With so many women fearing being identified as ‘feminist’ Tara Hanneffy investigates this fear and the true meaning of feminism.

When asked in an interview if she was a feminist, Shailene Woodley, star of The Fault in Our Stars, replied: “No because I love men, and I think the idea of ‘raise women to power, take the men away from the power’ is never going to work out because you need balance.” It is nobody’s right to tell anyone else that their opinion is wrong, but Woodley’s opinion could be classified as misinformed. Woodley is perfectly correct when she says that “you need balance.” Balance equals equality. Yet she is mistaken when she says that feminism is the idea of raising women to power and taking the men away from power. According to the old reliable, Oxford Dictionary, feminism is “The advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.” In lay terms: the movement for the sexes to be equal. Can you have equality if you strive to achieve rights for one sex while taking the power away from another? Absolutely not.

The problem is this: over time, this incredibly important movement has earned itself an undesirable label. That label is ‘man-hating’, or misandry. Due to this label, people are choosing not to identify as feminists. Due to this label people are neglecting what is a very real and prevalent issue in our society. Where did this misguided understanding of feminism come from? There’s a few reasons why people think that being a feminist means you hate men. It’s because a few feminists hate men. In actuality very few feminists hate men, a tiny minority. In fact, people who hate men are called misandrists, not feminists. Many believe that feminists view every man as evil, chauvinist oppressors. Feminists, in fact, don’t. There are a few who identify as feminists who do believe these things. The minority doesn’t equal the majority, it never has and it never will. So just because a small group believe in these radical ideas doesn’t mean that every feminist does.

Feminism being identified with misandry becomes a problem as soon as people are reluctant to identify as feminists. In particular, women are afraid to identify as feminists. They fear that they will be viewed as man-haters: radical, angry women who are seeking to bring the male race down. It is a ridiculous, but very real fear. Sadly, a lot of males also think like this. It’s not uncommon to come across a male that’s wary of his female friends because they’re feminists. What they don’t realise is that feminism affects them nearly as much as it does their female counterparts, and that instead of being afraid of the issue, they too should embrace it and make a change.

The relevance of the movement to mean should be obvious. Firstly, feminism is about equality between the sexes and therefore supports men just as much as it supports women. Secondly, every male, unless they live under a rock, knows a female: a sister, a mother, a cousin, a girlfriend, a wife, a friend. One would hope that an issue that affects those close to you would affect you too. It’s their problem and that makes it your problem too. Surely males don’t want to live in an unequal society. Surely, in 2014, battles and misconceptions such as the ones faced by feminists should not exist. Surely, one would hope that after 200 years, people would know what feminism is by now but sadly not.

Avoiding all dictionary definitions, stripped down to the bare minimum, feminism is the desire for gender equality. Gender equality meaning that every person, male, female or otherwise is treated equally. Now, how can feminism be misandrist if it’s the desire for equality? You cannot, under any circumstance, achieve equality if you’re bringing another person down. This would defeat the entire purpose. So therefore, feminism is not man-hating because you can’t achieve equal rights for women if you’re bringing men down. You can’t achieve feminist goals if you don’t respect men as much as you respect yourself and your own gender.

Emma Watson gave a beautiful, passionate speech at a UN event last month, defending the need for feminism. In her speech she highlighted the importance of feminism by stating that unless we all do something, then it’ll be 75 years “before women can expect to be paid the same as men for the same work.” Nearly 16 million girls will become child brides. Most worryingly of all it won’t be until 2086, that all rural African females will finally be able to receive a secondary school education. This is why feminism should exist. Feminism should exist because women are still receiving harassment in the streets. Feminism should exist because of Twitter and Tumblr accounts such as ‘womenagainstfeminism’. Feminism should exist because it’s 2014 and gender inequality still exists.

Why should you be a feminist? Nobody chooses to be born a certain sex, and just because you were born a female does not mean you shouldn’t have equal rights. It doesn’t mean you should be paid less, or viewed as ‘weaker’ or ‘less able’. No male feminist should be viewed as ‘less manly’ because he supports the rights of females. Does supporting the rights of females mean that you don’t support the rights of males? No, it absolutely does not. Does wanting women to be equal to men mean that you hate men? No. Equality is balance. You can’t have balance if you’re bringing down someone else to achieve your own rights.

Hillary Clinton, Beyoncé and Emma Watson are all proud celebrity feminists. Yet there are some celebrity feminists afraid to use the ‘f-word’ for fear of attracting negative attention. They are afraid to call themselves feminists because they feel it might attract bad press. The problem of those valuing image over issue is a completely separate problem, but the problem here is that these celebrities may not fully understand what feminism is. That’s ok, not a lot of people do. Now is the time to start understanding. As is said, if not now, when? It’s not just a female problem, it’s a male problem too. It’s everyone’s problem.