By Maya-Catherine Popa, 23, reporting from New York City on feminism and a new book that reinvigorates the f-word for a new generation
“Are you having a boy or an abortion?” asks clumsy Admiral General Aladeen, Sasha Baron Cohen's character in the summer flick The Dictator. The whole theater erupts in laugher. While I usually enjoy Cohen's brand of boldly roasting contemporary figures, trends, and controversies, I am struck silent. His success lies precisely in his ability to expose real examples of bigotry. So why I should I be laughing?
We know that women, and young girls especially, are the target of human rights violations worldwide. In our own country, we have a 2012 presidential candidate who would like to see Roe v. Wade repealed. Yet I have sat in a classroom full of female students who, when asked if they considered themselves feminists, only gingerly raised their hands or altogether refused to identify with the term.
Julie Zeilinger, 19 -- a fellow Barnard student who’s witnessed an unsettling aversion to that f-word in these very classrooms -- is making huge strides to ensure the re-appropriation of feminism for our generation. Since founding the feminist blog TheFBomb.org in 2009, Zeilinger has been one of the Internet’s most influential voices on the issue, and her book, A Little F’d Up: Why Feminism is Not a Dirty Word comes out this week.
While second-wave giants like Bella Abzug (the Bella we should be reading about), Germaine Greer, and Gloria Steinem fought for our public and private voices, it often feels as though Americans in their teens and twenties have become complacent and apathetic, not willing to keep the movement in motion. Under the name of progress, we’re reluctant to argue against anyone who claims “Women are equal now, so what's the problem?”
Between anti-heroines in books, reality television portraying the shallowest, most Snooki- or bachelorette-skewed examples of feminine conduct, and longstanding cartoony depictions of bra-burners, the feminist movement for my generation has been ridiculed and tainted. It’s all too easy for the media to parody women -- and for women in turn to make fun of one another to prove that they can take a joke.
If girls and women our age can't seem to piece apart feminism's meaning from its slandered connotations, then how can we expect anyone else to? This includes policy makers and the people, women and men, we surround ourselves with every day. How do we reclaim the f-word? Women's rights are human rights -- isn't it about time the jokes stopped?