There is simply no better form of amusement than to watch an individual respond to being called a feminist.

In this age of hypersensitive political correctness, one can generally assume that people won’t openly deride one who supports the political, economic and social equality of minorities. Though women continue to function as a minority in many arenas, to this day, the word “feminist” has a deeply negative connotation. While I enjoy, at a superficial level, the discomfort I evoke from those I shock with the accusation of feminism, their reaction actually saddens and perplexes me. Why this reaction? Isn’t feminism just the opposite of sexism? Why does the word “feminist” exist in the first place?

Feminism is not mainstream, even among women. According to a combined effort by EMILY’s List, the National Organization for Women and NARAL Pro-Choice America, recent research shows that women are distancing themselves from the word “feminist,” regardless of beliefs they hold that align with the movement. The word carries a social stigma, one that conjures images of wild-eyed, angry, butch-looking women with interestingly short haircuts.

This ridiculous imputation complements a decades-old perception that there is no need for feminism – that women achieved equality in 1920 when they won the right to vote. But the devastating statistics of rape, domestic violence, workplace discrimination and pay inequity provide just a few examples of the many ways in which women are oppressed in contemporary America. In this country, one in three women will be physically abused. In this country, a rape occurs every six minutes. And in this country, only 2 percent of rapists are ever convicted and imprisoned.

This is the reality in this small, seemingly progressive corner of the world. When looking worldwide, we find female genital mutilation, sex trafficking and forced prostitution. These injustices dominate the lives of women around the world – and by women, I include little girls that still believe in Santa Claus.

Being a feminist today means believing in women’s equality and acknowledging the challenges to this equality in society. It is unfortunate that some regard those who fight for gender parity as militant bra-burners who think that all men are rapists and pigs. No feminist I know believes such things, and I know quite a few.

Feminists don’t burn their bras – and you certainly don’t need breasts to qualify as a feminist. Feminists are individuals who care about securing equal opportunity across the board, and any ideas to the contrary should be ignored. These misguided, radical perceptions make men and women afraid to call themselves feminists, alienating those who might otherwise be willing to speak up for women’s rights.

Popular disdain for the word “feminist” should be all the evidence we need to realize that sexism is still deeply rooted in our society. Lingering stereotypes and the attitudes surrounding them reflect an old-fashioned patriarchal disdain for women who stir up trouble by pointing out social discrepancies.

Sexism still exists – in Afghanistan, in Africa, in the branches of our government and even on the most liberal of college campuses. The fight for gender equality will triumph when stereotypes like those accompanying the word “feminist” are recognized and eradicated, which can only come from the combined efforts of both men and women, and invariably, the passage of time. In the meantime, I sincerely hope students on this campus will fess up to their feminism. We can all start here to shed the negative connotation associated with those who speak out on behalf of equality.

Bridget Nugent is a junior in the College. She can be reached at nugentthehoya.com. A Word for Jane Hoya appears every other Monday on www.thehoya.com.

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