As we approach the centenary years of all women gaining the vote, it is not only vital to look at how women’s rights have changed over the past 100 years, but arguably just as important to assess whether the attitude towards women’s rights has changed: after all, how can women ever gain full equality, if society ultimately rejects this cause?

The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘feminism’ as:

‘the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of the equality of the sexes’.

The Urban Dictionary (amongst numerous other criticisms) defines ‘feminism’ as:

‘a radical notion’, ‘a woman’s way of trampling men in the dirt’, ‘a rebranded form of sexism’, ‘a disgrace to the gender’, ‘a load of …’

— you get the idea. Whilst this represents a worrying social disparity of the perception of feminism, what seems even more worrying is that the authors of the latter definitions are part of my demographic — young people, the supposed ‘pioneers of the future’, where the hopes of achieving full gender equality lies. And yet, reading those definitions, the teenage regression into century-old rejections of the feminist cause further discourages hopes that social opinion is advancing.

Teens need to reclaim the modern-day F-word.

In our world today there is an ever-growing push for universal equality, with Time’s Up and #MeToo advocated by our favourite stars of the stage and screen. The Time’s Up movement was created by a group of actors who realised that unreported and ignored sexual harassment littered their industry: an industry where 80-90 per cent of the executive roles belong to men. #MeToo similarly fights against sexual harassment and exploitation, responsible for the third global women’s march in the past year. Despite the empowering nature of these campaigns, a ‘feminist’ is still viewed by teenagers as overbearing and sexist. A YouGov survey found that 19 per cent of respondents perceived the word as an insult, with a survey done by the Fawcett Society’s State of Nation report in 2016 finding that although 67 per cent supported women’s rights, only 7 per cent would actually consider themselves a feminist.

So, what led to this deteriorating opinion of feminism, especially in this twenty-first-century climate? Why aren’t teenagers being inspired by civil rights movements, both past and present?

Most notably the suffragettes, who campaigned tirelessly, petitioning, lobbying MPs (even having discussions with Woodrow Wilson), risking their lives for the benefit of women today; with their actions culminating in the 1928 Representation of the People Act that finally enfranchised all women.

Many teenagers believe that this achievement means women have ‘enough rights’. However, this was only the catalyst for action, and there is so much more that needs to be changed. In the UK, women earn 18.4 per cent less than men for doing the same job — and sometimes doing more. Across the developing countries 131 millions girls are out of education, with boys 1.5 times more likely to attend school than girls. In the USA an identified misogynist and womaniser was elected as president over a woman.

Scarlett Curtis’ book Feminists Don’t Wear Pink and Other Lies taught me about not only the importance of the meaning of the term feminism, but also the inclusivity and diversity of it. It can mean whatever you want it to. For me, it is about the eradication of social patriarchy. That is, not only advocating for the equal treatment of women, but also working to diminish the predominant idea of ‘toxic masculinity’ (detrimental to both girls and boys in society), and teaching boys that they can be feminists too (after all, it was a man who was the first MP to petition in favour of female suffrage in 1866, John Stuart Mill). For me, it is about striving to propel the women’s rights argument out the social stalemate it has uncomfortably settled into. Surely that is something worth supporting?

I am sure you all, like me, believe that no matter what your race, everyone should be treated equally. No matter what your sexuality, everyone should be treated with equal justice and respect. I also believe that no matter what your gender, everyone should be treated equally — so what has become so controversial about the latter statement?

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