Jessica Parker, who will play Gloria Steinem in a new movie, insisted, “I’m not a feminist, I’m a humanist.” Why are so many powerful women afraid to associate themselves with the fight for gender equity?

Perhaps it is merely a lack of knowledge about what we still need to fight for or the misunderstanding of what the term “feminism” actually means. For the record, feminism, by definition, means “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.” Activists tend to include the rights of all underprivileged groups into their personal definitions as well. Why would people NOT want to identify themselves as a feminist?

Lady Gaga said “I’m not a feminist – I, I hail men, I love men. I celebrate American male culture, and beer, and bars and muscle cars…” Right. Because that’s what feminism is all about. Hating beer and cars.

However, one must also consider that many people feel that the feminist movement is largely focused on and made up of white, middle-class, straight, cisgendered women. For this reason, many women, often those who are marginalized by the feminist movement, do not identify as such.

We want people to see that by calling yourself a feminist, you are not co-opted into a larger group or movement; you do not immediately have to endorse all the views of all the feminists who have come before you.  Calling oneself a feminist is, rather, a commitment: a commitment to a movement, and to making that movement better and more inclusive. Feminists MUST work with the knowledge that gender oppression is very much tied up with all other forms of oppression, so working for gender equality means also working to eradicate racism, ablism, agism, homophobia, transphobia, etc.

We must take on the responsibility to teach people what feminism actually is, and what it is not.

Let’s take back the F word. Let’s remind those who dismiss feminism how important it is to continually demand equal rights. Let’s educate the next generation to associate feminism with activism, positivity, and compassion. Let’s bring men into the feminist movement as allies in the fight for human rights. Let’s never take for granted the rights that we have now, because they could all be taken away. Let’s stand for the REAL meaning of feminism and include everyone in it.

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