When Did 'Feminism' Become Such a Dirty Word? | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

When Did ‘Feminism’ Become Such a Dirty Word?

With countless female stars stepping out as 'non-feminists', Deputy Editor Shannon Carey asks women are so keen to distance themselves from the movement.

Feminism is by no means a ‘new’ issue. Women have been striving throughout history for basic human rights; for their own entitlement of freedom; for equal worth in society to their male counterparts, and because of the many gains reached by the feminist ideology, we are now closer to gender equality in society than we have ever been before.

But despite feminism being such a powerful, historic campaign, there lately seems to be a shift in the society’s view of ‘feminism’, and, regretfully, the shift appears to be happening with other women. Over the last few months countless female stars, instead of aligning themselves with the movement that their predecessors fought for across decades, have shunned the feminist ‘label’. From Shailene Woodley and Kaley Cuoco to Evangeline Lilly and Lana Del Rey, these celebrities have each given their own excuses for not being feminist, whether it be because they enjoy their femininity, that they love caring for their partners, or in the mind-boggling case of Del Rey, that feminism is just too boring to be involved with.

Feminism isn’t a case of having to always be a feisty and independent woman

While everyone is of course entitled to their own opinion and beliefs, the influx of these women disregarding the title of ‘feminist’ raises a worrying question over whether the true meaning of feminism is understood. Feminism isn’t a case of having to always be a feisty and independent woman, or of having to take on the notions of masculinity – plain and simple, feminism is a desire for both genders to be equal to one another, a goal that surely all women and men should share.

Shailene Woodley is just one of many stars part of the 'I'm Not A Feminist' phenomenon

Shailene Woodley is just one of many stars part of the 'I'm Not A Feminist' phenomenon

But misunderstanding or not, the stigma attached to feminism, even today, is not something we should excuse. Just months ago, feminism reached new highs with the domination of female party leaders in the General Election, each of whom fought eloquently and fearlessly to mark their place in the previously male dominated realm of politics. Just this week, we saw the rise of Taylor Swift as she took on industry giants Apple, proving that ‘femininity’ need not get in the way of fighting for what you believe in and getting what you want. With so many positive changes happening around the world for women – and even more so, with so much work yet to be done for gender equality – it is a crying shame that feminism is still so easily renounced.  Feminism is a movement that has earned its stripes across the decades and for anyone, particularly other women, to push away the valiant efforts of their mothers and grandmothers is incredulous. Years and years of pain, effort, hard work and determination are what create feminism. From Emily Davison throwing herself under a horse, women running munitions factories throughout wars and marches in Dagenham for equal pay to the rise of female icons like Twiggy in the 60s, storming in at the 1970s Miss World protest and even the recent efforts of Laura Bates in her Everyday Sexism project, feminism has fought inequality at every turn and achieved so much. There is a reason these women are taught in history classes. So, who is anyone to take the efforts of those brave women and yet distance themselves away from their fight?

Feminism is one of the only equality issues that people can still criticise

Ultimately, it seems feminism is one of the only equality issues that people can still criticise. It may be one thing for these celebrities to stand up and claim ‘not to be feminist’, but it would be quite another if they stated they weren’t against racism, or if they weren’t against discrimination of the lower classes. But whether we are talking about anti-racism, anti-classism or feminism, they all boil down to one thing: equality for everyone in the world. Feminism is not man-hating, or “bra-burning lesbianism” as Geri Halliwell so tastefully described it in 2007, but simply gender equality. So Kaley Cuoco can happily cook for her husband if she likes, and Evangeline Lilly can retain her femininity, because women have fought for years for them to have the right to do so, and to do anything else they so please. Mark Ruffalo described in best in his recent rant over the ‘I’m Not A Feminist’ phenomenon (proof that nobody has excuse not to be feminist, even if they aren’t female), stating “In short, you know not what you speak of. You reap the rewards of these women’s sacrifices every day of your life. When you grin with your cutsey sign about how you’re not a feminist, you ignorantly spit on the sacred struggle of the past 200 years. You bite the hand that has fed you freedom, safety, and a voice”. And of course, he is beautifully right. So, to all the female stars so quick to shun the feminist light, or to anyone else in the entire world rushing to do the same, please sit back, do your research and think before you distance yourself from a movement you should instead be whole-heartedly proud of, and remember, feminism is nothing to be ashamed of.

Deputy Editor, writer and future crazy cat lady (@shannaniganx)


25th June 2015 at 8:00 pm

Images from

Warren K. Leffler and Nick Stepowyj