Like most 19-year-old girls, there’s one individual on this planet who I find more groundbreaking than sliced bread and more mesmerizing than puppies during finals week: Beyoncé.
In fact, as I pound away at my keyboard in the early hours of the morning, whipping out my introductory column, it’s Queen Bey who’s blaring through my headphones — it’s lyrics such as “You wake up, flawless / Post up, flawless / Ride round in it, flawless.”
But even the Queen can make mistakes. Even though Beyoncé churns out incredible numbers that speak to the power of womanhood, she’s also wary of the word “feminist”. So wary, that she told British Vogue that the word feminist “can be very extreme.” Though she added later, “I guess I am a modern-day feminist,” her words drip with hesitation — a sure sign that Queen Bey is not as comfortable with the term as the public might want her to be.
Unfortunately, the word “feminist” evokes images of bra-burning women who hate men and label the world as one big patriarchal wreck. But take a look at Merriam-Webster, at the Oxford dictionary or any well-respected text and the word “feminism” or “feminist” boils down to this: “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.”
It’s that simple. But why is the word “feminist” so taboo? It’s because society makes it that way. From the mass media to your average Joe, people fear its use because of its extremist connotations, so they refuse to employ it.
In reality, this word, and variations of it, pay homage to the work of Susan B. Anthony, to innovators such as Marie Curie, to gutsy leaders such as Indira Gandhi. Instead of embracing a word with such rich history, however, we shun it.
According to Noah Berlatsky, a correspondent for The Atlantic, the word connotes “a movement, a history, a faith, and a hope for change.” Excluding the term from everyday conversation means stopping a much-needed dialogue about topics such as sexual assault and female leadership.
The Guardian publishes a blog series called “Secret Teacher,” on which anonymous contributors have the opportunity to write on the tribulations of education. In one post, a contributor argues that feminism has become a “dirty word,” making it difficult to be taught in a classroom setting.
“One of the reasons why feminism has been shunned from our schools is because of the now commonplace — and highly necessary — recognition that on average girls’ academic achievement is higher than boys,” the writer asserts.
The academic achievement of girls during their time in school does not reflect the ambition gap that exists after girls complete regular schooling. In truth, too few women land high-level roles in Fortune 500 companies or go on to lead their nations. This is just one of numerous reasons why the feminist dialogue is imperative — it pushes us to think about the meaning of equality and opportunity for all.
In a contemporary context, feminists are women such as Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, who seek to empower other women and break gender barriers. And of course, we cannot forget that men are a critical part of the feminist movement’s growth. Achieving gender equality requires contributions from people of both genders.
So on the off-chance that Beyoncé is reading this very column, I have hopefully helped her reconsider her perception of one of the most dynamic words in the English language.
Rini Sampath is a sophomore majoring in International Relations. Her column “Leaning In” runs Mondays.