Earlier this week, Porter magazine made headlines when its interview with everyone's favorite Harry Potter star (other than Maggie Smith) revealed that Emma Waston was discouraged from using "feminism" in her landmark U.N. speech on the HeForShe campaign. Given the visceral backlash many people feel toward the word, it wouldn't be surprising in any other context, but in this one, Watson's speech was literally on the subject of gender equality, thereby elevating the situation from irritating into the realm of the truly absurd.
Watson didn't take the advice, so hooray for that. However, the fact that she was discouraged in the first place speaks volumes about the way people view feminism today. After all, if we can't say "feminism" in a conversation about gender equality, then where can we? Much of the adverse reaction to the word comes from a lack of education — when some people hear the word "feminist," they envision bra-burning radical activists at best and man-hating advocates for a matriarchal state at worst. Often, whenever someone shies away from identifying themselves as a feminist, it's not because they don't believe in gender equality; rather, it's because they're working from a flawed definition of "feminist." While there's nothing wrong with bra-burning activism — I am of the opinion that bras are totally the worst, and so are the patriarchal standards that dictate we must necessarily wear them — that's a consequence of feminism, not necessarily what feminism is about.
To clear things up, let's lay feminism out once and for all. Everyone has their own interpretations of what it means to them, but the unifying factor is that feminism is believing in and advocating for equality across all genders. What that belief entails depends on the person, but I think most of us would agree that gender equality is hardly a divisive idea — or if it is, it shouldn't be.
With that in mind, let's look at nine quotes showing why feminism shouldn't be a scary word.
1. "If women are terrified to use the word, how on earth are men supposed to start using it?"
— Emma Watson
Waston spoke to Porter about her decision to use "feminism" in her UN speech, and as always, she hit the nail on the head. If women are scared to openly advocate for their own rights, men are much less likely to join us, and we need all the help we can get.
2. "Feminism is the radical notion that women are people."
— Marie Shear, reviewing Cheris Kramarae and Paula Treichler's The Feminist Dictionary in New Directions for Women.
3. "To consider women an inferior creation, is that good for the world?"
— Christopher Hitchens
4. "I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat."
— Rebecca West
5. "A feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men."
— Gloria Steinem
6. "Men are from Earth. Women are from Earth. Deal with it."
— George Carlin
7. "Equality is not a concept. It's not something we should be striving for. It's a necessity. Equality is like gravity."
— Joss Whedon
8. "Women feel just as men feel... It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex."
— Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre
9. "Our speaking out will irritate some people... And then our speaking out will permit other women to speak, until laws are changed and lives are saved and the world is altered forever."
— Audre Lorde
Image: Wikimedia Commons