For many women today -- especially millennials -- "feminism" conjures thoughts of bra-burning and man-hating, leading many to shy away from calling themselves feminists. Misleading lists and #WomenAgainstFeminism have not done much to clarify the issue. What's more, young women are pointing to the highly visible success of the usual suspects like Sheryl Sandberg, Marissa Mayer and Hillary Clinton, saying that the movement simply isn't relevant anymore.
It's no secret that feminism today is incredibly misunderstood. The issue is not one of changing hearts and minds, but rather educating the public, and young women in particular, about what feminism truly means and why it's integral to our social and political discourse. Here are three reasons why feminism doesn't resonate for some women, and a few reminders that address the misconceptions at the core of the issue.
1. "I've never experienced inequality, so we don't need feminism!" Many young women living in the first world simply don't feel overt the sting of discrimination in their daily lives, despite its pervasiveness. But while the days of Mad Men may be behind us, many women still face lower wages and fewer leadership opportunities across the board. With abundant statistics and analyses demonstrating inequality, women need to recognize the way that gender inequity is making an impact on their daily lives.
2. "Lots of celebrities don't identify with feminism - maybe they're onto something." While many female celebrities have "come out" as feminists, including Amy Poehler, Beyoncé and Taylor Swift, many others - from Lana del Rey to Shailene Woodley - are reluctant to call themselves the "f" word. It's important for women to recognize that celebrity comes with a certain privilege that may tint a young actor's worldview. Let's also not forget that many a-listers may be hesitant to speak their truth, for fear of alienating some fans or industry "powers that be."
3. "...But I love men!" Feminism does not mean you hate men, nor does it mean that you want to take power away from men. Feminism is about thinking critically. It's about awareness. It's about recognizing that women face a gender-based lack of opportunity, which manifests itself in many ways - from unequal pay to that of men, to, in some cases, great vulnerability to violence. Being a feminist is about being informed and cognizant that all women do not have access to the same advantages as men.
The bottom line is, if you believe in an equal playing field for men and women you ascribe to the ideals of feminism. It's hard to imagine young women -- or anyone, really -- vehemently opposing these ideas when you boil it down to its simplest explanation. We all, especially those of us in leadership positions, can do a better job of getting this message across in a way that is both inclusive and educational.
Pen + Brush, the organization that I work for, is dedicated to providing a platform for women in the arts that allows for the unconstrained expression of ideas, experiences and aspirations. Our motto is, "Until it's just about the art..." That is, until the art world as a whole accepts women's work on the basis of merit, irrespective of the gender of the maker, and provides ample opportunity for talented, professional women artists to make a living, we need to exist.
The larger movement of feminism, similarly, must continue -- in spite of confusion, misinformation, and hostility.