The English language has many a foul word. Most are four letters. Many we now accept in day-to-day conversation without so much as a flinch. But utter ‘feminism’ in a conversation and it is likely one of two things will happen: a) conversation will continue albeit with some odd looks in your direction, or b) there will be silence. Utter silence. Please exit, stage right.
So what is it about the word ‘feminism’? Even people who support gender equality often shy away from the F word. Automatically, the first thing that leaps to my mind when someone says ‘feminism’ is an incredibly butch lesbian with a buzz cut angrily shouting at police. In the 80s. This isn’t to say that I dislike or judge lesbians, angry people, people with short hair, or even people who were alive in the 80s! But if I, as a woman, immediately spin to this image, what does it convey to the rest of the world? Of students who are uncomfortable using ‘feminism’, the main reason was because it seemed to imply an aggressive, radical movement which isolates men. It seems that events such as the 1970 Miss World Protest have cemented the idea that feminists are all bra-burning radicals.
Yet a recent poll indicated that amongst RHUL students, more felt comfortable using ‘feminism’ than not, and of these 40% because it is just a word. Arguably this could come with the rise of different groups of feminists, such as the distinction between those who want equality and those nicknamed ‘Feminazis’. However it shows that, amongst the younger generation, ‘feminism’ is not such a taboo word. Of the campaigns of the past year, Emma Watson’s ‘HeForShe’ campaign has been particularly fundamental in the inclusion of men in feminist campaigns and creating a more peaceful image of feminism. Therefore, whilst ‘feminism’ is still a whispered word, it is becoming more welcome in society.