I’ve got my copy! You should get yours!
We Should All Be Feminists, the practically canonical — and Beyoncé-approved — TEDx Talk-turned-essay by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, is being given to every 16-year-old in Sweden, that global bastion of cool.
It should be put into the hands of Canadian women aged 35-45 as well.
This week, Chatelaine published a feature called This Is 40ish, the results of a survey conducted by the magazine and Abacus Data. Chatelaine asked 1,000 women in that age bracket about everything: sex, love, work, family, mental health, ambition, body image.
The whole thing is worth reading, but one number in particular sticks out. Of the 1,000 women surveyed, 68 per cent said they do not consider themselves feminists.
Some of the responses in an accompanying video reveal a fundamental misunderstanding of what ‘feminism’ and ‘feminist’ mean.
“Uh, no,” says one woman. “I do believe in equality and rights, but I’m not someone who would say I’m a feminist. I don’t like putting labels on things.” (STILL, THAT SOUNDS A LOT LIKE FEMINISM.)
“I’m not just a feminist — I believe in freedom and rights for everyone,” says another. (THAT’S FEMINISM THO.)
“I have two brothers — I always grew up just feeling like a person.”
Truly, it’s disheartening to see that an overwhelming majority of the women surveyed don’t identify as feminists when 54 per cent of those same women say they are earning less than they deserve, 55 per cent say they are earning less than their partner (although gender is not specified), and 44 per cent say they are behind where they thought they’d be in their careers. It’s disheartening to see that they don’t identify as feminists when 73 per cent don’t think they look good naked. Many women surveyed revealed that they feel guilty and depressed.
Chatelaine wonders if feminism might have a branding problem. This argument isn’t new; remember when Elle UK tried to rebrand the word in 2013?
Branding. As though the idea of the social, economic and political equality of the sexes is an idea that needs packaging, marketing, selling.
Very often, women’s reasons for balking at the term are rooted in misinformation and persistent, cartoonish stereotypes about feminists. “I’m not a feminist because I love men.” Or, “I’m not a feminist because I’m not angry.” Or, “BLAH BLAH SOMETHING ABOUT BRA BURNING BLAH.”
You know, the kind of stereotypes that are created and then perpetuated by a culture steeped in misogyny. The kind of stereotypes that are reinforced by people who are absolutely terrified by the idea women might actually claim some power in our world. Or by people who are fond of the phrase “that’s just how things are.” Or by TV shows and films. The kind of stereotypes that are oh-so-easy to internalize, especially if you’ve been raised to be “a nice girl.”
And then there are the women who would love to claim the label but are afraid to. I mean, we’ve all seen how feminists are treated — online and off.
But what do we really mean when we talk about “rebranding feminism”? Because too often, we aren’t talking about making feminism more inclusive for women — especially women of colour, trans women and other women who are boxed out of the movement.
No, often what we’re talking about is making feminism more palatable for a society that actively condones and promotes misogyny. People will occasionally suggest that the solution lies in doing away with the word feminist altogether, suggesting we replace it with words such as equalist, humanist. Terms that are ostensibly about inclusivity — but for whom? Mostly, these terms soften a word that has been deemed “too aggressive.”
I don’t want my feminism to be cuddly. I want it to have teeth and claws. I want it to get shit done so that one day, we won’t need it anymore.
In a video message to Swedish teens, Adichie says:
I’m a feminist because I want to live in a world that is more just. I’m a feminist because I want to live in a world where a woman is never told that she can or cannot or should or should not do anything because she is a woman. I want to live in a world where men and women are happier. Where they are not constrained by gender roles. I want to live in a world where men and women are truly equal. And that’s why I’m a feminist.
That’s why I’m a feminist. And that’s why you should be, too.