How well is feminism understood today?

Despite extensive campaigning to combat stigmas surrounding modern feminism, negativity persists regarding feminist ideals, so what is an effective means of promoting and discussing the feminist movement? A new sociological study published in Cogent Social Sciences explores why many remain afraid to identify as feminists (despite believing in gender equality), and what factors can contribute to misunderstanding the feminist movement or even render it ineffectual.

Feminism has developed negative connotations for being ‘man-hating’ or overly militant in nature, though in recent years, campaigning from celebrity feminists has championed and spread more positive ideas associated with the movement. This research from Canada, however, reveals how many are still reluctant to identify themselves as feminists, even in spite of their beliefs in gender equality.

This study recruited participants of varying ages, ethnicities, genders and sexual orientations; 21% of participants deemed feminism ‘only for women’, or hostile to men, and were likelier to express negative viewpoints. 70% of participants affirmed that gender equality was central to their definitions of feminism, though less than 10% also referenced the major changes feminism had undergone over time, with awareness of its shifting forms and interlinking issues.

This article concluded that, in addition to receiving a higher level of education, the ability to perceive feminism in light of other social injustices is a strong predictor of whether or not people will self-identify as feminist. In order to fight misunderstanding, as well as prevent complacency, the authors argue that feminism must be considered as malleable and mutable, and placed in ‘intersectional’ context with other oppressive issues (such as race, poverty, or LGBTQIA rights). In this way, women’s rights can be spoken about and understood holistically. This will mean that feminism does not become an oversimplified concept, and other power structures and dynamics at play can be addressed; as such, this study is an important reading in how best to address, define and discuss feminism with others, and raise real awareness.

This article, published in Cogent Social Sciences, is available to download and share via this permanent link