Home CommentaryEditorial Editorial: Feminism—when did the meaning of this word change?

Editorial: Feminism—when did the meaning of this word change?

By The Concordian September 24, 2013

Feminist. In 1895, the Oxford dictionary defined feminism as “advocacy of the rights of women (based on the theory of equality of the sexes).” It is now the year 2013 and although at its core, feminist principles have remained about the rights and equality of women, the connotation of the word has changed.

Groups like men’s rights activists believe that feminists paint a negative portrayal of men. Just recently, a men’s rights group in Calgary started a “Don’t be that girl” campaign wherein they created posters advocating things such as just because a woman doesn’t remember having sex doesn’t mean it wasn’t consensual. These groups wish to dispel the idea that men are responsible for rape and many of their websites disparage feminists as “man-haters.”

However, it is not only men’s rights groups that have this misconceived notion of feminism. Maria Peluso, who has taught several classes where the focus is on women, noted that many of her female students say they liked feminine thought but did not want to be labeled as feminists.

Writers Beth Larson and Lara Orlandic of the University of Illinois’ paper The Online Gargoyle feel that one of the reasons why the title ‘feminist’, has a negative connotation has to do with the idea that men and women are already equal in North American society and therefore feminists are just complaining needlessly.

“Since the Women’s Liberation Movement changed women’s status in society so drastically, people tend to overlook the present-day gender inequalities. Even though men and women are considered to be politically equal, there is a long way to go until both genders are socially and economically equal” (Larson and Orlandic, “Our favorite “f-word”: The misconceptions of feminism in Uni and mainstream culture,” The Online Gargoyle. Nov. 29, 2011).

At Concordia, we are fortunate to have The 2110 Centre for Gender Advocacy and the newly created Sexual Assault Centre working tirelessly to promote awareness of gender issues and advocating for an end to sexual violence. The centre’s latest workshop series, “Another Word for Gender,” is an example of how even though many of the events focus on issues facing women, these issues are not exclusionary to men nor are they meant to blame men. Rather, these workshops look at constructive solutions to problems such as gender oppression and sexual violence. The workshops are pegged as “an intro to feminist organizing and action,” and yet they in no way support the negative connotation associated with the word. Instead, these workshops support the official definition of feminism by promoting equality for all genders.

Nevertheless, women and men hesitate to call themselves feminists. The hypocrisy of media has had a strong influence on the millennial generation, convincing many that to call oneself a feminist is to align oneself with bra-burning extremists. Although people like this do exist, they do not represent all feminists.

The key to defeating the stereotypes surrounding feminism is education. As previously noted, Concordia has excellent resources for this and perhaps by taking the opportunity to learn what identifying oneself as feminist really means more people will proudly declare themselves as such.


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