The Definition of Feminism Continues to Divide Us

There is no denying that this election was momentous for women, but that does not mean all women feel the same way about the outcome. Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president was historic, and despite mentioning in her concession speech that she came short of shattering the “highest and hardest glass ceiling,” her campaign finally solidified the possibility of having a woman in the White House. For the first time in United States history we finally had a serious female contender for president; a woman who, ironically, was running against one of the United States most misogynistic candidates for president. Clinton’s campaign weighed heavily on the fact she was a woman — her campaign slogan being the transparent but catchy phrase, “I’m with Her,” yet she lost more than half of the vote from white women. How did Clinton, who ran in part on a feminist platform, lose this critical female demographic?
Perhaps because of Clinton’s success, or near success, the term “feminism” has become a hot topic within pop culture. Throughout the past few months, a variety of news outlets such as CNN, The New York Times, and Huffington Post have all published articles trying to work through the same idea: What is feminism?
In an article called “Who is a Feminist Now?” Marisa Meltzer writes about women in Hollywood who are unable to see eye-to-eye regarding the term. She quotes nearly every prominent female pop culture icon of the day from Beyoncé to Lady Gaga, and yet each one seems to have a different idea of what it means to be a feminist. The article also makes clear that a woman’s political party does not precede her opinion on feminism, as Shailene Woodley, an ardent supporter of potential Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, responded “no” to a question asking if she were a feminist.
While Meltzer’s article eventually becomes a piece on the “ubiquity” of feminism in pop culture, the responses of some of America’s most high-profile women shed light on a nationwide problem. Women in the United States cannot agree on a definition of feminism;  to some, the idea that “every woman should be a feminist” feels entirely too permanent and exclusive. To Woodley, the term feminism entails “raising women to power, and taking the men away from power,” an idea that is “never going to work out because you need balance.” For her and many other celebrities, the term feminism is simply a way for identity to be shrouded, and it allows the media to claim that feminists are men-haters. Most of us do not have to worry about the ways in which the paparazzi will twist our words, yet, so many women are still fixated on the stigma surrounding a word like feminism. A quick search on the internet, the source of eternal knowledge, displays the definition of feminism as the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. This definition sounds harmless and egalitarian, so why do so many women take issue with it?
It appears to be a modern problem. Clinton won both the Millennial and female vote overall, but not by nearly as large of a margin as Obama did four years prior. She barely scraped by with half the overall vote in both of those demographics, a figure that shocked many. Denise Cummins writes in an article for PBS that millennial women do not want to identify as feminists because of the ways the word has been misconstrued over the years. She argues that women today, especially young women, have yet to experience the true institutional sexism that first-wave feminists fought against. For them, feminism feels like an excuse and an all-encompassing identity. It has become a polarizing term that excludes both men and women.
The term has become “discredited,” by a minor group of extremists who have used the term to become more “careerist” – an idea that implies women should put their careers in front of their families which does not sit right with many young women. This is frustrating because it feels as though all these women are experiencing the same want of equality and opportunity, and yet they are all getting caught on the semantics.
Hillary Clinton was not able to quite brand herself as a feminist champion for the people because that possibility does not exist in the United States right now. Women cannot agree on what it means to be a feminist, and I have not even gone into how much more complex it becomes when men throw their opinions into the mix. However, as this election season draws to a close, feminist or not, it still does not sit right with me that so many women in this country were able to vote for a man who’s political propoganda sported lewd comments such as, “Hillary sucks, but not like Monica” and “Trump That Bitch!” Perhaps we are closer than ever to shattering that “highest and hardest” glass ceiling, but so long as “feminism” –– a term that should simply indicate fighting for a woman’s equal rights –– remains vague we will run into issues.

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