The ‘feminist’ stigma

After three waves of women’s movements, the term still makes some people squirm

Queen’s students perform in The Vagina Monologues last February, proving that you don’t have to be a bra-burning man-hater to be a feminist.
Queen’s students perform in The Vagina Monologues last February, proving that you don’t have to be a bra-burning man-hater to be a feminist.
Credit: 
Journal File Photo

I generally don’t tell people I’m a feminist. After countless awkward silences, funny looks and negative reactions, I find it’s best to get to know people before springing the news on them.

For some, the word feminism conjures images of angry man-haters with a penchant for flannel and the biting need to critique patriarchal institutions. Why? I blame it on the rise of radical feminism throughout the 1960s to the ’80s. During this time of second-wave feminism, Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique was published, the National Organization for Women was founded and many American men’s colleges became co-educational. But while women like Friedan and Catharine Mackinnon were fighting the good fight, aggressive and violent measures taken by radical feminists such as Valerie Solanas marred the work of the women before her.

Solanas, famous for her attempt to assassinate Andy Warhol, produced a manifesto entitled S.C.U.M. (Society for Cutting Up Men), calling for an anarchistic uprising in which men and menlovingwomen would be eliminated.

With Solanas stood countless radical feminists, undermining the progression of he women’s movement by discriminating based on gender, and ignoring race and class as other significant means of oppression. With radical feminists like Solanas making claims such as “maleness is a deficiency disease and males are emotional cripples,” how was feminism ever to be taken as a serious movement seeking equalization between the sexes and not as a terrorist plot against men?

Moreover, second-wave feminism’s emphasis focused on the experiences of white, middle-class women, ignoring women of colour, queer concerns and gender ambiguity. Although the third-wave feminism of the 1990s sought to erase the backlash against the movements during the second-wave to create a more inclusive definition of feminism, it was, for the most part, too late. Radical feminists of the second wave had carved a combative impression of feminism into the world’s mind.

This brings me to the present day. This October, I joined the Queen’s Feminist Review (QFR)’s editorial board. Sanctioned under the AMS social issues commission, QFR’s mission is to aspire to be a “publication of high artistic quality and social enlightenment by challenging and encouraging the feminist experience as it exists in the Queen’s community.”

Thrilled to be part of a worthy cause, I immediately told all of my friends and family, only to be disappointed by their reactions. Furious at them making jokes at my expense based on preconceived notions of feminism, I was surprised to discover the people most critical of my choice to join QFR were female.

After three waves of women’s movements, the label of the stereotypical feminist man-hater still lives on. Laura Nguyen, Comm ’07 and co-chair of the Queen’s Feminist Review (QFR), agrees that this is the most predominant stigma feminists encounter.

“The biggest assumption I’ve encountered is that because I’m a feminist, I must hate men,” she said. “People don’t often understand that being a feminist is not replacing patriarchy with matriarchy.”

To Nguyen, this stigma is completely unjustified.

“I think some people may equate empowering women to hating men, but I think they are two very different unrelated ideas.” However, Nguyen said Queen’s has a generally accepting atmosphere.

“Most people seem to be pretty progressive and realize that there are still problems regarding gender equality everywhere.”

Perhaps, but beneath the politically correct shell of our educational institution still lurks the irrational fear of the feminist. Considering there are at least 15 different types of feminism, some radical, some relatively docile in their missions, keeping the masses well-informed is the only weapon available to educate and dispel these stigmas.

Andréa Stanger is the chair of the Women’s Issues Committee and a feminist. “I think that feminism for me is a vision for how the world could look. I think that, as a feminist, I am conscious of the need o create dialogue and to move forward with women’s advocacy,” she said.

“I think being a feminist can carry some negative weight to it, which I acknowledge, but for me, feminism has defined what I think my purpose is, as a woman and as a student.”

Stanger said feminism gets a bad rap because people think that it’s accomplished all that it set out to do.

“Generally speaking, there are many ways that women are involved in the Queen’s community. I think what gets lost is that there are communities where access is not possible, or less possible.There is a disconnect from where an individual woman has come in her life versus where women as a collective have come and still need to go,” Stanger said.

My intention is not to shove the feminist agenda down anyone’s throats. All I ask is that you become informed. Read the Queen’s Feminist Review, listen to Le Tigre, take a women’s studies course, subscribe to Ms. Magazine, and research women like Adrienne Rich, Catharine Mackinnon, Betty Friedan, Alice Walker, and Gloria Steinem.

Feminists—male or female— who try to equalize the world around them are nothing to be afraid of.

—With files from Meghan Sheffield

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