How Many Americans Call Themselves Feminists Doesn't Match Up To The Actual Numbers

So much for 2014 being the year of the feminist. While last year may have been filled with great moments for feminism and big steps toward gender inequality, a new poll by Vox reveals that only 18 percent of Americans consider themselves to be feminists. In contrast, 52 percent said that they were not feminists, another 26 percent said they weren’t sure whether they were, and 4 percent refused to answer the question.

But don’t despair just yet. While the percentage of Americans who called themselves feminists was shockingly slim, an impressive percentage supported equal rights for women. According to the Vox poll, conducted by research and communications firm PerryUndem, a whopping 85 percent of Americans responded that they believe in equal rights for women.

This recent Vox poll produced similar findings to a HuffPost/YouGov poll taken in 2013. Two years ago, a similar percentage of Americans — 20 percent — considered themselves to be feminists. The numbers in this poll were further broken down by gender, showing that 23 percent of women and 16 percent of men responded that they were feminists. In contrast, 82 percent of survey respondents said they believed “men and women should be social, political, and economic equals.” Only 9 percent of respondents said they did not believe that should be the case.

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Moreover, this dichotomy between feminists and equal rights supporters is not even unique to the U.S. While the United Kingdom had a somewhat higher percentage of feminists, a poll taken in October 2014 by OnePoll revealed that while 76 percent of Brits support “political, economic, and social equality between women and men,” only 36 percent identified as feminists.

If we largely support gender equality, then why is there such a massive gap between the two responses? At the end of the day, a feminist and a person who believes women deserve equal rights are, essentially, one in the same. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary, for example, offers these definitions for feminism:

The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.
Organized activity in support of women’s rights and interests.

Considering the evidence of the polls and the definition of the word feminism, it appears that the issue doesn’t lie in the basic tenets for which feminism fights, but with the connotation that the word seems to carry. Further polling in the U.K. by OnePoll about the public perception of feminism revealed that more people found it to be negative, as opposed to positive.

People viewed feminists as “anti-men,” “aggressive,” and supporters of women being better than men. Interestingly, these sorts of connotative concerns resonated even with the respondents who identified as feminists. Of those 36 percent of U.K. residents who considered themselves feminists, 31 percent “worry about identifying as one.”

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A negative word connotation should not stand in the way of progress, though. These polls reveal that we’re hung up on how a certain term sounds and what it implies, rather than what it actually represents. Aside from that revelation though, these polls reveal something else that’s extremely important: Most of us do stand for equal gender rights.

Images: Melissa Brewer/Flickr (1); Getty Images (2); Laura Forest/Flickr (1); Kristjan Wager/Flickr (1)