The Feminazi Movement: Why Adolescents Don’t Want to Be Called “Feminists”

Her rhetoric is aggressive. She champions women for president. Planned Parenthood and the Women’s March Organization can count on her steadfast support. She fixates on the sexual victimization of females and is compared to Rosie the Riveter as an icon. Her presence is boisterous, demanding, and inescapable.

 

She is Gloria Steinem: a stereotypical feminist.

 

“Nowadays, they’re just pushy and mean,” says Newton South High School senior Cameron Gilchrist, when asked to describe feminists. For Gilchrist, who is not a feminist, shining a light on their movement reveals little more than a group of angry women. “People don’t want to associate themselves with that type of woman,” he states.

 

As a man, Gilchrist is not alone in his attitude toward feminists. Fifty-six percent of millenial males in a recent Washington Post poll responded that feminism has a bad reputation (Washington).

 

“Parts of it are authoritarian,” offers non-feminist Jake Levy, another Newton South senior, in an effort to explain how the women’s movement earned its criticized status. His friend Mathew Huller, who also does not identify as a feminist, agrees: “the feminist movement today is much more radical” than its historical suffrage beginnings. “On some level,” says Levy, “men can be worried that it affects their position in society.”

 

And yet, these three highschoolers don’t believe that men and women should be unequal. “By the dictionary definition,” which describes the movement’s supporters as advocating equality of the sexes, “yes, I’m a feminist,” says Levy.

 

The issue for most youth – not only males, but females as well – isn’t that they oppose gender equality. Eighty-five percent of Americans believe in equality for women (Allum). At Newton South, ninety-five percent of students also share that belief – and nearly half of that number are non-feminists (Binns).

 

The problem lies with the interpretation of feminism’s definition.

 

“The traditional definition of feminism no longer accurately represents the movement that has assumed the title ‘feminism,’” says Levy. Fellow classmate Stephanie Luiz, a self-described egalitarian, but not feminist, agrees. “I think that feminism has moved in a direction that doesn’t actually promote equality anymore,” she says.

 

Their claim that the movement has changed is credible; at the core of traditional feminism, also known as first-wave feminism, was the vote. Since suffrage has been tucked safely under the female belt for a century, the question becomes: what does feminism stand for now?

 

To Huller, the movement has extended past the long-established, equality-of-the-sexes principle. “It means being in favor of abortion. It means believing in the gender wage gap and solutions to try to stop that. It means, in many ways, being in the left-wing politics,” he says.

 

Levy agrees that there has been a politicization of feminism, noting that “people on the far right have spoken out about it.” More importantly, though, he notes that they “have used outliers like people in the UC Berkley window-smashing to paint everyone with the same brush, while in reality this is a movement with millions of people,” not just the radical few.

 

This is the crux of the modern tendency to shy away from identifying as feminist: prominent coverage of the “outliers.”  

 

“People get distracted by those few individuals who might be hardcore or militant,” explains Robert Parlin, who has taught a class on gender at Newton South High School for the past twenty years. “They have misinterpreted a few strident voices to represent all feminists,” he says, “and unfortunately, I think that has taken away power from the movement.”

 

Context is key to understanding the present climate surrounding feminism. Today’s youth spend more time than ever in cyber space. Mobile devices allow ninety-four percent of teenagers easy access to the internet. For those who use social media, seventy-one percent use more than one platform, increasing their chances of viewing articles and videos that pop up in their Facebook and Instagram streams (United).

 

At their finger tips is a universe of information, with no barrier to separate what is factually true from what is not.

 

“I’ve seen, like, YouTube videos,” says Gilchrist, referencing what has shaped his perception of feminists as “pushy.” However, he cannot provide details or verify the authenticity of what he has seen on the internet.

 

Gilchrist’s online experience is not uncommon. With forty-nine percent of social media users reporting fake news sightings at least once per day, any topic – including feminism – can show up, facts unchecked (To).

 

The same is true of people. Helpful and convenient though the internet may be, it can also be a mask. Online, anyone can classify their words as “feminist”.

 

For those who use online experiences to defend their views of the women’s movement, Parlin says that the question becomes, “Who are they citing? Who are their referring to?” Although he admits that “there are some voices online” that support the stereotypical feminist image, his rationale remains: “You can find anyone online who’s shrill.”

 

“Because of that,” says teenage feminist Jessalyn Kaur, “people will say, ‘I’m not a feminist,’ when really, if you want equality, then shouldn’t you be a feminist?”

 

The issue, it seems, always circles back to feminism’s definition.  

 

With a concept so broad and complex as feminism, finding one phrase capable of encompassing everyone’s sentiments about it proves difficult. “Just because you define a word in a certain way doesn’t mean the whole movement acts in conformity with how it’s been defined,” says Huller.

 

Professor Robert Selman of the Harvard Graduate School of Education believes in a flexible, individualized interpretation of feminism. “To understand what each person thinks feminism means to them, they ought to debate and discuss concrete topics with others. It’s only then that one would really have an understanding of what each of us believes the concept is,” he says. Selman, who specializes in the psychology and social awareness of adolescents, says it is for this reason that “the dictionary definition [of feminism] is very weak and unimportant.”

 

Perhaps there is no singular definition, but the traditional dictionary definition can still have a stranglehold on the movement, ultimately excluding those who would rather not identify with it at all than have to conform. For those people, the side effect of shying away from one title is to be marked with another: the anti-feminist. As Levy puts it, it is this “either you’re with them, or you’re against them” characteristic of feminism that is so detrimental to the movement. It is simply inaccurate.

 

Luiz does not identify as a feminist because of the “negative connotations” associated with the modern movement, but her rejection of the feminist title does not mean that she is anti-female. “I one-hundred percent believe in equality between men and women,” she says. “That’s not even a question.”

 

Levy, Gilchrist, and Huller have the same opinion. Each has his own critiques of the movement as a whole, but none opposes equal rights and opportunities for women. Says Levy, “I absolutely support gender equality. For me, it’s just a question of the methodology.”

 

The number of young adults like these, who prefer to refrain from associating with feminism than to claim it and its accompanying negative reputation, is climbing. But members of this group call for feminists to acknowledge the pro-female beliefs shared by both parties rather than ostracize and condemn each other.   

 

“Understanding feminism is a shared burden,” says Huller. “Non-feminists, on one hand, should seek to understand the specific issues and see past the connotations of feminism. Feminists, however, should not be dismissive of opposing views, and shouldn’t silence opposing views based on gender.”

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On the “Busy Trap”

Say, for a moment, that you can read everyone’s minds. Before we get too excited, let’s disentangle ourselves from the myriad ways this skill might come in handy and instead, zero in on one. We may be the most educated, interconnected band of humans to walk the planet yet, but we are not doing right by each other. To prove it, take your newfound telepathic talent, set off on a stroll down the street, and ask your neighbors what’s most important to them.

Chances are, the word “family” is going to roll off several tongues.

Mind-blowing, isn’t it? Not really. We organize our lives around the grand societal pillar that family has become in so many cultures, so it isn’t news that Mom and Grandpa are important. Rather, it’s how we then go on to treat these relatives after professing them as such.

We are the generation of busy. We are on the go nonstop, tossing sleep and peace of mind out the window without taking stock of what their loss means. “Busy” has become, as Tim Kreider puts it in The “Busy” Trap, the “default response” for your average greeting. But, while busyness may masquerade as a surface issue, or simply a convention of the time, destined to slowly fade from use, like drive-in movie theatres or bell-bottomed jeans, its roots are deep.

After all, what does “busy” mean? Merriam-Webster dictionary calls it “involved in often constant activity,” which we can boil down to “out of time.” Decrypting that code phrase, you understand it to mean that there was time, it just wasn’t spent on you.

There’s where our interpretation of busyness is distorted. It’s this “you,” or really we, that lies at the heart of the busyness crisis, because just as often as someone is too wrapped up in work to deal with us, we too fail to find time for them. No one bullies us into taking the lead in that group project. Earth will not fizzle into nothingness if we don’t sign up for that 5k, or don’t make dinner from scratch. Like Kreider points out, “it’s almost always people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed,” which begs us to wonder why, if we can take on more work, can’t we also rid ourselves of it?

We have spent too much time toying with this “why” and postulating “hows”. It’s what I’m doing right now, and maybe you are too, and certainly what Kreider’s article has taken a stab at. What we aren’t talking about is what our “busy” means for our loved ones. Look outside yourself, busy person.

The truth is that as much as being swamped is a “copout” for friends, Mekita Rivas notes that it has become equally commonplace “when doling out reasons for […] neglecting loved ones.” The National Council on Aging has placed family members at fault in 60% of elderly neglect incidents, which is not to say that each of us is the agent of our elders’ distress, but it should be a jab into our subconsciouses. As much as we find the busy excuse to be “a direct slap in the face,” it is equally so to those we release it upon – a category which we have lumped our relatives into. Most of us would affirm the statement “family is important.” Most of us, however, would not be able to avow that we had never postponed a dinner with Dad, rushed through a phone call to finish AP Chemistry homework, or canceled a casual family get-together because work came up.

“Life is too short to be busy” may be Tim Kreider’s way of topping an apparently unsolvable social dilemma with rainbow sprinkles and leaving it be. Or, it might have merit – just not the kind you’re expecting. It’s one thing when the life you’re talking about is your own; it’s something else when that ticking clock belongs to another person. I’ll never be too busy to regret what I missed when I’m no longer here to miss it. So this weekend, I’m going to brunch with my grandmother. Everything else will wait.

Dear Leana

Dear Leana,

This is not to say that you did something wrong, but I think you killed my brother. I’m not sure yet, but once I am, and once you are holding this in your hand, it will hopefully read with firmer conviction.

Again, this is still up in the air.

I’m curious about what happened to you. We saw each other on one of June’s stickiest, most unreasonable days to date. I walked into town for ice cream, because to suffer in the heat is more endurable when you shake up what activity you pair it with. You biked across the street in front of me with some purple flowers in your pocket. I was a speck, a little, moist sack of air with a chocolate cone; you did not see me.

In retrospect, that was the last time I saw you.

So when did we last lay eyes on each other? Interact? Note, here, that I mean to emphasize the mutual nature of ‘we’. Could it, perhaps, have been in one of the four classes that we have shared in the past few years of schooling? Well, that would make sense. One room, discussions bouncing off the walls, partnerships…It really does go on.

Or! An even grander possibility: the Science Team. You are a member, or you were, and so am I. What better place to connect to someone on a more personal level than a (sparsely-populated) room of kids who all share your exact same interest. What better environment to engage in the social norm of “making friends”? Think on that, Leana.

Think on it.

Well, actually, I could be wrong. If we had ever interacted, I would cue your intake of air at my admission of mistake now. I’m hoping you might be starting to get the gist of what I’m telling you.

Jonny was a good kid. He took tough classes but still smiled. Sincerity radiated from his palms like a firework spitting lithium salts at the sky.

On a Tuesday last February I was chewing my pencap and reading over the history of Hannibal when Jonny brought you home. You stayed for the afternoon. You didn’t say hello.

Most days afterwards were borishly identical to that Tuesday.

You were the rudest person I had ever met. That, in itself, is a false statement, because never did I have the displeasure of making your acquaintance.

But I don’t blame you for that.

Several months of The Identical Tuesdays blended together before I caught Jonny fumbling with the latch to his bedroom window at two one morning. He never knew, but I caught him. Just like I did with the you-know-whats in an old framed picture from Little League. Just like I did every morning that he slumped over the kitchen table, looking at his cereal as if it were about to fly out of his bowl and bite his nose.

That I blame you for.

So my truth is that I know what you did. But I still want to know where you went after my brother turned up in the street, ribs broken, no more air in his lungs. Had you been in that car?

Did he save you from what happened to him? Tell me.

What I know is that, before you came home that first Tuesday and chatted with my mother and scraped balls of cookie dough out of the tub in the refrigerator, Jonny had nowhere to be at midnight. And after you, he did.

After you, he died.

Did you put those purple flowers on his grave?

I am still at Lernon Street should you decide to let me know.

Michael.

Questions to question

Don’t you know I’m not moving?

That’s what I want to say, when I’m with you.

When we ride the train into the city while night beats its wings at our backs.

When there’s a lull in the conversation, or when that second passes when I scramble to reach the door you’ve held for me, arms outstretched.

Don’t you know?

When I think about the moment I stopped, the moment I first heard your voices swims up into my consciousness.

You know, that night I woke up because you were screaming again.

It turned out that you weren’t.

(Maybe that was a trick from slumber?)

Or should I really ask you,

“Do you know?”

Because I peel seconds away from myself, whole minutes where I know that we are clear.

Crystal, in fact.

I won’t ask you, I promise. Even though I’m still not moving.

Even though the fingers at the edge of my mouth make it smile.

Even though I woke up that night and heard you screaming when you weren’t.

I love you, but I promise.

I won’t ask you if you know that I’m not moving.