April 07, 2014
Even those who work for gender equality and women’s rights recoil at the word “feminist.” Is feminism dead or has the term been poisoned?
“I wouldn’t call myself a feminist.”
I looked at the strong, intelligent, accomplished woman in front of me. Only 11 years separated us, but at that moment the gulf between us felt enormous.
I’m 40 years old and attended college in the mid-’90s. It was the height of the grunge and riot grrrl movement, an important part of third-wave feminism, which began in the early ’90s. At the time, feminism was punk rock. It was cool and it was anti-corporate. It was Doc Martens and flannel shirts, Kurt Cobain and Bikini Kill.
All these years later, as a married mom of two kids, I still consider myself a feminist. I’m in good company—Beyoncé has become very public about her feminism. She wrote an essay for the Shriver Report titled “Gender Equality Is a Myth” and sampled a feminist lecture in her song Flawless. If anyone can rehabilitate the man-hating, dour reputation of feminism, the gorgeous, sparkly, almost universally loved Beyoncé isn’t a bad choice.
But when I bring up the word “feminism” to some of my younger friends, they recoil in distaste. It’s an opinion shared by successful, independent women who believe strongly in gender equality.
How did the word become so reviled?