According to a poll from the Huffington Post, only 20% of Americans identify as feminists. 37% said that they consider “feminist” to be a negative term. However, asked if they believe “men and women should be social, political, and economic equals,” 82% of respondents agreed. Alas, the demise of feminism. What the poll doesn’t show is that there is a huge young feminist movement that is gaining momentum and making its voice heard.
The disparity that the Huffington Post poll shows between people who agree with the ideas of feminism but refuse to use the word shouldn’t be surprising. It’s nothing new. The word feminism has never been very popular — words that stand for radical change from the status quo rarely are — and a generation of women has grown up believing that the battle for women’s rights has been won. So why take on a label that might rub people the wrong way?
But all that is starting to change. A poll commissioned by Ms. magazine earlier this year found that 55% of women voters and 30% of male voters considered themselves to be feminists. Furthermore, the results were 9 points higher than in 2008. So what’s going on here? People are waking up to realize that the battle for women’s rights is not in the past.
In the past year alone, the attacks on women’s rights have been enough to mobilize women who realize they can’t take the work of their predecessors for granted. In March 2012, the Violence Against Women Act was left to languish without bipartisan support for the first time since 1994, and wasn’t renewed until February 2013. A slew of states throughout the country have passed abortion restrictions so extreme that they effectively prevent women from accessing their constitutional rights. Multiple Republican candidates made comments denigrating rape survivors. Religious groups lined up to protest the contraception mandate.
It’s a shocking wake-up call to the current generation of young women that things like contraception are even up for debate. That’s why even though news outlets keep pumping out trendy pieces about how millennial women don’t care about feminism, there is a thriving online feminist activist movement that is driven by young women. The Ms. magazine poll found 59% of women voters under 30 identified as feminist — and that’s important.
The rise of the MRA — Men’s Rights Activists — movement, loathsome as it is, can be taken as a sign that the feminist movement is actually gaining in strength right now. Men’s Rights Activists claim that men are actually the ones who are repressed. They think that women’s rights have gone far enough and men’s rights are under attack now. The loss of privilege for a traditionally privileged group usually creates some sort of backlash, and there’s no reason for a reactionary movement like this to make such a fuss if feminist activism and media isn’t getting some serious mainstream attention.
Supporters of marriage equality are fairly certain they’re going to win the battle, if only because all the people who oppose it are going to die out soon anyway. Something similar could be said for feminism today. Young people are on the front lines of feminism, and they are the future of our country.