Tracy, Betsy — Has “Feminism” Become a Bad Word?

Tracy, Betsy. “Has Feminism Become a Bad Word?”  02 Oct. 2014. Web.  02 Mar. 2015.

The word “feminism” became a hot topic in the year 2014, especially after actress and UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, Emma Watson, gave a HeForShe speech on gender equality in September. Utah multimedia journalist Betsy Tracy took to to give her insight on the topic. She explains the word feminism “means different things to different people. While some celebrities embrace it, others are careful not to. Some in Hollywood don’t have any reservations when it comes to answering a touchy question about a loaded question — Are you a feminist?” The author goes on to give several examples of celebrities who have spoken out on their status as a feminist.

Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt appeared on the “Ellen Show,” commenting about the subject. “I do call myself a feminist. Absolutely.” Others are a little more careful. “I wouldn’t say feminist, that’s too strong,” said “American Idol” singer Kelly Clarkson. “I think when people hear ‘feminist,’ it’s just like, ‘Get out of my way, I don’t need anyone.’” Amy Poehler and Miley Cyrus said yes, while Carrie Underwood said no. Katy Perry has evolved and Lily Allen hates the word. The varied answers show how loaded the word has become.

Tracy went on to interview a local professor, Susan Madsen, on her beliefs about the word feminism. Madsen said she believes “there’s this whole scope of feminism from those that really give it somewhat of a bad impression. If you believe women should have a voice, if you believe women and men should be equal in terms of pay, in terms of opportunities to run for office, in terms of all those things, then technically you are a feminist.”

Tracy pairs Madsen’s comment with statements from actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt on his similar beliefs on the meaning of feminism: “To me, it just means that your gender doesn’t have to define who you are, that you can be whatever you want to be, whoever you want to be regardless of your gender.” She also takes quotes from Emma Watson’s aforementioned speech: “Men, I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue too.” Betsy Tracy ends the article with another quote from Watson: “And if you still hate the word,” Watson said, “it is not the word that’s important. It’s the idea and the ambition behind it.”

Recently there has been a lot of debate about the words feminist and feminism. When celebrities speak out about the issue, it generates even more conversation. In this article, Tracy does a good job of comparing the different reactions of famous people to the word feminist. Using Joseph Gordon-Levitt as one of the main feminists in the article effectively subverts the common idea that feminists are “women who hate men,” which is what I assume Kelly Clarkson was thinking when she stated the word feminist was “too strong.” Since celebrities are accessible and constantly in the public eye, they serve as role models for many people. If a celebrity says feminism is bad, then many of their fans are going to be inclined to blindly agree with them if they’ve never thought about the issue for themselves. When celebrities broadcast their opinions some people take those opinions to heart and register them as “true.” It is violent when masses blindly agree with their celebrity idol’s decisive opinions because it creates a bias and limits a person’s ability to think freely for themselves. This, in turn, can limit a movement as a whole. 

Because the word feminist has become aversive, many women forget what the word actually means in an effort to not be associated with the popular idea that feminists are sexist and hateful towards men. This idea stops women from working together to face the real issues of creating a world where women are equal when it comes to pay and opportunities to advance in society regardless of gender. People need each other to make change happen, and women should bond together instead of creating controversy and debate that halts the progress of any movement. By alienating “feminists” based on their own perception of what the word means, people regress instead of going forward towards equity and their potential to work together to create a better society. It is violence to hold people back from that better, more equal society. Instead of having celebrities and people debate over identifying with a word which has gained a loaded, controversial connotation, people should be taking in the message of the movement and working to make a change in society. As Emma Watson stated in her speech, “[It] is not the word that’s important. It’s the idea and ambition behind it.” It is nothing but violent to distract people from that idea and ambition and pit them against one another over a petty argument as to whether the word “feminist” is a “bad word” or not. 

–Ashley Stant

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