Vitamin F

Better living through feminist psychology

Feminism Is Dead! Long Live Feminism!

The death of feminism has been greatly exaggerated.

Why write a blog about feminism when no one is a feminist anymore?  Not the millenials, apparently they are too busy being narcissistic.  Not the baby boomers, they’re too old.  Gen X…all feminism got those women was a full-time job outside the home along with a full-time job in the home.   Back in the 1960s when a woman couldn’t get a credit card in her own name maybe feminism made sense, but now it just isn’t relevant to the lives of most women, right?  Those women in Afghanistan might need a women’s movement, but women pretty much have equality now in the United States.  Heck, we’ve even had a female president…wait, no we haven’t.

Despite the fact that just about every decade Time Magazine declares that feminism is dead (perhaps as a reminder, kind of like, Elvis is still dead), the rate of belief in the goals of feminism hasn’t changed much since the 1970s.  However, recent research has found that young women are somewhat more likely to endorse feminist ideals than are older women.  But there are significantly more men and women who endorse feminist beliefs in equality than label themselves as feminists.  A 2013 Huffington Post/YouGov poll found that 23% of women and 16% of men considered themselves to be feminists, yet 82% of both women and men felt that “men and women should be social, political, and economic equals”.  Very few in the sample specifically labeled themselves as anti-feminist (8% of men and women). 

Why are so few women and men identifying themselves as feminists while expressing feminist ideology?  Research suggests that the stigmatization of the label plays a significant role.  You know the stereotypes, hairy-legged women, humorless, man-hating (even though a recent study found that feminists reported lower levels of hostility toward men than did non-feminists).  While the image of a feminist is often of a white female, yet African-American women are more likely than white women to support the feminist movement.  My own research found that college students were not gender-exclusive in their images of feminists, many thought feminist could be women or men.   However, feminist men tend to be stereotyped as unassertive and gay, and apparently must hate themselves and other men, which doesn’t make much sense if they are supposedly gay.  Feminists are perceived as activists, so if I’m not carrying a sign or doing a sit-in, I must not be a feminist.  Never mind that activism is everywhere…giving a boy a doll is a radical activist act, challenging a sexist joke is activism.  Those who label themselves as feminists tend to know other feminists, their mother may have been a feminist, their favorite teacher may have called himself a feminist.  I can relate because my mother identified as a feminist so I grew up with a very positive image of feminists.

What’s the big deal?  Why be a feminist?  Research has shown that being a feminist has a number of perks.  Feminists tend to be more sexually satisfied and are more likely to use condoms in heterosexual activity.  Also in heterosexual relationships, women with male feminist partners report healthier relationships, while men with female feminist partners report more relationship stability and sexual satisfaction.  Feminist women tend to have more expansive ideas of beauty and tend to have higher self-esteem and self-efficacy.  

Of course, the best reason to be a feminist is because you believe in the social, political and economic equality of women and men.   I can’t guarantee that identifying as a feminist will get you better self-esteem and better sex, but it can’t hurt to try it.  Only the world will benefit.

Christine Smith Ph.D., is a professor of psychology, human development, and women and gender studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

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