Last week's presidential debate has, by this point, been hashed and rehashed by pundits and people and the Internet, but allow me to throw in my two cents. Setting aside Romney's now infamous "binder full of women" comment, the largest anti-feminist undertones came after the debate concluded, when a woman was attacked for asking a question about equality.
Katherine Fenton, a 24-year-old kindergarten teacher, has been called a "feminazi", a Democratic plant, and compared to the last major female scapegoat, Sandra Fluke. It's already been said how wrong it was for the right to target Fenton, and only Fenton, out of a whole host of questioners. It's clear that dissecting her Twitter in order to label her a "party girl" is both ridiculous and irrelevant, and targeting her for daring to ask a question that directly affects her future is childish.
But what interests me most is the fact that Fenton does not consider herself a feminist.
She said in an interview she was "absolutely not" a feminist. "I'm a 24-year-old woman that lives in the United Sates and feels like I should be treated the same as anyone else."
To me, this sounds like the very definition of feminism. But the worlds of Internet and collegiate feminism often allow you to forget that the majority of America still treats feminism like a dirty word.
I was outside both of these bubbles this weekend. A new acquaintance said, "I'm definitely not a feminist. I just want to stay home and raise kids."
I held my tongue, and I regret it. I wish I'd asked her why the two things are separate. Surely you can advocate for equal wages without a job; surely you can appreciate that feminism is about equality and freedom of choice. But I didn't feel I could talk about it in "polite society."
When the media is calling women "feminazis" for wanting to be paid an equal wage and whores for wanting their medication covered by insurance, it's easy to see how far the feminist movement still has to go. It is harder to see when men and women we love, like, or have just met, decry feminism. It feels like something we shouldn't challenge. But I'm starting to think this mentality is wrong. It stems from not wanting to be labeled a feminazi; it ends with most of America having no idea what the principles of feminism are.
Somehow, we need to let everyone know that feminism is not about eradicating the traditional. It is about balancing, about respect for all genders and ways of life. This still might scare the far right, but I don't think they are the target audience.
It's the strong women we all know that still have an outdated definition of feminism. It's people like Katherine Fenton, a woman passionate about "women's equality in the workforce," who is "very protective of [her] reproductive rights," but still doesn't want to be labeled a feminist. These efforts don't have to be monumental.
But next time someone says "I'm definitely not a feminist," I'll be asking them why. And hopefully, we can have a conversation about an issue that really matters, no politicians needed.