Why we should all be feminists


Upper School students Nina Rosenblum ’18, Abby Leyson ’18, Gianna Morano ’18 and Emily Coster ’18 participated in the Women’s March in New York City January 21.

We all ought to be feminists. Yes, the movement has stigma–but that, in itself, is one of the many reasons why it is still necessary. After all, feminism is simply “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes,” according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary. All too often, however, people question the legitimacy and necessity of feminism, and as a result, both proponents of the movement and women as a whole are degraded.
Often, critics of feminism think of the movement, which advocates for basic equality, as a vehicle for women to blame, attack, or emasculate men. According to a national survey conducted in 2015 by the Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation, 52 percent of men responded that feminism unfairly blames men for women’s challenges. Further, significant numbers of both men and women claim not to be feminists, with half of men and one-third of women saying so, according to the Washington Post survey.
Evidence of feminism’s stigma is also visible in pop culture, with celebrities such as Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Kelly Clarkson, and Carrie Underwood publicly stating that they are not feminists due to the negative connotations of the word and the movement in general, according to huffingtonpost.com.
In today’s society, feminists are generally thought of as bitter, over-aggressive, and man-hating. But that is not the attitude of the feminist movement. In fact, to “hate men” would contradict the very foundation of the movement, which is the equality of the sexes.
I am tired of defending myself against men and women who have asked me if I am “against men.” Too often, I have to explain that feminists are not “man-haters,” and that these hateful people are, in fact, the antithesis of the movement. Female friends have called me a “whiner” for taking part in the Women’s March, and I am exhausted from explaining to men and women that I am not crazy because I am a feminist.

Upper School students Nina Rosenblum ’18, Abby Leyson ’18, Gianna Morano ’18 and Emily Coster ’18 participated in the Women’s March in New York City January 21. Emily Coster ’18

Of course, there are extreme activists who exploit the feminist platform, but there are fringe radicals in most movements. So, why does our society automatically assume these individuals define the entire movement?
Often, critics of feminism claim not to “see the point” of the movement, which essentially trivializes women’s desire to be treated equally. These arguments ignore the lasting effects of the oppression women have experienced in the past. After all, it would be disingenuous to suggest that the discrimination women experienced throughout history has no effect on our society today.
In addition to the quantifiable evidence of discrimination against women, there are other insidious, but less-obvious manifestations of gender stereotypes and inequality.
When young girls assert themselves and exhibit leadership skills, they are “bossy.” When boys do the same, however, they are commended as “leaders.” I vividly remember being called “bossy” by classmates in my Kindergarten class. It stung.
Further, femininity and connotations associated with the female gender are used to insult boys and girls alike. There are numerous insulting names and phrases, some of which are too profane to include or to dignify here, that deride females and exalt males. For instance, doing something “like a girl” or being “scared like a little girl” are negative and meant to be offensive and to degrade. In contrast, phrases such as “man up,” “wearing the pants in the relationship,” “be a man,” or “man of the household” associate competence, leadership behavior, and courage with males. 
In a recent campaign, Sacred Heart Greenwich tried to subvert the demeaning connotations of the phrase “like a girl.” For instance, photos of Sacred Heart student-athletes captioned with the words “play like a girl” are scattered around the school.
Social norms, such as common phrases and basic language, train children to believe that females are inferior. Boys and girls are taught that girls should keep quiet, be dependent on others, and remember that they can never do things as well as boys.
I have attended an all-girls’ school for six years, and some common responses I receive from both males and females after telling them are, “That’s rough” and “Do you hate it?” or “Are the girls, like, catty and super-mean to each other?”
My 15-year-old brother attends an all-boys’ school. He has never received negative comments about it.
In a broader sense, a woman’s worth in our society, more often than not, depends on her appearance. Movies, television programs, and fashion magazines perpetuate virtually unattainable physical standards as hallmarks of female beauty. In some popular music, lewd lyrics often debase and objectify women.
According to wsj.com, women earn less than their male counterparts in 439 of 446 professions in the Unites States. On average, female surgeons and physicians earn 64 percent of their male counterparts, according to wsj.com.
In fact, well-educated women working in white-collar jobs experience the widest income disparity, according to wsj.com. This is chiefly because financial bonuses in corporate professions are awarded to whomever works the longest hours and to people who frequently change employers, which often cause women who choose to raise children to earn less. Also, deep-rooted social norms and stereotypes have an effect on women’s incomes, according to wsj.com.
In the United States, women experience sexual assault and harassment at a disproportionately high rate. One in five women and one in 75 men will be raped in their lifetime, according to cdc.gov.
Due to the stigma of the word “feminism,” public figures, singers, actresses, and writers have suggested alternative words for the term, such as “humanism,” according to huffingtonpost.com and theguardian.comHowever, in order for our society to have a chance of solving issues of gender inequality, we must call feminism by its name– because it is more than human rights. It addresses the problems that individuals face because of their gender. If we deny that gender is even a basis of discrimination, then there is no hope of overcoming gender inequality.
Further, to shed the label of feminism is to suggest that there are not injustices specific to gender. It would insinuate that women were not treated as the inferior gender throughout history. It would indicate that women no longer face challenges because they are women. It would imply that women do not experience stigma in any facet of life. It would assert that our society has solved all conflicts relating to gender–and that simply is not true.
To be a feminist is not to be a victim; it is to be aware that women experience challenges that men do not. To be a feminist is not to be ignorant about the immense progress women have made already, or to be ungrateful for all the rights and privileges women have enjoyed as a result. Rather, to be a feminist in the twenty-first century is to carry on the legacy of those who fought for women in the past, and to fulfill their vision of making life better for future generations of women and men.
– Emily Coster, Opinions Editor and Co-Podcast Editor