However, the widespread, perceived public understanding of feminism strays far from its original vision for equal rights. Today, many people see the feminism movement as overly female-focused; after all, it’s called feminism, not “men-ism”. They cite feminism as being hypocritical, that feminists want women over men rather than equality. Like many other movements, feminism has become defined by its most extreme voices. Just like the Black Lives Matter movement in June of last year was characterized by its riots and not by its peaceful protests, feminism has suffered the same demonization more gradually throughout the years. It is the same case the other way around: many left-leaning people judge all Republicans by their party’s crazy president. The media so easily divides us beyond repair, feeding us with information that will only confirm our pre-existing biases; even the simple concept of equal rights cannot escape its most radical, most controversial proponents from tainting its reputation.
I believe, though, that we should not let a group’s most extreme members define its mission. We must try our best to view each movement objectively, evaluating a group as a whole. It may be hard—news outlets have learned to only report on stories people will actually read, and a large majority of these are negative and/or shocking. At the end of the day, who wants to read about a 100 dollar deal when you could be reading about a billion dollar transaction? A middle school election over a presidential one? But by being a conscious consumer of media, we can reduce the influence media outlets have on our opinions.
As such, feminism has become an often-hated movement in society. When people hear the word “feminist,” they may imagine the angry so-called “feminazi,” a person who uses feminist ideals to mask the fact that they dislike men. While people like this exist, the majority of feminists fight for both men’s and women’s rights. Many feminist pages are all-inclusive and intersectional; while they primarily bring women’s issues to the forefront of their activism, they also recognize the issues men deal with, attempting to create online spaces where everyone can feel welcome. To me, this is the true goal of feminism—fighting for equal rights requires tackling everyone’s problems.
Too often I see feminism mischaracterized, leading many of my peers to ignore its values or refuse to identify with it. I definitely don’t blame them; while many may agree with its inherent ideals—it’s equal rights, how could they not?—they fear being ostracized or accidentally mislabelling themselves as overly radical. However, I think it’s important that people try to see past these misconceptions, peeling back the curtain to reveal people trying to enact meaningful change. Some people may still view feminism as a threat, believing it as a danger to conservative values, traditional gender norms, or men’s rights. But true feminism—and progress—is not necessarily transition; it is expansion. People can hold onto their time-honored beliefs while respecting new ones. Women can have long hair without feeling uncomfortable with those who have short hair. Men can wear skirts or pants depending on how they want to dress that particular day. Men can still be the money-makers in the family, but women can also fill that role without shame. Unless harmful or severely outdated, these pre-existing norms do not have to be changed, as there is room for expansion. We only need to expand what we see as normal, becoming not only tolerant but celebratory of our differences.