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Abstract

Feminism is an
ideological movement that has been around since 1830, feminism has helped women
become equal in North American society. Gender inequality was what women
suffered from throughout most of time, it was feminism that helped to abolish
the inequality. Feminism has had a very positive impact on women as well as
society, but how is feminism perceived by todays society? This is the question that
will be covered throughout this paper. We will discuss what exactly the
feminism movement if trying to do today, as well as if it is still needed. 30
individuals were surveyed to get a general idea of how different genders
perceive feminism. The survey questioned how much they knew about the movement,
if they supported it, and if they supported equality. Some secondary source
information was used, the research and data will be used to support the
conclusion we come to.

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Introduction

            Feminism has been an issue around the entire world and in
some countries, remains a prominent issue. The feminist movement has changed
how women are perceived by society, women are now powerful, independent, and
they do not need men to live successful lives. Feminism fought for these
rights, it allowed women to vote, buy houses, raise families without men,
enlist on the forces, as well as many more. The movement was important for
everyone not just women, it also brought some equality to men, despite the name,
feminism also used to help males. Feminism however has seen drastic changes
over the last few years. Feminism is now perceived negatively by most of
society, especially by millennials. Radical feminism has made feminism seem
like a negative movement.

            Let’s look at the history of feminism and how it started
and how it has become what it is today. Feminism began with the first wave of
feminism, this was the wave that laid the ground work for feminism and started
to make it a real movement. The first wave began in the 1830’s and ended in the
early 1900’s. This wave gave women many of their basic human rights, or at
least what we now consider basic rights, such as the right to vote, right to
own property, right to write wills, as well as many more. The first wave
started because women wanted some political power, so they could bring change
to the rights they had and wanted. The first wave planted the seed that would
later allow feminism to flourish. Then came second wave feminism, right after World
War II feminism began to flourish once again. Feminists were now beginning to
use the ground work they had set in place many years before hand. This time
they wanted to improve on the basic rights they had. This wave focused on the
workplace, sexuality, family, and reproductive rights. During World War II many
women had to take the place of men in factories as well as other places of
work. Women began to enjoy the routine of work and wanted to continue to work.
Women wanted equality in work and just have the same opportunity as men to get
work. Many women wanted to be heard by society, they did not want to be house
wives anymore, so they fought for their voices. Lastly is the third wave, this
is the wave we are currently in and it started in the 1990’s. This wave is
attempting to bring equality to women and men. It focuses on mostly social
inequalities.

            Where the issue lies in all of this. On the surface
feminism sounds amazing, and for the most part it is. The issue arises in the third
wave, many people believe that women are already equal, and feminists are
trying to put the inequality upon men. Men aren’t the only ones saying that
feminists are pushing the line, many women are saying the same thing. 82% of
the American population thinks equality has already been reached between
genders (PBS, 2016). Only 10% of American males and 18% of American females
consider themselves to be feminists (The Washington Post, 2016). Why is this
the case? Well, it goes back to the main question that was posed, how is
feminism perceived by todays society? There are many different types of
feminism, however many people don’t take the different types into account.

            There are 5 different types of Feminism, Liberal
Feminism, Radical Feminism, Socialist Feminism, Cultural Feminism, and
Eco-Feminism. Liberal Feminism is and individualistic look at feminism. It
focuses on a woman’s ability to protect their equality through their actions
and choices. It focuses on legal and political rights of women being equal men.
It also insists freedom for women. Freedom is defined as “Personal autonomy” by
Liberal Feminists. Personal autonomy is living a life of ones own choosing. The
next type of feminism is Radical Feminism, this is by far the most
controversial type of feminism. Radical Feminism demands a complete restricting
of society that ensures males “no long reign supreme”. The issue in this is
many people believe that this has already been achieved so the Radical
Feminists are no longer fights for equality, they are instead fighting for
gender inequality. Radical Feminists are flipping the scales. Therefore, we see
so few people consider themselves feminists, they hear these radicals speaking
and believe that feminism is a hateful and vindictive group of people. The next
type of feminism is social feminism, it is a mixed theoretical and practical
look at solving inequality. Social feminism analyzed the oppression of women
and compared it to the oppression of others in society, such as racism. Social
feminists recognize that a capitalist society has a very oppressive structure.
However, social feminists do not recognize gender as the only part of
oppression. The instead believe that gender and class are harmonious, and one
cannot be addressed without the other. Socialist feminists want equality for
all women, for working class, for the poor and the rest f humanity. The forth
group is Cultural feminism, this feminism variation points out the important
differences between men and women. Most of these differences are based around
biological components. They also believe in a shared women’s cultural, which
according to PBS is dwindling. The PBS article stated that during the 2016
presidential election most millennial women voted for Bernie Sanders over
Hillary Clinton. This is believed to be the result of women holding each other
to higher standards and then penalizing them for not reaching said standards.
Social feminists also believe that the gender differences are what makes
everyone either male or female. The last group of feminism that will be covered
is ecofeminism. Ecofeminism is a branch of feminism that explores the
connection between women and nature. They are the same as other types of
feminism as they want to get rid of patriarchy in society. The difference is
they also value organic processes, holistic connections, and the benefits of
intuition and collaboration. These feminists are just as committed to the
environment as they are to the equality of genders. The reason all the types of
feminism were listed is because there needed to be emphasis on all the
different kinds. As mentioned before, most people look past the other types and
just focus on what they see, that being the radicals. Radicals make up a small
percentage of feminists, but because they are loudest and most outrageous they
are also the most seen.

Method

            The survey was used to gather essential primary data so
that there could be a true understanding of what high school student thought of
feminism. 30 students were asked to complete a short survey (figure 1), their
answers were then used to give me a very basic understanding of what the
younger generation thought of feminism. The survey was 9 questions long, the
questions were either yes or no or multiple choice. Their answers would
indicate if the student believed in feminism or not. The sample group I was
trying to target was anyone who is a student, it just worked out to be most
high school students. The survey was incredibly efficient and effective, it
gathered a lot of essential information. Survey were able to be handed out very
fast and it did not take students a long time to complete and return the
surveys. However, the surveys did not provide an in depth consider what the
students thought of feminism, as I stated before it was very basic
understanding. The multiple-choice questions gave a more in depth understanding
of what the students thought of feminism, they also allowed contradiction to
come out in some of the student’s answers. One question students were asked
was, what word best describes feminism (figure 5), this question gave the most
interesting answers as well as raised to the most complications.

 

 

 

 

Results

            As mentioned above, 30 surveys were completed, 17 of
which done by females and 13 of which done by males. Everyone who completed the
survey was aged 13-20 years old. Students were first asked what their opinion
on the feminist movement, only 20% of people said it was an important movement
we still need, 30% of people said it is no longer needed, and lastly 50% of students
said it is no longer the fight for equality. Everyone who said it was still a
fight for equality was a woman. All men but one said it was no longer a fight
for equality. Students were then asked which word they thought described
feminism the best, 20 % said that angry best describes feminism, 67% said
powerful best describes feminism, 6% said helpful best describes feminism, 4%
said beneficial best describes feminism, and lastly 3% said not sure. Every
student who said angry was male, and all that said beneficial were female.
Males and females evenly stated that powerful best describes feminism. It was
also a female who answered not sure. The next question asked was, would you
consider yourself a feminist, 17% of student considered themselves feminists,
83% of student did not consider themselves feminists. Only one male considered
themselves to be a feminist. Most females said they were not feminists, however
most people who said they were feminists were females. Question 6 was, do you
believe feminism benefits males, 44% said yes, and 56% said no. Everyone who
answered yes was female. There were a few females who said it does not benefit
male, but most of the answers were males. Another question they were asked was,
do you believe feminism is outdated, 34% said yes, 66% said no. Every male but
one answered yes. The 34% were made up of mostly females. When asked, does the
feminist movement address your equality wants, 30% said yes it does, 70% said
no it does not. All the 30% were female. The final question was, do you believe
in equality, 100% of people said yes.

Discussion

            The data received from the surveys gave a lot of insight
into what students thought, students tended to contradict themselves with their
answers. Many students did however show that millennials do have a negative
outlook on the feminist movement. The younger the students the worst they
seemed to think of feminism. If this keeps up feminism will be a distant
memory. The surveys were riddled with contradictions. For example, the students
who did not identify as feminists also said that powerful best describes the
feminism. Some males described feminism as helpful however, those same males
said they were not feminists. These contradictions make the data received very
confusing. This could mean that teens do not know enough about feminism or they
had underlying reasons for thier answers contradicting their other answers.
Most of the females has said they do not identify as feminists, you would
except this type of answer from boys but not from girls. There are many reasons
as to why females may answer no to this question. Female teens most likely have
a negative showing of what feminism is by the way social media portrays it.
Being socially accepted is very important in todays society, so many teen girls
want to fit in with normal teens and do not see being feminist as normal
behaviour. Another reason is that teen girls believe they must devote their
whole life to be a feminist. During an interview with author, Julie Zeilinger,
about feminism a teen was quoted saying, “I just want to be a normal
teenager.”. This quite just shows how badly they think of it, teens think they
will lose their whole life if the join the feminist movement. Many teen girls
get the idea that once they become a feminist they are ridiculed and judged by
society. The book “Why Feminism is not a dirty word” describes these finding
perfectly. In the book it is stated that teens have the idea that once you
become a feminist you must give up your life, your personality, everything that
makes you, you. “But you don’t look really look like or act like a feminist”
(Julie Zeilinger 2013) that was passaged was said by a little boy to a girl who
had recently come out as a feminist. This again shows the misconception the
many young children have about feminism. The survey also showed the difference
between the way males look at feminism versus how females do. When asked if
they thought feminism benefits, females were the only ones to answer yes. This
is yet another contradiction, because many females answered that feminism is no
longer a fight for equality, but they say it benefits males. These
contradictions show two things, those being that teens do not have a full
understanding of what feminism truly is as well as they have the idea of
feminism twisted in their brain. Furthering the point that they perceive it
negatively.  The secondary source
information matched with my survey very accurately, as mentioned before only
18% of U.S citizens considered themselves feminists (The Washington Post 2017),
and only 17% of the students considered themselves feminists. In a PBS article
it is stated that the term feminism has been taken over by extremists who have
changed what the term means. Many students believe the same thing, 50% said it
was no longer a fight for equality. The fact that so many people believe it is
no longer a fight for equality further highlights that society perceives
feminism negatively.

            Many feminist organisations blame social media portrayal
as the leading reason feminism is declining over time. Social media sites
usually show radical feminists doing bizarre and even hateful thing towards men
and sometimes other women. These videos are a huge reason as to why the younger
generation is not going the feminist movement. Social media has also pushed the
idea that equality amongst genders has not been reached. There are also laws in
place that make people believe that gender equality has been reached, such as
gender discrimination laws. Many youths do not know enough about laws to
understand how they work, they think that because they exist the thing the law
is trying to stop must not exist. Just because these laws say they stop gender
inequality many people believe it is still alive in the western world. The laws
do not allow employers to hire based on gender, but according to many people it
still happens. The laws also state that pay between genders must be the same,
but once again many people believe that is not true. It is just very hard for
feminists to get the true ideas out without being flooded by the radicalistic
views. People tend not to care about something unless they find it interesting
and the radical videos of feminists is what society deems as interesting,
therefore people see this is feminism and not the other views. Many people also
believe that feminism needs to be redefined, because it is no longer a fight
for equality. Most of society wants it to be changed to the radicalistic views
(American Psychological Association). All the aforementioned views and
misconceptions furthers the point that feminism is perceived negatively by most
of society.

            Many people also have other reasons to look negatively at
feminism. There is more than just that it is a man hating group that no longer
wants to fight for equality. Many people believe it is only seen as important
by Western society. You do not hear much of feminism in areas outside of North
American, this is since most Easterners are content with the equality and life
they have in their respected areas. This not applicable to all areas but most
of Europe views feminism as useless. Many people also believe that it only
applies to women in industrial societies. This is a very fair negative as much
of the complaints are about the workplace, women who work on farms or don’t
have to deal with the industrialized areas of north America don’t care to much
about the feminist movement as it does not impact them. A lot of society also
tends to believe that in certain areas where feminism is prominent, women were
never discriminated against. This creates a deep hatred for the group as it is
a huge waste of time. Others say, feminism would lead to the segregation of men
and women (Victoria, University of Wellington).  This other negative further show that most of
society does not think that feminism is beneficial and overall thinks it is a
negative.  

            Conformity and alienation is another society perceives feminism
as negative. People tend to feel pressured to join or not to join certain groups
based on the rest of society. They want to fit in with society, so they will go
against their beliefs just to fit in. Society and social media tends to force people
to go against the feminist movement. People want to feel like they belong, and many
feel that if they join the feminist movement they will not belong. Society also
feels as though they can avoid bullying and criticism if they conform to not joining
certain social groups (Trojek 2017), such as feminism. Alienation also plays a huge
role into why it is so negatively perceived. People are terrified to be separated
from the largest group of people and want to feel like they belong. Conformity and
Alienation would also explain the data reflected in my survey, teens are the most
likely to conform with peers and the majority of society. It would make sense that
most of the answers are in wide majority when it came to the survey. Society feels
like they need to view feminism as a negative to fit in with society.  

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