By Dominic Salacki, Staff Writer
What is Feminism? Well, these days everyone seems to have their own definition.
Some people believe the term represents a movement that overlooks men and focuses solely on women and their rights. Meanwhile, others accept the feminist moniker and stand by their belief of social, political, and emotional equality among men and women. Even the women of Saturday Night Live had a viewpoint on feminism with their music video "This is not a Feminist Song." The skit had cast members admitting to not having the guts to write a feminist song due to the barriers of political correctness that they name in the video.
The inability to rally around one definition is a problem. It's creating a clear division among women - causing setbacks for the feminism movement. Below, I take a closer look at the implications by citing three recent examples that were ensnarled in controversy.
Women Helping Women
Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders’ campaigns have been affected by this lack of clarity on feminism. After recent polls showed that most millennial women plan to vote for Bernie Sanders, well-known feminists Gloria Steinem and former U.S. Speaker of the House Madeleine Albright had words for the female millennials. But these words pushed the barriers of political morale, with the women coming off as pushy and parental. An endorsement of Clinton given by Albright had her urging all American women to side with Clinton, actually scolding her audience.
“There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other,” warned Albright at a Clinton rally.
Less than a week later, Albright released an op-ed for The New York Times, expressing remorse for what she said that was used in the wrong context at the wrong time, rebuking accusations that she looks solely to gender when supporting a candidate for the presidency. Albright then reaffirmed her belief and encouragement of women obliging to help one another.
“In a society where women often feel pressured to tear one another down, our saving grace lies in our willingness to lift one another up,” Albright said. “While young women may not want to hear anything more from this aging feminist, I feel it is important to speak to women coming of age at a time when a viable female presidential candidate, once inconceivable, is a reality.”
Meanwhile, on Real Time with Bill Maher, Gloria Steinem suggested that the women who supporting Sanders are doing so just so they can meet men.
“When you’re young, you’re thinking, ‘Where are the boys?' The boys are with Bernie,” Steinem said on the HBO talk-show.
Similar to her fellow feminist, Albright, Steinem later apologized on her Facebook page for her words.
Many American women are displeased at these so-called feminist declarations by Steinem and Albright. “Shame on Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright for implying that we as women should be voting for a candidate based solely on gender,” said Zoe Trimboli, a 23-year-old from Vermont who supports Sanders and describes herself as a feminist, in a Facebook post. “I can tell you that shaming me and essentially calling me misinformed and stupid is NOT the way to win my vote.”
Numbers, Labels & True Feminism
Only 26 percent of Americans consider themselves to be feminists, according to a recent YouGov poll, with 32 percent of women embracing the label, while 19 percent of men do the same.
When the non-feminist respondents were given an array of options to claim as to how they came to realize their stance, 40 percent of respondents believe it is because “feminists are too extreme,” while 18 percent of male and female respondents believe that “feminists are anti-men.”
This poll shows the need to clarify what true feminism means, and change people's perceptions of the label.
In an interview in Forbes, self-promotion expert Bonnie Marcus breaks down the barriers of feminism with Teresa Younger, CEO and president of the Ms. Foundation, a small non-profit that works for feminism.
“For a long time, the definition of feminism has been defined by the opponents that want to divide the population and those supporters," Younger said. “Generally, if you just give the definition of feminism without the label in any conversation most people are on the same page... It’s about how they label that.”
“In my experience, that push back comes from the perception that feminists don’t like men;” Younger said, “that it’s not inclusive and it only reflects the interests and priorities of one race and ethnicity.”
Where I believe Americans have gone wrong is the fact that we are all so obsessed with labels. That’s what it comes down to, for life itself, for that matter. We need concrete labels for our human minds to make sense of what is around us. But until humans evolve enough until the need for labels no longer exists, Americans, including Millennials, need to be educated on what it means to be a feminist.
“As long as we believe in the same principles to measure equality and opportunity, I’m not going to judge anyone for not 'calling' it feminism. You should have that choice, which is what feminism ultimately is about,” Younger said. “It’s about giving women and men a full cadre of choices about what they can do, what they want to do, and how they can get those goals accomplished.”
Lena Dunham: Survivor of 'Estrogen Blindness'
Writer/actor Lena Dunham has made sure to voice her thoughts and opinions any way she can. With the help of an interview with Hillary Clinton for her own newsletter, Lenny, Dunham and her backers seem to be part of a never-ending effort to draw more millennial voters towards Clinton’s strong campaign rather than Sanders’.
“Do you consider yourself a feminist?,” Dunham asked the presidential candidate in the interview.
“Yes,” Clinton responded. “Absolutely.”
Dunham is a strong, armoured person who perseveres and never backs down without a fight. She knows how to stand her ground and stand up for what she believes in. As a self-professed feminist, she doesn’t hesitate to disregard those negative connotations that come from the label.
“Nothing gets me angrier than when someone implies I’m voting for Hillary Clinton simply because she’s female,” said Dunham at an event in Iowa, “as if I have some feminist version of beer-goggles, let’s call it ‘estrogen blindness,' and I just kind of walk like a zombie towards the nearest vagina. This assumption is condescending at best and it is sharply misogynistic at worst.”
Dunham also said that she is supporting Clinton because of her policies, her track record, her beliefs and because of her ever-so-famous pantsuits. However, projections that most women would follow Dunham's lead in supporting Clinton may not be accurate.
“Women were expected to help power Mrs. Clinton to the Democratic nomination, but as she struggles to overcome a tough challenge from Mr. Sanders... her support among them has been surprisingly shaky,” said Alan Rappeport in a New York Times article. “Young women, in particular, have been drawn to the septuagenarian socialist from Vermont, and the dynamic has disappointed feminists who dreamed of Mrs. Clinton’s election as a capstone to their long struggle for equality.”
Millennials are reportedly the most progressive generation of all time, but it’s appalling as to how we can’t get organized around an issue like feminism. Feminism came along because men were always the “leaders" and “bread-winners,” and women wanted opportunities, recognition, and respect. From the dawn of the suffragette movement to differences in work wages between genders, women have been fighting for their share of rights as productive and useful members of society for a long time, having proven themselves ever since. Feminism is what led women to the 21st century, and “equality” will lead humans into the future.