Who is a feminist? One usually comes up with a certain stereotypical image planted in their mind by the media-“those unattractive, man-hating, non-shaving, angry feminists.” The usual picture is that of a muscular buxom woman, with short hair, baggy clothes and a ruthless man-hating speech. Such a picture overlaps with the media defined picture of a butch lesbian too, because often believe that the man-hating feminist desires a world devoid of men- so all bond of love and sexual affinity must be, for themselves, with women.
“I was a woman terribly vulnerable, critical, using femaleness as a sort of standard or yardstick to measure and discard men. Yes-something like that. I was an Anna who invited defeat from men without ever being conscious of it. (But I am conscious of it. And being conscious of it means I shall leave it all behind me and become-but what?) I was stuck fast in an emotion common to women of our time, that can turn them bitter, or Lesbian, or solitary.”- Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook
Such statements do not only condemn lesbianism as the only alternative to having a non-sexist sexual experience, but shrink feminism to a movement aimed at producing lesbians.
Those constant stereotypes that lead women into saying “well I’m not a feminist, but…” just to be sure they weren’t going to be grouped together with those feminists. When recently Miley Cyrus after her controversial “tongue-sticking out” act, stated: “I’m one of the biggest feminists in the world because I tell women not to be scared of anything.”, women celebrities started avoiding the label because of its negative controversial connotations.
Katy Perry: “I am not a feminist, but I do believe in the strength of women.”
Carrie Underwood: “I wouldn’t go so far as to say I am a feminist, that can come off as a negative connotation. But I am a strong female.”
Beyoncé: “That word [feminist] can be very extreme … I guess I am a modern-day feminist. I do believe in equality … Why do you have to choose what type of woman you are? Why do you have to label yourself anything? I’m just a woman, and I love being a woman.”
Popular culture also has certain ways of talking of feminists. For instance, the term, “feminist killjoy” is fairly common. We live in a culture that is so intrinsically patriarchal that half the jokes we hear are sexist; almost all the assumptions we have about women and men are taken for granted and taken to be the “natural” order of things. I remember a particular joke about sexual promiscuity- why it is justified in case of boys and considered sinful for girls. “Because if a key can open many locks, it’s a master key; on the other hand if a lock is opened by many keys, it’s a bad lock!” If you happen to point out the inherent sexism in those passing remarks and jokes, you are labelled a “feminist killjoy”. It reminds of the suspicious condescending ridiculing manner in which society viewed the “New Women” when women first started working for wages in the Victorian Age.
Vanity Fair magazine talked about these working, professional women as “odd creatures” who lack man’s superior intellect, but want to be like them. Basically men. But not quite so. They look womanly, but they lack woman’s love of frills, her thirst for gossip, and her aptitude for occupations. The entire article endorses so many derogatory stereotypes.
Feminists are also represented as motherhood hating and wrecker of domestic bliss. There was a time when abortion rights legalization became a central issue and many female activists fought for it. That does not mean that they condemn motherhood and believe that women everywhere, in every time, in every situation should not have a family. Revered feminist and popular author of Pulitzer Prize winning The Colour Purple, Alice Walker’s daughter Rebecca Walker found her mother’s feminism stifling for her choices.
“You see, my mum taught me that children enslave women. I grew up believing that children are millstones around your neck, and the idea that motherhood can make you blissfully happy is a complete fairytale.
In fact, having a child has been the most rewarding experience of my life. Far from ‘enslaving’ me, three-and-a-half-year-old Tenzin has opened my world. My only regret is that I discovered the joys of motherhood so late – I have been trying for a second child for two years, but so far with no luck.
I was raised to believe that women need men like a fish needs a bicycle. But I strongly feel children need two parents and the thought of raising Tenzin without my partner, Glen, 52, would be terrifying.”
So, again, as I have reiterated again and again in all my articles, feminism is not one single line of thought. Every women is an individual with a unique life. Her feminism should be just as unique.