Every year I encounter so many young women that say “I believe in equality and women’s rights but…I’m not a feminist.” Or the ultimate, “I can’t be a feminist, I have a boyfriend." I want to try to explore why young women are so apprehensive with identifying themselves as a feminist or with the feminist movement.
The negative stigma that is attached to feminism, feminist or even Women’s Studies majors is that they are man-hating, overly masculine, ugly, domineering, anti-feminine, gay, "feminazis" that don’t shave their legs and only want to take away men's rights and control everyone. Now, what woman would want to associate herself with people like that? So many of these young women are beginning to try to “figure themselves out” and are turned off and intimidated by the idea of being a feminist.
Another problem that they could find about feminist is that they are constantly questioning things, often about everyday life. Many Women’s Studies students are trained to look at things through a “feminist lens,” which can often seem like work, and inconvenient. The questions are difficult and complicated, which can often result in confusing or even contradictory answers. Feminist can seem like they are just complicating and politicizing simple situations that were fine before they began to challenge the meaning behind it.
Feminism challenges American culture, which can be threatening to others and the institutions that have influenced our very way of life. Could a connection with this movement scare women, making them afraid of seeming defiant or difficult?
Young women may see feminism as added work and confusion; would they have to give up the small things that they enjoy in life? The fear of losing their femininity may drive women to disassociate themselves from feminism, despite their beliefs in gender equality.
So if feminism is complicated and difficult and requires women (and men) to constantly question traditions and culture, why do they do it? They do it because they see a problem with the current way of thinking. They see that the small inequalities in those small situations that can greatly affect how someone will identify themselves and treat others. They find challenging their culture and the narrow definitions of freedoms and rights empowering and necessary!