The Modern Witch Hunt

In November of 2014, the word “feminist” came excruciatingly close to winning Time Magazine’s poll for “worst word that should be banned.” Among others like “twerk,” “selfie,” and “yaaasss” – semi-illiterate pronunciations that subscribe to today’s egocentric, frivolous and attention-starved social trends – a respected magazine endorsed the vernacular and social crucifixion of an entire historic movement of social progress. In the end, “feminist” didn’t win, not because Time acknowledged the toxic spread of vilification and misinformation it perpetrated, but because of the mild criticism they faced.

Feminism is considered a bad, dangerous word nowadays, one whose mere mention starts a witch hunt that can start with vitriolic condescension and transcend momentarily to harrowing threats of bodily harm. In the last couple of years, rape and death threats, stalking and psychological abuse have been launched against a plethora of women that have dared to make feminism part of their discourse. Comment sections across the internet overflow with cries of “misandrist and militant feminazi agendas,” with women apologizing and eager to prove no affiliation to the movement, and the systematic bullying of anyone who attempts to defend feminism in any way. Keyboard anonymity facilitates the spread of scathing commentary and manipulated information, but it rarely stops there. In Puerto Rico’s traditionally patriarchal cultural atmosphere and even in academic settings, such as Law School campuses, conversations about the topic are rife with willful ignorance, misinformation, and derisive contempt.

Feminism is, and always has been, the fight for the social equality of the sexes, a movement that advocates for freedom from the imposition of constrictive and dangerous gender roles on both women and men. It’s a fight for the freedom, respect and individuality of each and every single human being, regardless of gender or sex.

The history of feminism is not wholly unproblematic and the continuous lack of harmonious racial, cultural, ethnic, sexual and class intersectionality has undeniably hurt the movement, but the ideas currently driving the intense vituperations against it – the ones that inspired hundreds of women to post pictures of themselves with handwritten signs explaining why they don’t need feminism, the ones that propelled others to boycott the word “feminist” or repeat it with the enunciation one reserves for filthy words – can be all reduced to a fundamental misunderstanding of what the movement stands for, what it has achieved, and most importantly, why it is still so direly needed in our society today.

Feminism is, and always has been, the fight for the social equality of the sexes, a movement that advocates for freedom from the imposition of constrictive and dangerous gender roles on both women and men. It’s a fight for the freedom, respect and individuality of each and every single human being, regardless of gender or sex.

The demonization of feminists is nothing new, but in this era of readily available information, both true and not, objective and subjective, the lines blur and facilitate the propagation of exactly what some want others to think and repeat. Feminism is indeed a dangerous word, maybe even the “worst,” but only because empowerment of any kind is always perceived as such by the misinformed, the deliberately ignorant, and the afraid. It is our duty to take back the word of feminism and restore its true meaning, for us, for them and the many others to come.

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