By Jen SifferlenEDITORIAL EDITOR
The word “feminist” scares people. And when it’s spelled with a capital “F,” it sends people running. The word conjures ideas of bra burning, man hating and hairy armpits abounding, but the gender equality movement is so much bigger than that.
Conditions for women have improved over time, ranging from women’s suffrage to the first female presidential candidate, but we still have a long way to go. In the workplace, women still face pay disparities and fixed work schedules that make it hard to raise a child. They are perceived as bossy rather than strong.
All over the United States, access to abortion and contraception prohibits women from making their own decisions about what happens to their body, and in some countries, women cannot go to school, own property or even decide who, or at what age, they will marry.
Just this past year, social campaigns have surfaced that aim to take on some of these problems. Sheryl Sandberg’s “Ban Bossy” began to tackle the negative social perception of girls and women in leadership positions.
The firing of The New York Times executive editor, Jill Abramson, sparked a gender pay gap debate. Her termination from the company, which people suspect was a result of her request for a salary raise to match those of her male predecessors, sparked the subsequent trending of the Twitter hash tag #EqualPay.
While these campaigns have thrown gender inequality into the spotlight, they have neglected half of the population. Men suffer from gender stereotypes, too, but they have not been a part of the conversation.
Last week, actress and UN spokesperson Emma Watson launched a campaign called HeForShe, which invites men to participate in the feminist movement.
“Men,” said Watson, “Gender equality is your issue, too." Watson addressed the UN on both sides of the stereotypes. Just like women are valued less professionally because they may have children some day, men are valued less as parents because they are expected to focus more on their careers. Watson also touched upon emotional gender expectations. Leadership is associated with men, while expressing one’s feelings is characterized as feminine. As a result, women are held back while on the job, and men are discouraged from reaching out for mental and emotional help.
As Watson eloquently puts it, “Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong… It is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum, not as two opposing sets of ideals.”
The speech was met with overwhelming applause and positive comments from much of the media, including an op-ed from a 15 year-old boy from Britain who argued that “we must not let our gender define us.”
But not all reacted positively. Threats to leak nude photographs of Watson, while ultimately false, drove to undercut the message of HeForShe and set the movement back. These childish, instinctive reactions reflect the unpopular sentiment that surrounds the idea of equality for women.
Feminism scares people. It shouldn’t. The fight for women is not a fight against men. It is, instead, an effort to do away with the gender stereotypes and social expectations that imprison both sexes.
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