The first introduction I had to the feminist movement was during a lecture in my high school English class.
Before the lesson began, my teacher asked students if they considered themselves to be feminists and to raise their hands if they were. Sadly, no student, including myself, raised his or her hand. At the time I didn’t think much of it, but now I know why they chose not to associate themselves with this term.
At the end of the lesson, my teacher again asked the class to raise their hands if they now considered themselves to be a feminist. This time, only three students, including myself, raised their hands.
I remember feeling repulsed that more students did not support such a noble cause. As I matured, I discovered that more people than I ever would have imagined supported gender equality, but do not consider themselves feminists.
Much later in my life I concluded that the negative stigma associated with the phrase “feminism” is what kept my peers from labeling themselves feminists.
According to Webster’s Dictionary, feminism is “the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.”
Unfortunately, some people who preach feminism have contributed to tarnishing the reputation of this truly non-violent and beautiful cause.
A radical subgroup of privileged feminists in Western countries have conditioned themselves to see the feminism movement as a one-sided fight to prove women are above men.
Instead of fighting for causes that should take precedent, like global female education, this radical feminist subgroup host women-only concerts and protests for the right to free their nipples.
They spew hateful speech grouping all men together. They believe wearing shirts that say “nasty woman” liberates them, and label women who choose to dress in a modest fashion as victims of their culture.
In their fight for power, this Western radical subgroup has forgotten that feminism calls for equality, not control.
Our community will only be liberated when all women are free from the social bounds of gender.
Some women are still sold as human trafficking slaves, are forced into arranged marriages and are banned from receiving an education or driving.
Feminists in Eastern countries, such as Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan, fight for those loftier goals. Yousafzai received death threats for speaking out about her fears that her school would be attacked and the importance of education for women. She later survived an assassination attempt by the Taliban.
The Egyptian Feminist Union has worked to get more women involved in Egyptian politics and is currently pushing to better women’s education.
Female infanticide – the killing of girls shortly after they’re born – is still prevalent in China, India and Pakistan. According to the United Nations Population Fund, this practice has resulted in at least 60 million girls in Asia going missing and is an issue that the Feminist Five group in Asia has been working to raise awareness for.
I do not blame the world for seeing the feminist movement as toxic, because sometimes it can be depicted as such through these radical subgroups. It’s understandable why some people who want equality among the sexes would be tentative to adopt the label of feminist.
It is my hope that one day radical Western subgroups can join the ranks of the honorable women who have fought in the best interest of the whole, instead of a select minority.
Allaa Tayeb is a sophomore majoring in English and film studies.