Why does feminism have negative connotation?

Third place, column opinion writing

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Photo by Allie Smith on Unsplash

“So what’s it like being a feminist?” is a question I have received numerous times, and I have never been quite sure how to answer it. Are they asking my opinions on feminism? Or why I’m a feminist? Or are people simply wondering how it is to live holding the beliefs that I do?

I usually respond with something along the lines of “it’s fine” or “it’s nice,” but I am always tempted to continue the conversation by asking why they aren’t a feminist. Occasionally I do, and the answers have been all over the map.“I don’t believe in the kind of thing”, “I don’t really know that much about it”, “I don’t think that women are better than men.”

These responses have led me to the conclusion that a surprising amount of people don’t actually know what feminism is. And most have no desire to.

The understanding that it is based on the belief that women are superior to men is puzzling to me. I suppose there are many possible explanations for this. It could be that the root of the word feminism is feminine, and this could hypothetically be misleading for those that are used to hearing “man” in so many words.

Or maybe the few who do believe in women’s superiority and claim to be feminists have spread that ideal to the masses that were already unwilling to pronounce themselves as feminists in the first place.

Whatever the root of this misconception is, it has given feminism a negative connotation in the eyes of many, a group whose majority is male. More often than not, when I break the news that feminism is simply believing in everyone’s equal rights, the person behind the curious questions and unenthused answers are surprised, shocked even.

The concept is pretty straightforward, and I can usually see the person’s wheels begin to turn as they process that information.

The results have been mixed, some responding with skepticism, others with the revelation that wow, they too are actually a feminist!

A few times I’ve been asked to prove my claim by googling the definition, where we’ve been greeted by Google Dictionary’s declaration that it is “the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes.” People tend to focus on the “advocacy of women’s rights” portion of this, using that to proclaim that I was wrong and, in fact, it was a focus on women over men.

That carries us into the other common discussion of whether or not women actually have equal rights. We’re closer than we ever have been, but men, specifically white men, have always had the most power and liberty.

The question of feminism’s meaning is one that does not get asked enough. Whether it’s ignorance, embarrassment, a hint of toxic masculinity, or disregard that keeps it from being talked about, that needs to be solved. I wonder how much stronger the feminist movement would be if everyone who believed in equality were to join.

Maybe strong enough to get everyone the equal rights they deserve.