Friday, February 15, 2013

A Feminine Critique: Columnist explains what it means to be a feminist

by Ruthie Kovanen, Columnist

     If you believe that a “feminist” is synonymous with a man-hating bra burner, you haven’t heard the whole story. 

    Most people, when hearing the words “feminist” or “feminism” — the F-words! — immediately think of the terms’ negative connotations. 

    Aside from the fact that bra burning never actually happened, it’s unfair to lump all feminists into one false stereotype. 

    Feminists come from all walks of life — all cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds — and represent all shapes and sizes, sexes, genders, ages and socio-economic levels. 

    In fact, I bet you’re a feminist. Yes, you. 

    In the words of professors Cheris Kramarae and Paula Treichler, authors of the book “A Feminist Dictionary,” feminism “is the radical notion that women are people.” 

    This irreverent yet truthful statement encompasses much of what feminism is aiming for. Women — like men — are people, and deserve rights as such. Some find it difficult to connect the dots between their beliefs and feminism, however.

    When asked whether or not they consider themselves a feminist, many people respond, “I’m not a feminist, but…” and proceed to list off things that the feminist movement achieved or is currently working towards.

    For example, “I’m not a feminist, but I think women should be able to vote, should receive equal pay, should be able to file for divorce, should be able to work outside the home, etc.” 

    There exists a definite disconnect between the common perception of feminism and what it really stands for.

    The feminist movement has achieved a number of basic rights that are often taken for granted today. 

    If you are a woman and you play a sport, wear pants, have a job or study in a university — thank the feminist movement. 

    To sweep aside these accomplishments and brush off the importance of the feminist movement is to discount the efforts of those who have worked tirelessly to achieve the rights we enjoy today.

    Feminism’s work is far from over. Yes, basic rights such as voting have been secured. However, this basic empowerment is only the starting point for future work — and much work still needs to be done. 

    So, why has feminism become something so scary — something with which many people don’t want to identify? 

    One reason, among many, is the negative portrayal of feminism in the media. A well-known example of this is Rush Limbaugh’s habit of referring to feminists as “feminazis.” 

    Such negative and false descriptions of feminists without reference to their many achievements only perpetuates and magnifies stereotypes. 

    Moreover, the lack of women’s perspectives in the media skews the messages and perspectives disseminated by news sources. 

    This is demonstrated by a study conducted in May 2008 by Media Matters for America, which found that many prime-time news shows had female guests only 33 percent of the time.  

    Beyond the negative labels attached to feminism lies a concept that many people, in theory, support.

    After all, “feminism is the radical notion that women are people.”

            Ruthie Kovanen hails from the great state of Michigan, is a sophomore at Pacific Lutheran University, and is studying Anthropology, Hispanic Studies, and Women’s and Gender Studies. Aside from reading and writing about feminism, Ruthie enjoys chatting over a cup of coffee, baking bread, and spending time outdoors.