Destigmatizing The 'F' Word: The Global Misunderstanding Of Feminism

by Kelsey Frizzell

Even though the feminist movement has made big strides in the past decade in terms of raising awareness, it still seems to be lacking the width of support it needs to take legislative or long-term action.

It can come across as somewhat extreme at times, or as solely a movement for women, thereby isolating the men who would be otherwise more likely to get involved. It also lacks bipartisanship.

The biggest problem is that it lacks support on a fundamental, societal level. There are certain values ingrained in our culture that will continue to impede the progress of feminism. And, well, the word feminism alone can sometimes be a barrier.

Instead of taking the traditional route to college, last year I took a detour and moved to Brazil. While I expected to be met with higher crime rates, something I didn't expect was the surprisingly advanced women's rights initiatives.

For someone who had begun to lose hope in the power of the movement, it provided me an unexpected and refreshing revival.

Brazil gave me a whole new perspective: There is no such thing as a college rape culture; rape is rape is rape, and it's always treated as a crime. Sexual harassment is out of the question, and domestic abuse is probably the most quickly prosecuted offense.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is a woman, and she was just re-elected to a second term. The CEO of Petrobras, the largest corporation in the country (and eighth-largest in the world), is also a woman.

The country as a whole has one of the highest percentages of women in corporate positions in the world, at around 30 percent.

Surprised? Well, it doesn't matter either way because the fact is, our South American neighbor is doing much better in the field of women's rights than we are.

Beyond all of this, the biggest difference between the countries' women's rights characteristics is a subtle one; it's not something noticeable from just a one-week stay in Rio.

After talking with many Brazilians — feminists and indifferents alike —, I've come to notice a universal theme.

Just as there is liberalism and conservatism, there are always two sides to a coin. Here, there is feminismo and there is machismo. There are the activists and those who oppose them. Logical, right?

But what the heck is machismo?

Well, I wondered the same thing. Technically, in English, the word is the same, and it means “a strong or exaggerated sense of manliness; an assumptive attitude that virility, courage, strength and entitlement to dominate are inherent attributes of masculinity.”

The most extreme example of this I've found in the United States is the so-called Men's Rights Movement, which mostly exists in online communities like the one in which the UCSB Shooter, Elliot Rodger, participated.

Mostly, these kinds of groups focus inner anger and hate toward women and are full of highly contradictory content. But, this is just another extremist group, and not really what I'm talking about.

In a more everyday context, however, it can be harder to spot because it's been the average mentality until the surge of the feminist movement.

It shows up particularly during feminist demonstrations, like the uproar against the “Still Not Asking For It” photos, and in casual comments and "jokes," the sexism in which we fail to recognize or take seriously.

In Brazil, this would be definitely be labeled as machismo. What do American's call it? Well, we simply don't call it anything.

The traditional gender roles are so ingrained in our culture that when a man wants to subjugate a woman or speaks out in protest to her having equal rights, we don't even have a word or label for his attitude.

Maybe he's called “old-fashioned” or is said to have “traditional values.”

But, what is traditional about inequality?

The main problem is that men already have the upper hand, so instead of fighting for their own rights, whether they realize it consciously or not, these groups fight for the oppression of others.

Let's get back to feminism.

The technical definition of feminism, on the other hand, is “the advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of political, social and economic equality to men.”

There is nothing in this definition that implies women aim for greater power than men.

By the definition, and by the majority of the movement, it in no way emphasizes "the supreme power of women" or advocacy for a return to the matriarchal society. There should be no reason for men to feel threatened.

It simply advocates equality.

In that case, why is this movement even called feminist?

By calling this entire movement "feminism," we give the impression that it's the norm for women to be unequal when really, we should question why the movement is even being debated.

There is no feminism. Yes, there are feminist extremists, like the "Brave New World" level preaching of the Femitheist. Just like the MRM groups that I mentioned before, these are outliers and extremists, which are present in any movement.

And, in reality, the word to describe this movement should be the polar opposite of extreme machismo.

It should be the definition of an attitude that advocates women's rights above those of men, and it should be left behind as a strictly extremist attitude. (Let me reiterate that I am not advocating feminist extremism, but rather, simply stating that the word "feminism" should be redefined.)

Feminism, as we know it, should become simply about equality.

Men can walk home alone at night without fear of being raped, so why not women? Men can wear what they want without being harassed on the streets, so why can't women?

Just because I have breasts and a vagina does not make me incapable of anything, and does not make me unequal to any task. So, why will I still get paid less than a man in the same job?

We're not talking about special treatment, we're not talking about privilege and we don't want anything outrageous.

We just want to be judged for our actions and intellect rather than the availability of our vaginas and cup size of our breasts. We just want to feel safe when we walk in the streets, regardless of what we're wearing.

That doesn't sound like feminism to me; it sounds like basic human rights, or the difference between objects and people.

To be more ambitious, it calls for society to look beyond gender roles in all aspects and decisions of everyday life.

It's about more than just sex.

It's not just women who need to get on board with this. As Emma Watson stressed in her United Nations speech on feminism, we need men, too.

This is not a movement of women — it's about humanity, equality and fundamental individual rights.

The solution to all of this does not just lie with the women of the movement. It's not just about femininity and the public image of women. In order to succeed, it has to redefine the cultural definition of masculinity as well.

Men have to be able to feel comfortable with themselves without having to prove their “manliness.” They have to be able to stay home with their kids while their wife works, and not feel like they're falling short of their “obligations to the family.”

Boys and men everywhere should be able to participate in theater or dance without being labeled as “gay,” and to dislike sports or guns without being made fun of for being a “pussy.”

The oppression of women into the passive and feminine role will only stop when men stop feeling the need to prove their active and masculine roles. And, this kind of attitude doesn't change overnight.

This attitude will only change when we change it for ourselves, and for our children. It will change when we teach our sons respect instead of teaching our daughters protection-based modesty.

It will change when we teach boys to control their bodies and instincts instead of teaching girls to be ashamed of theirs.

It will change when we stop labeling everything with a gender and an obligation and just let people be who they are.

We need to take down the boundary between what a man and a woman can be and do. Our capabilities and our choices are not and should not be limited by what we have between our legs.

So, why are we even still debating this?

Citations: Women in Corporate Leadership (TIME)