Womens Issues

Is Feminist a Dirty Word?

How did this happen — and what can we do about it?


When Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer said she doesn’t consider herself a feminist, I thought, “how is it possible that such an intelligent woman could say that?” To be honest, I immediately lost a certain amount of respect for her.

Then I started thinking: why would she say that?

Is Feminist a Dirty Word?

Let’s start with this: What does feminism make you think of?

Is Feminist a Dirty Word?

Burning bras? Extremism? Hairy armpits? A jaded and unattractive woman in a pant suit? A beautiful women in a sundress?

For the past century, the male-run mainstream media has tried to make the association lie with the first four, but not the fifth.

Now, what does feminism mean?

A movement to help women be seen, treated and respected as equal in value and capability to men, and to have the same opportunities. Yup – it’s that simple.

More specifically, feminists want women to get equal pay for equal work, and to be seen as candidates for jobs like CTO, CEO, Chairman Chairperson, Senator, President… To let women into the same private clubs where deals are made and promotions are decided on. To get to the point where what a women has to say matters more than how she looks.

What does a feminist really look like?

Me, my husband, and all of my friends–simply because I wouldn’t be friends with someone who thinks women are second class citizens and deserve less respect than a man. Women and men in all industries, who dress well and shave their pits–or don’t! To each their own!

Why is feminism still important?

Is Feminist a Dirty Word?

It wasn’t that long ago that women weren’t allowed to vote. Women were handed off from their patriarchal parent’s house to their husband’s house — ordered around by one man or another, never allowed to make their own choices.

Men didn’t let them into the best schools or clubs, or give women good jobs, or let women take credit for their inventions because they didn’t want women to feel an ounce of freedom. And if one man thought differently, he was quickly bullied into getting back in the patriarchal line.

Women have been living in a society strategically designed by men to give women as few options and as little independence as possible. In a nutshell, it’s been this way for centuries so that men can have the freedom to behave badly and their wives won’t feel like they can leave them. So that men can have complete control over women.

Men (not every man, but on the whole) wanted women to feel desperate and rely on them. So they perpetuated the falsehood that women aren’t competent enough to have higher-up positions, or that it simply wasn’t their ‘place’. (You’ve heard ‘a woman’s place is in the kitchen’, I assume? Shaming mother’s who choose to work is the current way of saying this.)

Is Feminist a Dirty Word?

Lest you think that this is some sort of natural world order, know that girls have the same aspirations as boys until a certain age where they start internalizing the messed-up messages from Disney films and their sexist Barbie toys. The media continually sends messaging that women should be cheery, docile, simple and sexy (but not slutty!), and then have babies and stay at home. That your value as a woman lies in how pretty and carefree of a toy for men you can twist yourself into.

Women are continually objectified and told that their beauty is all they have, pitted against each other in competition for men. This is by design, to keep women from having strength in numbers. Women are taught that they’re ‘past their prime’ at age 30, so that they’ll believe that no other man will want them (giving the power to their husband), and so they’ll be jealous and hateful of younger women….

It’s so ingrained in our subconscious that many women don’t want to believe they’ve been duped and that they could’ve dreamed bigger. Hence, the ‘I don’t need feminism’ movement.

Did you know that only 6.6% of Fortune 500 companies have female CEO’s? Yes, in the year 2020. Still.

This is slowly changing, but we’re still far from at equality — and we seriously risk slipping backwards if we keep electing openly sexist men like Trump, who actively reinforce gender stereotypes, focus on women’s looks while discounting what they have to say, and chip away at women’s rights.

How did we get this distorted idea of what a feminist is?

Put simply: the word feminism has been dirtied by the media. Media and advertising have traditionally –and continue to be– industries run by men. It’s a fact that when the male-dominated media is threatened by a movement or shift in culture, they find many ways to subtly (or not-so-subtly) demonize the movement and the people involved.

It’s a fact that the media is the most thought-altering force in humans lives.

I mean, God forbid women take over and stop perpetuating unhealthy beauty ideals, thereby threatening mainstream women’s magazine’s very business model (beauty and fashion advertisers rely on magazines and their ads to make women feel insecure and competitive with other women — it drives sales).

Is Feminist a Dirty Word?

Few men can handle a woman telling them what to do — it goes against ‘the natural order’ that they’ve been taught, and that their ego enjoys.

Or what if women started demanding justice for the rampant sexual abuse these men dole out? Or the men started getting called out when ‘mansplaining’ and belittling women to make themselves feel powerful? Or men started having women as their bosses? That would be so hard on their egos! And what would happen to the ‘freedom’ that these old white men enjoy?? #SorryNotSorry #MeToo

Their answer: systematically suppress ‘feminism’ by making it seem like an un-feminine, man-hating, ugly fringe movement.

What can we do?

Is Feminist a Dirty Word?

Be on the right side of history – join in the movement!

We can fight back by making it cool to be a feminist. Wear t-shirts stating that you’re a feminist, and post it on social media. Talk about it. Educate others.

Get the men in your life to agree to call out men who are sexist. Get them to find ways to support women. Watch films directed by women. Watch talk shows hosted by women (I never miss Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, or The Rachel Maddow Show).

Speak out when you notice a man being sexist. Demand justice if you were sexually abused — and don’t stop until you get an audience.

Participate in women’s rights marches — or organize them!

Stop being jealous of other women. Stop tearing other women down, and instead find ways to lift them up. Life is not a zero-sum game.

Because only if we work together, can we move onward and upward.

Is Feminist a Dirty Word?

Avatar of Hilary Rowland

A writer, artist, and designer since she was young enough to put pencil to paper, Hilary taught herself code and created Urbanette when she was a teenager. Currently, she lives in Monte Carlo, but spent the past decade living in NYC, still considers herself a New Yorker, and visits regularly. She's always traveling, looking for hot new topics, destinations, and life hacks to bring to Urbanette readers.

Reader Discussion: 145 Comments

  1. Avatar of Renee Griffith

    Renee Griffith

    “What makes a woman a feminist is not the specific choice she makes but rather that she believes she has the right to choose in the first place.”

  2. Avatar of Edith Glover

    Edith Glover

    It’s so true that “feminist” carries a negative connotation for a lot of people, and I think stereotypes, either from others and/or the media, has a lot to do with it.

  3. Avatar of Muriel Vargas

    Muriel Vargas

    I resist feminism simply because it’s called feminism. But don’t get me wrong, I support what it stands for: equality and freedom of choice, irrespective of gender, sexuality or race.

  4. Avatar of Dianne Copeland

    Dianne Copeland

    Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but I think the influx of women disregarding the title of ‘feminist’ raises a worrying question over whether the true meaning of feminism is understood.

  5. Avatar of Melba Harrington

    Melba Harrington

    We can’t deny the fact that feminism is powerful, however, lately there seems to be a shift in the society’s view of ‘feminism’,

  6. Avatar of Lillian Arnold

    Lillian Arnold

    Feminism is NOT a dirty word but has been out of favor for some decades.

  7. Avatar of Margaret Palmer

    Margaret Palmer

    I think that the most disheartening phrase that can be strung together, is the proud declaration that one is not a feminist.

  8. Avatar of Raquel Wilkerson

    Raquel Wilkerson

    As a little girl, I always hated that I wasn’t allowed to do certain things because it was set aside for boys. Feminism IS NOT A DIRTY WORD!

  9. Avatar of Juana Fox

    Juana Fox

    Empowering women does not mean belittling or punishing men.

  10. Avatar of Jean Perry

    Jean Perry

    A primary purpose of feminism is to empower women, but it does not mean feminists view all women as weak and oppressed. Feminists are not aiming to make women stronger; they already know they’re strong. They just want society to see that too.

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