Let’s talk about feminism (the right way)

Eugenia Ko

A part of me really wants to shrink behind Emma Watson and let her do the talking.

Although the actress’ speech at the U.N. conference in January introducing the HeForShe campaign, a solidarity movement for gender equality, was the most inclusive feminist message I have heard yet, even she was not immune from the sexist social media backlash that often follows a discussion of feminism.

But in light of recent conversations, including those sparked by Jackson Katz’s assembly speech last week about gender violence, I’m going to ignore my reservations and share how I’ve always felt about feminism.

Yeah, I get it. We’re talking a lot about feminism. People have talked about it for a long time before any of us (as my U.S. history reading of Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique” tells me.) We’re talking more about it here too — in the Chronicle, with Katz last week, and very commonly on social media forums like Facebook and What’s Goodly.

The more we talk about it the better. But what no one has said is that a lot of the conversations, especially those conducted on social media, need to change.

Social media is surely an outlet for the feminism discussion, given that most of us spend a tremendous amount of time scrolling, liking posts, and creating an online identity of who we are and what we believe. For many girls (and hopefully for more boys, as time goes on), feminism has and will become a crucial part of their identities.

It is often not what we want to say about feminism but how we say it on social media that detracts from the conversation. I say “we” because we all do it — girls, boys, everyone in between — we are all at fault.

The hardly revolutionary concept at the core of feminism, that women should be treated as equals to men, is one that we in this community can all surely agree upon. Our common belief system and values that we uphold stress that we do so.

On a basic level, there are a lot of ideological errors that hinder conversation. It’s clear that feminism has taken on the negative connotation of man-hating or female domination. Girls who post stories on social media about sexist treatment think they have to include disclaimers separating them from feminists in order to be heard. Many boys in comment sections think these same stories blame them, that they are not benefited by or affiliated with feminism because they are not girls, nor are they the kind of men mentioned in these stories.

All of these perceptions can only be reversed through productive discussion. But the same values of basic respect and kindness that require us to believe that men and women should be treated equally are often lost in our conversation on social media. In the process, the basic idea, the indisputable concept of feminism as fundamental equal rights for women and men, is tainted by the misconstrued conversation and twisted words.

Because many of us contribute to this misinterpretation, whether by throwing around the term “feminazi” when a girl says something slightly more radical, or saying “I’m not a feminist because I love men,” it is up to us to correct the conversation, both in what we say and how we say it.

We can’t discuss feminism while berating each other, cursing and contradicting ourselves. The way we treat each other has everything to do with feminism. If we treat each other the way we do on Facebook, Twitter or other social media platforms in our discussion about feminism, we will never be able to get beyond the hate.

We have a real shot at making a difference in how feminism is perceived. When this article is posted on social media, I hope we can take that shot the right way.