In the past few months, I have noticed a wave of social media posts regarding a very popular topic this year – the big “F” word: feminism. The general definition of feminism, according to the Webster dictionary, is “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.”
However, many people have extremely different views on the meaning of the word. Lauren Southern, contributor to Canadian based Rebel Media, created a video in response to a photo of her that became viral on the Internet. In the photo, Southern holds a sign that reads, “I don’t need feminism because I believe in equality, not entitlements and supremacy.”
In her video, she argues that feminism does not equally represent issues facing both genders. Specifically, men’s issues are not discussed. Men face similar issues women do, including sexual assault, domestic abuse, suicide, objectification and unrealistic standards by the media. I have to agree with Lauren, to some extent. These are extremely important issues that many feminist groups seem to ignore. That being said, Southern’s arguments are based on unreliable sources and wide generalizations.
Feminism came to light on a much larger scale recently thanks to British actress Emma Watson, spokesperson for UN Women. In an address to the UN regarding her new campaign HeforShe – a call for men to embrace feminism – Watson said, “Men. I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue too. Because, to date, I’ve seen my father’s role as a parent being valued less by society … I’ve seen young men suffering from mental illness unable to ask for help for fear it would make them look less of a man – I’ve seen men made fragile and insecure by a distorted sense of what constitutes male success. Men don’t have the benefits of equality either. We don’t often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes but I can see that they are and that when they are free, things will change for women as a natural consequence.”
Watson, like many other people who identify as feminist, has embraced feminism as a synonym for equality. While Watson’s speech painted feminism in a new light, many still find feminism to be synonymous with man hating, or as Southern put it, “entitlement and supremacy.” While I strongly agree with both Watson and Southern that these issues need to be addressed, I disagree with Southern in her generalization that all who identify as feminists are highlighting women’s issues out of malice.
Feminism is a historic movement that in its origins was purely a women’s rights movement. Today, however, it is a movement that fights for women’s issues, including: women’s lack of rights over their own bodies, women’s access to opportunities – specific to education, workplace and government positions – while simultaneously fighting for the rights of those discriminated against based on race, ability or sexuality. This fight includes the rights of men.
In the comments of Lauren Southern’s video, and others who discuss feminism, a common remark is something along the lines of, “Why are we discussing this issue in North America/ Europe? Women are doing just fine. The genders are equal.”
While some may not see gender equity as an issue of importance, it paves the way for change in countless other ways. While Lauren Southern may choose not to identify as a feminist, I do. While there are some extremists, as there are with any ideology, I choose to see feminism as simply as the dictionary defines it. I believe that everyone should have equal rights and opportunities, and feel free to express themselves without being restrained by gender stereotypes.
Jennifer Hamilton is a local student and aspiring writer.