Culture Undiscovered: Feminism: A Four-Letter Word?

Last week, I talked a little bit about how frustrating it is to hear people say that women aren’t funny. Well, this week I found living, breathing proof that women are funny (in case Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Kristen Wiig and company aren’t proof enough) when I went to “Feminism in the Modern World,” a talk given by Samhita Mukhopadhyay. Samhita is executive director of the wildly popular blog Feministing, and author of the book Outdated: Why Dating is Ruining Your Love Life. She’s laugh out loud funny, and is also – gasp — a self-proclaimed feminist at the same time.

ASU’s Programming and Activities Board brought Samhita to Tempe on April 11. Photo courtesy of jodisolomonspeakers.com.

Samhita first discovered feminism through the riot grrrl culture of the ‘90s, when handmade zines and bands like Bikini Kill taught a whole generation of girls what she calls “the language of feminism.” However, Samhita also felt isolated from the mainly white, middle-class movement. She searched for a more inclusive community, but found that as a woman she was not able to become a part of the rap/hip-hop culture that dominated her college years either. What she found was that nearly everywhere, groups of women of color and young women were invisible — so, she set out to “change the story we tell about women, to change the reality around us.”

What is that reality? Well, it can be pretty depressing. Rates of domestic violence nationwide remain high, sexual assault laws need improving, and the Republican Party seems to think that women are walking uteruses. Rapist Ben Roethlisberger is still a celebrated football hero, an alarming number of girls tweeted about how Chris Brown could beat them any day following his recent Grammy performance, and Rush Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke a slut for saying that women need birth control.

However horrible this all may seem, there’s an unexpected silver lining in the aftermath of Rush’s verbal diarrhea: over 100 of his advertisers left him, and not even Rush’s halfhearted apology could make them come back. Samhita says that this points to a larger trend, especially among young people. Namely, that “we are engaged in the way that we’re being perceived in the media and the rights that we have access to.” This has been especially true in online communities, where websites like Feministing often help to enact concrete change.

One powerful example of this is the online feminist community’s reaction to Susan G. Komen’s defunding of Planned Parenthood: within 24 hours the organization had to shut down their Twitter and Facebook due to the outcry, and soon after they apologized and vowed to reinstate the funding. In the meantime, online activists had helped to raise millions of dollars in additional funding for Planned Parenthood. Stories like this are proof that not only does feminism give us the chance to change the stories told about us (and the history behind them), Samhita believes that it also “reminds us we are not alone.”

So, is feminism still a four-letter word? In the words of teen feminist blogger extraordinaire Tavi Gevinson, feminism is a conversation. To attempt to make it anything less than that would be unreasonable, and making it a bad word is just plain stupid.

Email me at jlpruett@asu.edu.