Who could forget when President Donald Trump called Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton a “nasty woman” at the final presidential debate back in October? The impulsive quip seamlessly transformed into a meme overnight, as well as an ironic rallying cry for Clinton supporters and women who proudly speak up for their rights, demand respect and shoulder harassment and condescension as a result.
Being criticized and disparaged and called angry, extra and, yes, even “nasty” for being vocal and passionate about anything is just part of being a woman — especially being a young woman. For example, the terms “feminazi” and “social justice warrior” have recently emerged on social media as young feminists speak up against attacks on reproductive rights, the recent Muslim immigration ban and other concerning political threats against marginalized groups by the Trump administration.
These labels ignore the historically powerful struggle for social progress that feminism encompasses and continue the longstanding tradition of condescending upon young women and trivializing the things they feel strongly about, from Starbucks, to Uggs, to boybands and, today, to political advocacy and social justice.
Calling people “feminazis” and “SJWs” sends the message that the identity-based causes we are advocating for are petty and irrelevant, that we are backing inconsequential issues, picking unnecessary fights and even attacking free speech rights. To those who have never experienced some form of identity-based harassment or discrimination, feminism has already won its battle, and those of us who continue to fight are being whiny and overly sensitive.
It’s easy to view a transgender individual’s struggle to safely use the bathroom without harassment or threat of arrest and have their gender pronouns respected, as petty demands when you are cisgender and will never have to fight for recognition. It’s easy to shrug off advocacy for Planned Parenthood and reproductive rights with the retort “abortion is already legal” when you’ll never have to worry about dehumanizing infringements on your bodily autonomy. It’s easy to roll your eyes at “trigger warnings” when you’re not a survivor of sexual assault struggling with PTSD. After all, privilege is often blinding, and results in unnecessarily hostile responses to people who fight for equal rights and respect or have the audacity to point out that inequality exists — all the more so when those raising their voices are young women.
There are, inevitably, situations where some feminists can respond disproportionately to slips of tongue, inadvertent omissions or accidental microaggressions. An example of this might be labeling Ashton Kutcher an ableist for failing to bring up the rights of differently abled people in his Screen Actors Guild award speech on Sunday. Individual incidents can be sensationalized by internet activists who are quick to anger without context, but ultimately, who really gets to define what is a serious issue worthy of young women’s advocacy? What should or shouldn’t be called out and discussed?
Our nation was established on the very free speech rights that those who dub vocal feminists as “feminazis” accuse us of violating. In a society built on free speech, no one has the sweeping authority to dismiss issues as unworthy of discussion and protest. If it’s fair to demand that people be less sensitive, it should also be fair to demand that people be more respectful and socially conscious.
To call passionate feminists “feminazis” also establishes an uncomfortable false equivalence between feminists and far-right neo-Nazis. I fail to understand how viewing people of color and women as subhuman could be perceived as the same evil of demanding respect for pronouns and gender identity or how calls to end universal suffrage equate to calls for universal healthcare.
In a sad twist of irony, the push for the abandonment of identity politics and advocacy, which purportedly led to Trump’s election by alienating privileged people uncomfortable with hearing about the experiences of marginalized groups, has gained momentum at a time when those of marginalized identities are under greater threat than ever. Nearly every executive order and statement by our new president serves to validate and potentially embolden bigots, and despite legitimate cause to fight for the civil liberties of women and all minorities, disdainful labels such as “feminazi” and “social justice warrior” by the privileged send the message that these issues don’t matter.
Despite this derision and taunting, we must always remember that there is nothing wrong with maintaining high standards for the way you and others are treated. If you feel disrespected, if you notice inequality and are outraged by it, don’t let anyone shame you into silence. Your experiences matter, your feelings matter and the issues you care about — if for no other reason than because you care about them — matter, and you owe it to yourself to speak up.
Kylie Cheung is a freshman majoring in journalism and political science. She is also the editorial director of the Daily Trojan. Her column,“You do Uterus,” runs every Thursday.