Feminism is both the theory of political, economic and social equality of the sexes and organized activity on behalf of women's rights and interests, according to Merriam-Webster. However, feminism's relationship with its male or male-identifying counterparts raises questions, given its inclusion of the syllable "fem," even though it is for equality, according to the general public.
Paul Hengesteg is the program evaluation coordinator for the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at Iowa State. As a graduate student, he minored in women’s and gender studies, which led to a further examination of social justice theories.
Hengesteg said he considers himself to be pro-feminist rather than feminist due to concerns of taking on the identity of oppressed groups and prefers to be an ally to the community. On a semi-regular basis, he encourages and utilizes his abilities to advance gender equality by voting.
“It’s a personal point of privilege and power that I have a say on what’s not right and what we want and need in this country,” Hengesteg said. “There's a whole slew of people right now who are really nervous about their rights in the coming years because of [Supreme Court] Justice [Amy Coney] Barrett, so that's why something as simple as a vote is so important, powerful and significant to me.”
Feminism covers a variety of topics, including reproductive rights, class and work, family dynamics, sexuality and many other items related to the systemic inequalities women face daily.
The Society for the Advancement of Gender Equity (SAGE) is a club that advocates for feminist goals and gender equity issues, including awareness of gender-based violence, sexual assault issues, the gender wage gap, perceptions of femininity and masculinity, gender expression and sexual preference, body image issues and other sociocultural issues analyzed through a feminist lens.
SAGE co-coordinates Iowa State's production of The Vagina Monologues, according to the Iowa State student organization database.
“[Feminism is] the belief that everybody should be on equal playing fields regardless of race, religion, gender, sexuality, all of those things,” said Donovan Sandoval, a sophomore in architecture and president of SAGE. “Feminism is super misunderstood. People think feminism is just for women — that's not true. Feminism is for everybody because in today's age, it's more about promoting equality for everybody.”
As a self-proclaimed feminist, Sandoval said she oftentimes finds the revelations of today’s society to be both discouraging yet simultaneously inspiring of prospect. Throughout the many various waves of feminism, one thing remains above all else: stereotypes. Some of the most recurring stereotypes about feminism, according to Amnesty, are, “Why are feminists so angry?” “Does a feminist have to be female?” and “Will feminism hurt your career?”
“I don't know if it's angry that is the right term for that, but if we do sit at angry, well, wouldn’t you be angry if all of your rights have been secondary to someone else for 400 years?” Hengesteg said. “Wouldn’t you be angry if you couldn’t have the same rights and benefits as someone else? And we need to be careful about angry; it's a very loaded and sometimes coded word, but I definitely think the feeling of, ‘Wait a minute, I’m just as deserving of X, Y and Z as anyone else!’ So ‘why are feminists so angry?’ To some respects, they deserve to be.”
Sandoval explained there are different kinds of feminism, and some get more media attention than others — positive and negative. She said the kind of feminist she is is pushing women in higher leadership positions in order to make them more equal to their male counterparts. However, in times like the 2016 election, there is a lot of backlash from that.
Some of the occurrences of the 2016 election in which Hillary Clinton was the first woman running for president as the nominee of a major party brought about controversy surrounding feminism stemming from Clinton’s unchecked upper middle class and wealthy white woman privilege, a serious inequality within the feminism movement, according to Medium.
“I have a hard time believing that feminism or being a pro-feminist would in any way [hurt] my career,” Hengesteg said. “Granted, I'm looking for a career in academia where more liberal minds tend to prevail. Now, holistically, one can say, ‘Oh, you know, higher education is very conservative,’ and that can be true, but from a collegiality perspective of who I'm going to be working with, I can only see benefits of understanding the importance of and believing in feminism.”
Stephanie Gibb-Clark is a graduate student in interdisciplinary graduate studies and serves as a teaching assistant in the women and gender studies department. In her role with women and gender studies, she has completed an in-depth analysis of feminist theories. She said it is her belief that a vast array of complications arise from the definitive misnomer surrounding feminism.
The most classic misconceptions portray feminists as pro-woman, anti-man, body hair-loving, bra-burning, indignant women. She said the best way to tackle these myths begins with contending the symbolic depiction of bra-burning feminists.
Erupting over 50 years ago in protest against a Miss America beauty pageant in New Jersey, a group of women hurled mops, lipsticks and high heels into a "Freedom Trash Can." Rumored to be included were undergarments, a gesture that made headlines around the world, according to BBC. Regardless of the inaccuracy reported from the event, as BBC said, it quickly transitioned into an international symbol of protest still cited to this day.
Gibb-Clark explained while men haven't been a part of the feminist movement, they have historically been there since the beginning. She explained that because of the way men and women have been socialized for years, there has always been a concept of "invisibilizing" men in regard to feminism.
"Men [traditionally] build their sense of manhood through different types of competition in a lot of ways, and so by invisibilizing men's independent involvement in justice work in the movement, men outside of the movement can grow together and sort of coalesce around a competition against women basically," Gibb-Clark said. "So that is why men have almost always historically been seen as fervently against the feminist movement, but today, men are certainly more involved in the feminist movement publicly.”
Alex Brown, a senior in criminal justice and member of SAGE, explained there are things that may not affect the majority of people, but if individuals choose to listen to those who are marginalized and vote for those who represent them, it’s an opportunity to show support for change, which is what feminism is to Brown.