(N.B. This post will not discuss any finer points or broader definitions of 'feminism' other than the Dictionary.com definition of "the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men.")
On Sunday, I retweeted @MediocreDave, who had said "Being a feminist is fun and all, but it does rather make you angry all the time.". After I did this, I ended up spending the day trying to defend feminism from the most base stereotype - that feminism = misandry.
This is just one example of the many times that I've had to do this.
It seems that people these days are still far too willing to accept, and even promote, the forty-odd year old stereotype of feminists as humourless, sexless, unattractive man-haters. This goes not just for men, but for women as well, and tackling this seems to be the main problem that feminists have today.
For all the debate about ideologies and stances between those of us who ascribe to the the notion of feminism (i.e. those of us who describe ourselves as feminists), we must realise that although we wish to represent the majority, until the majority also wish to be represented by feminism, we are fighting a losing battle.
What I mean by this is that, although we feminists speak for the rights of all women, there are far too many women (and men), who recoil from the label of 'feminism', even though they agree with the central notion of equality - and this is because of the stereotypes that are bandied about.
There is no doubt that the feminists I know are privileged. We are (mostly) educated to degree-level and sometimes beyond, and will, by virtue of this, not bear the worst brunts of sexism experienced by those who are not as privileged. This is why we must fight for their rights. However, something must be done about the disenfranchisement of those for whom we speak.
I do not blame feminists for this disenfranchisement. I blame the sullying of the word 'feminism' for this. MRAs, and misogynists in general, have systematically turned the word 'feminist' into an insult to be bandied about when they feel that their position at the top of the table is being threatened. It is much easier for them to invoke a harmful stereotype and refuse to engage in rational discussion than it is for them to explain their position, or to baldly admit that they do not think women should have the same equality of rights, opportunity and consequence as men. How are we to advance our movement when every question we ask, or debate we try to provoke is met with derision and a refusal to engage?
In a sense, this stereotype is perfect for misogynists - they have both achieved a (in their eyes) legitimate excuse not to engage in discussion, and have also managed to turn the very people who should be most interested in feminism against it, for fear of ridicule.
Before we can achieve anything, we must combat this stereotyping, and show people what it means to be a feminist. If people are scared to label themselves as a feminist, it makes our movement look a lot more intimidating and a lot less inclusive than it is. It also makes it appear that we have much less popular support for the aims of equality than we do.
The main problem with this is that once anything we try to achieve is tarred with the 'feminist' brush, it loses popular support from those who do not understand feminism because of the stereotype, and just see us as angry, sanctimonious bitches who never want to let anyone have any fun. Think, for example, about soft pornography (i.e. 'men's magazines' and page 3) - women may feel uncomfortable with their partner's consumption of such products, as they promote unrealistic and unethical body ideals and encourage the view of women as interchangeable objects with no higher value than how pert their tits are, but feel unable to articulate their feelings for fear of being labelled as 'boring'. This is just one example of how the popular conception of feminism harms women.
So, how can we achieve change? Obviously, there has been the This Is What A Feminist Looks Like movement, but my problem with this is that it offers nothing to really dispel the myths that are pushed about, nor does it offer any education. People who do not understand feminism do not learn anything from this movement other than to not stereotype feminists by looks. They may still believe that to be a feminist is akin to wanting to advance women's rights over those of men, or that to be a feminist is tantamount to being a misandrist. It says nothing of the equality which is central to the feminist cause in general.
So... any ideas?