What's In A Name? Why The Word 'Feminism' Freaks People Out

by Kristina Udice

I want to talk about feminism.

Was that too blunt? Too much, too fast? Should I tone it down a bit? Okay, let’s give it another shot.

I need to talk about feminism.

I’m sorry, couldn’t help it. I tried, though. And, I’m not stopping any time soon. So, if you’re uncomfortable, good. It’ll pass.

There’s something about the way people react to the word “feminism” that makes me laugh.

And, by laugh, I mean let some uncomfortable noise of confusion pass through my lips to cover up the feeling of my heart falling into my stomach while others cringe at my mentioning of the word.

People — and by that, I don’t mean all people, not at all, but enough that an article like this is necessary — seem to find such utter discomfort in hearing the word feminism and in declaring themselves as feminist, that it’s gotten me thinking.

What is it about feminism that drives people away? Misconceptions? Stereotypes?

Whenever the word "feminism" comes up in conversation, there’s a general uneasiness that permeates the room — an awkward shuffling of feet, a cough, the diverting of eyes to anywhere but the person who first spoke the word.


Is it the ideals of feminism that cause this weirdness, or the word itself? Is it the lack of knowledge on the topic of feminism that works as a catalyst against the movement?

If we can’t believe in the word itself, how can the idea — those fundamental beliefs — gain any traction? If everyone is so consumed with making sure they aren’t labeled as feminist, does feminism have any hope at all?

These are the questions that keep me up at night, and they should keep you up, too.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard women talking about feminism like it’s some kind of disease they’re trying to cover up.

“I’m not a feminist, but...”

That phrase alone is enough to drive me crazy because do these people even know what they’re saying? Seriously. What do they think feminism is? Women in togas ruling over the men they’ve finally enslaved?

Is it the abolition of marriage? Is it the disintegration of the little suburban house with white-picket fences, two kids and a dog named spot? Is it the end of homemade chocolate chip cookies? No, really. I want to know what people are so afraid of.

Because, in saying you don’t believe in feminism — in saying you don’t want to be “labeled” as a feminist — you’re stripping away any hope you had for an argument in favor of equality before you’ve even had enough time to form it.

There’s such a patriarchal negativity to the word "feminism" and people are falling for it.

It’s a connotation that shouldn’t exist, spread around by those who fear feminism or allow their ignorance of the word cloud their judgment.

It’s the looks, the roll of the eyes, the condescending chuckles, the exhausting and, usually, quite condescending questions that beat you into submission.

"No I’m not a feminist, but... I don’t like labels. I’m not a feminist; I love men. I believe in everything except…"

We have to stop making excuses and open our eyes to the reality of the situation.

We’re only hurting ourselves the longer we let feminism make us uncomfortable — the longer we let fear of the word cancel out the benefits of the movement itself.

It’s a toxic cycle — one that needs to be broken, fast. Because, in saying you don’t need feminism, you’re helping build up the walls that have taken women like Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem and Maya Angelou years to break down in the first place.

This reluctance and this fear to accept feminism comes initially from ignorance — both active and passive.

It has to do, in some part, with the lack of awareness. Some people just don’t understand what feminism is. Isn’t that bizarre? There are people out there who don’t understand what feminism means.

Like I said before, it’s not about women taking over the world and it’s not about women having more power over men — it’s not about being better than anyone or anything.

It’s basic equality; it’s human rights; it’s mutual respect.

It’s the belief that rape jokes aren’t funny. It’s the idea that everyone’s sexuality should be embraced and not shamed.

It’s the knowledge that a woman shouldn’t be expected to sacrifice her life and her career to be a Samantha Stevens (minus the magical twitching nose), but knowing that choosing to stay at home to raise your children doesn’t make you any less deserving of the equal opportunities afforded to men.

The fundamental values of feminism are quite simple. It’s the knowledge that all people — regardless of race, religion, gender or social standing — deserve social, political and economic equality.

And, contrary to popular belief, we’re just not there yet. That’s another problem feminism faces: So many people are convinced we’ve made it.

That’s it; game over, we won. People think that because we’ve come so far, there’s nowhere left for us to go. But, the fight isn’t over.

Women still get paid less than men for the same work. There is still an unfair representation of women in office. There is still an unhealthy degradation of women in media, and slut-shaming and rape culture still run rampant across television screens and magazine covers.

There are still obstacles that need to be overcome, and we have to come together. We have to accept the beliefs and the values of feminism to get there.

So, let the discomfort fall away and embrace the word feminism and all it entails — equality, justice and dirty looks from ignorant individuals. I can guarantee you, it’ll be worth it.