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After spending several years in social services, Nicole has finally followed her lifelong dream of being a full-time writer. In addition to her work for The Hudsucker, Nicole is also a staff writer for Womanista. An avid comic book fan, BBQ aficionado, professional makeup artist and first-time mom, Nicole can be found exploring Kansas City rich history when she's not blogging about suburban life at Suburban Flamingo.

Feminism’s Image Problem

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Image Credit: IndieWire

In November of this year the website Jezebel posted an article entitled “The Many Misguided Reasons Famous Ladies Say ‘I’m Not a Feminist”. In the article they broke down into the aforementioned “misguided” reasons statements from celebrities and public figures like Lady Gaga, Bjork, Sandra Day O’Connor, and others. The article was intended to subtly finger-point at women who shied away from the term “feminism” whilst also pointing out the hypocrisy of the statement “I’m not a feminist.” The selected quotations from the various women backed this up with a standout comment being from Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer: “I don’t think that I would consider myself a feminist.  I think that I certainly believe in equal rights, I believe that women are just as capable, if not more so in a lot of different dimensions…” Comparing that statement with the Oxford Dictionary’s definition of feminism (“the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of political, social, and economic equality to men”), it’s clear that Jezebel’s Katie Dries was right to point out the hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy aside however, there is a bigger story here. The reasons that Dries provide aren’t reasons. They are categories, little boxes where each denial of feminism can be dropped.  The bigger story is what’s going on with feminism that so many famous women—women who are in positions that give them a platform and an amplified voice to use towards the cause of women—are stepping away from any association with the term? And if so many influential women are turning into feminism deniers what does that mean for the feminist movement on the whole (and the cause of women’s rights and equality?)  Why has “feminist” become a dirty word?

There is no one reason. Like any issue the reasons and causes for the backlash against feminism and the label feminist is multifaceted and multilayered.  The feminist movement and even the very subject of feminism is very diverse and it is that diversity that creates a large strain on the overall image of the movement: with so many views on what gender equality actually means and looks like the feminist community has devolved into a world of nasty, snarky infighting where anyone with a differing opinion may find themselves subjected to hateful, unkind comments. The comments on the November article are pretty tame, but a deeper look into other postings about feminism or feminist issues on Jezebel is like taking a trip into the worst of the web and sometimes the nastiness and lack of support for another woman’s point of view shows itself in the actual “article” itself. In another November article regarding Michelle Duggar’s comments and philosophies on modesty, author Rebecca Ray didn’t even bother to frame her work as anything other than mockery and contempt meanwhile in the comments there were miniature battles being fought over whether or not being supportive of the encouragement of modesty was good or just a form of the too-often-thrown-about term “slutshaming”. When there is so much interpersonal arguing and lack of support for the various schools of feminist thought it is no wonder that the institution would get a bad name.

That bad name is exactly why some women have begun distancing themselves from it. In the Dries article, some of the women she highlights even give the bad name feminism has taken on as the reason they aren’t claiming to be feminists. Carrie Underwood’s quote is very telling of the reputation issue:  “I wouldn’t go so far as to say I am a feminist, that can come off as a negative connotation.”  The idea of feminism having a bad rap, as it were, also seems to draw people back to earlier in the movement and brings up dated stereotypes of what being a feminist means.  Bjork, Lady Gaga, Geri Halliwell, Juliette Binoche, Marissa Mayer, and Kelly Clarkson all echo that with their statements.

If an entire generation of women (and if you take into consideration Sandra Day O’Connor’s reluctance to take up the label of feminism, two generations of women) are struggling with the negativity of the terms feminism and feminist, maybe it isn’t the famous ladies’ who are dealing with misguided reasons. The issue with increasing numbers of influential and powerful women stepping back from feminism isn’t that they are stepping back from feminism. The issue is that feminism and the feminist movement is more willing to point fingers at people calling out the image problem than they are willing to address the image problem feminism has. The issue is that the feminist movement has created a troubled environment for women to operate within the fight for gender equality. One of the elements of equality is to give everyone equal standing regardless their view or perspective. By calling these women “Misguided Dries” and others within the feminist movement are not being very feminist themselves.

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