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The f Word

Interestingly, this word feminism, it has been a very tricky word, and when I heard it the
first time I heard some negative responses," Yousafzai tells Watson. "I hesitated in saying,
'Am I a feminist or not,' and then after hearing your speech when you said, 'If not now,
when? If not me, who?' I decided that ... there's nothing wrong with calling yourself a
feminist." She adds, "So I am a feminist and we all should be feminists because feminism
is another word for equality. ... People have forgotten its definition" (Viral Video).
As Nobel Peace Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai, stated to famous actress and UN
ambassador, Emma Watson, people have forgotten the definition of feminism (Viral
Video). To many, the definition includes hairy, man-hating women holding explicit signs
with female anatomy and yelling for various reason somewhat relating to womens rights.
They could not be farther from the truth, and these interpretations come from the lack of
understanding of the feminist movement. Feminism as defined by the Websters
Dictionary is the advocacy of womens rights on the grounds of political, social, and
economic equality to men (Feminism). It does not include being extremely radical,
angry, or hating men as the stereotype suggests. The feminist movement consists of three
waves each defined by different actions and responses to injustices against women. Over
the last two centuries, the movement of feminism has transformed to a stigmatized term
which has now become a commonly discussed norm of society and social media. These
changes correspond with the transformation of how feminism is perceived by society.

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Youve come a long way, baby, a phrase coined by the cigarette company, Lucky
Strike to advertise their Virginia Slim cigarettes, perfectly captured the transformation of
the feminist movement (Mickleburgh). The goals of feminism in America have evolved
from getting the right to vote, to combating the stereotypical roles of women, to now
promoting a global equality and decreasing the pressures of perfect body image.
Because of these shifts and the stereotypes that come with each movement, feminism has
become a term with which many people struggle to identify. Even Carly Fiorina, former
CEO of Howard-Packard and a Republican candidate in the 2016 Presidential Election
claims, [Feminism is a] left-leaning political ideology where women are pitted against
men and used as political weapons to win elections (Kohn). It is absurd that a woman
who embodies the definition of feminism by breaking both political and social norms by
running for president and being a former CEO of a highly successful company is unable
to identify with a word describing her everyday actions. This further exhibits the point
that feminism negative stereotypes still exist. Although the stigma of feminism is
decreasing and the movement has come a long way, there is still a long way to go in the
battle for womens rights.
The battle for Womens Rights in America started in the late 19th century and was
categorized by middle class, white women struggling for basic rights. Many women
gathered in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848 to outline and define the very first feminist
movement in America. This politically focused movements goals were designed by

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women and men to legally outline the campaign for women to gain their basic rights and
become equal to men such as the right to vote and the right to own property. After African
American males were given the right to vote in 1870, many of the women who helped
fight wanted to have the same rights as those they assisted. This struggle characterized
the first wave of feminism. Aside from the waves political focus, the women started to
question the cult of domesticity, the idea that womens true role was in the home (Mikell).
This idea did not fully take shape until the second wave of feminism.
Unlike women of the second wave of feminism, the women of the first wave were
not radical. They often met under formal circumstances with political leaders and took
small, well-organized activist stands. The largest peaceful walk for suffrage was the day
before Woodrow Wilson was inaugurated as president in 1917. Although organized and
non-violent, the women involved were spit on, had objects thrown at them, and some
were even assaulted because many were opposed to women taking a stand. Because many
of the women were involved in the fight for African American rights, the women learned
many methods from the previous protest and applied that to their battle for equality.
These suffragettes reached their goal on August 18, 1920, when the 19th Amendment
was ratified and women were given the right to vote (Williams). The first wave of
feminism started an impactful movement by demonstrating how much change needed to
happen for womens equality in America.
Because of the World Wars, many women who were devoted to the feminist
movement spent much of their time helping the troops by getting jobs or other various

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activities. When the second World War ended and the troops came back home, many of
the women were expected to leave their jobs and go back to domestic work. This created
unrest throughout homes and started the change of thought about womens roles in
America. In 1962, Betty Friedan captured this unrest in her book The Feminine Mystique
which embodied the values of feminism in the second wave. This book expressed the
discontent that many American women were feeling and explained that they do not need
to stay in the home to be fulfilled (The 1960s- 70s). Many women began working in
professional settings which lead to the decrease in birth rates. With the FDA approval of
the birth control pill and the passing of Roe v Wade, feminism contributed to the sexual
revolution that played a major role in the 1960s-70s (Mehta). Freidans book also
encouraged many feminists to continue the political view of the first wave by focusing on
the passing of the Equal Rights Amendment which would guarantee the equality of men
and women under the law (Williams). Although John F. Kennedy, president at the time,
was unwilling to pass this amendment, he did create the Presidential Commission on the
Status of Women which worked to pass 412 pieces of legislation around womens status.
The second wave of feminism resulted in the shift from perceiving women as domestic
slaves to professional contemporaries.
Many traditionalist were unhappy with the change giving feminist a radical and
contemporary reputation. The women who pioneered the corporate world are partially
responsible for creating the stigma on feminism. Also, many feminist demonstration were
interpreted as offensive resulting in the words negative connotation. Because the time

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period of the movement takes place during the 1960-70s, protesting was the way people
shared their opinions on injustices (The 1960- 70s). The most extreme protests of the
second wave were at the Miss America Pageants in 1968 and 1969. Many women and
some men held signs of women with their bodies outlined like sides of beef and also
religiously offensive signs like, Eve was framed. The women also burnt bras, kitchen
and cleaning items, feminine hygiene items, and other items stereotypically used by
women (Gibson). Demonstrations like this led to second wave feminists being known as
feminazis and contributing to the movements dissatisfactory reputation.
The third wave of feminism has decreased this dissatisfactory reputation of the
movement provoked by the second wave. Started in the late 1900s, the third waves goal
that continues today is to create a contemporary form of feminism that promotes a
mixture of political, social and cultural activism (Rotramel). This wave has created nonradical, relatable movements that range from promoting womens pursuit for equal pay to
creating an awareness of the problems of sexual assault and rape culture. The third wave
has also promoted a push for a more inclusive feminism, decreasing the belief that the
movement is only accessible to middle class white women, but instead, the movement is
for men and women of all racial and economic backgrounds. Because of the many
focuses and participants, the third wave has started to decrease the stigma of the feminist

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One of the primary focuses of the third wave is to increase a global perspective of
womens rights. This global push is being advocated is through the United Nations (UN).
The UN made its third Millennium Development Goals to promote gender equality. One
way the UN is promoting their goal is through the HeForShe Campaign. This campaign
encourages men to get involved in the fight for womens rights and gives them the option
to pledge to The HeForShe CommitmentI am one of billions of men who believe
equality for women is a basic human right that benefits us all. And I commit to taking
action against gender discrimination and violence in order to build a more just and equal
world (HeForShe). The campaigns website also gives participants an option to share the
commitment by Tweeting, posting it on Facebook, or emailing it to a friend. The Let
Girls Learn Initiative, another global feminist campaign created by Michelle Obama, was
created to encourage adolescent girls around the globe to finish their secondary education
(Let Girls Learn). The campaign also promotes its movement through the use of social
media to increase awareness and encourage participation in the feminist movement.
The third wave of feminism has also combatted how women are construed in the
media by addressing the unattainable idea of perfection to which women are being held.
Like the global feminist push, social media has played an important role in making the
movement more accessible. Participants of social media can show support by using a
hashtag or posting about the movement which creates effortless publicity for the cause
and raises awareness for more people to become involved. One of the most popular
hashtags for the feminist movement is #LikeAGirl. This movement created by the

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feminine hygiene company, Always, challenges the world via social media and
commercials to view the phrase Like a Girl as being synonymous for strength and
power instead of as weakness or a joke. The hashtag became even more popular when the
company aired a commercial supporting the movement during the 2015 Superbowl
(Berman). Because of its positive media presence #LikeAGirl subtly created more
positive publicity for the feminist movement.
Another popular feminist social media movement is the #YesAllWomen, a Twitter
movement in response to the violence against six women who were murdered in Santa
Barbra, California, by Elliot Rodger, a man who claimed, I dont know why you girls
arent attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it. The hashtag was created to
criticize the belief that men feel entitled to women even if it sacrifices their safety or
health and to fight his conception that all women should be punished for his rejection by
few. An example tweet from this powerful campaign is, Girls grow up knowing that it's
safer to give a fake phone number than to turn a guy down #YesAllWomen (Feeney).
Social media has made feminism more accessible and a norm without the stigma of
identifying as a feminist, or extremist as they were once construed.
Many people have participated in the womens rights movement without
identifying as a feminist, but still contributing to the definition by making equality more
of a norm. This has been a positive shift because global, social, and economic equality for
all people should be encouraged. Many people today have said, I am not a feminist; I am

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a humanist. By stating this simple phrase they are promoting the definition of feminism
without identifying with the movement. By being a humanist, people are promoting
equality for both sexes. Although many still struggle to identify with the term feminist
because of stigmas from the past waves, people, like Malala Yousafzai are beginning to
accept that we all should be feminists because feminism is another word for equality
(Viral Video). The feminist movement has shifted from a single political focus into an
inclusive, global push for equality.

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Works Cited.
Berman, Jillian. "Why That 'Like A Girl' Super Bowl Ad Was So Groundbreaking." The
Huffington Post., 2 Feb. 2015. Web. 22 Nov.
Feeney, Nolan. "The Most Powerful #YesAllWomen Tweets." Time. Time, 25
May 2014. Web. 11 Nov. 2015.
"Feminism" Def. 1. Merriam Webster Online, Merriam Webster, n.d. Web. 3 Nov. 2015.
Gibson, Megan. "A Brief History of Women's Protests." Time. Time Inc., 12 Aug.
2011. Web. 10 Nov. 2015.
HeForShe. UN Women. 2014. Web. 13 Nov. 2015.
Kohn, Sally. "Carly Fiorina: Anti-Feminist Feminist." The Daily Beast. Newsweek/Daily
Beast, 14 Sept. 2015. Web. 18 Nov. 2015.
"Let Girls Learn." The White House. The White House, n.d. Web. 14 Nov. 2015.
Mehta, Samira. "Contraception and the Sexual Revolution." The Social History of the
American Family: An Encyclopedia. Ed. Marilyn J. Coleman and
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Ganong. Vol. 1. Los Angeles: SAGE Reference, 2014. 282-284.

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Mickleburgh, Tim. "Touches of Freedom: Selling Cigarettes to Women." Media

Institute. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.
Mikell, Gwendolyn, et al. "Feminism." Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender. Ed. Fedwa
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"The 1960s-70s American Feminist Movement: Breaking Down Barriers for Women."
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Williams, Melissa. "Feminism, Second-Wave." American Countercultures: An

Encyclopedia of Nonconformists, Alternative Lifestyles, and Radical Ideas
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History. Ed. Gina Misiroglu. Armonk, NY: Sharpe Reference, 2013. 346-


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"Viral Video: Emma Watson Inspires Malala To Call Herself A Feminist." NPR.
NPR, 6 Nov. 2015. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.