Feminism and Its PR Problem

My mother's generation, propelled by the scars of my grandmother's generation, raised their daughters to feel like they could do anything. I'm starting to believe that girls my age misconstrued anything to mean everything.
07/07/2015 04:46 pm ET Updated Jul 07, 2016

I am 20 years old, and up until recently I could not decide if I was a feminist.

I've come to realize that it is not the concept of feminism itself that I have trouble accepting. Rather, it is my generation's interpretation of the word and the recent behavior generated by the movement that I have a problem with.

At its core, feminism is about the fight for universal equality and respect for women. Put this way, it is hard for me not to feel like a feminist.

Many young women of my generation, however, feel that the feminist movement is dated and no longer relevant in today's world.

The reality of this belief, bolstered by the influence of the media, has created a negative connotation and stigma around the word. Declaring yourself a feminist today can be seen as aggressive, "man-hating," isolating, and unnecessary.

I see this in my own life and in the public eye. I was the only girl to run for fifth grade class president; instead of evaluating my platform based on its merit, like they did with the other boy candidates, my male peers called my campaign over-the-top and the 10-year-old version of brown-nosing. Although there is a club dedicated to feminist issues at my college, I've never once felt their presence on campus, and most of the members of the club are unfairly stereotyped.

Pantene's "Labels Against Women" commercial, Emma Watson's "HeforShe" campaign, and Jennifer Siebel Newsom's The Representation Project are just some examples circulating in the media that are trying to shed light on this ugly behavior and combat this falsified definition.

Once we understand the stereotypes and clichés that are attached to feminism today, the question then becomes: How do women act if they now believe that they can have it all?

I've realized that the answer involves a lot of double standards.

To be a professional woman today means you are superhuman. Feeling equal in the workplace (although there is plenty of data to show that women are still being paid less when compared to their male counterparts) and equal at home, women believe that they can be fully committed to their job and their role as a mother.

This is an ideal I really struggle with, because I know that reality shows the glaring faults in this mindset. As someone who wants to take her career as far as it will go, while also wanting to be the one who raises her children, I realize that achieving at the highest level in both areas is impossible. At 20, with my entire adult future ahead of me, I feel the weight of this burden as I start to make the next string of big life decisions.

So I ask: Can women have it all?

Romantically, women straddle modern and traditional schools of thought. The pill, which was once considered revolutionary in its impact on women's sexual freedom, is now considered a given; it's something I take for granted. Armed with the pill as protection, women have been able to grow out of their removed role in relationships and enter a multi-dimensional world as equal partners to men.

However, while wanting to be able to buy into the hook-up culture of today and treat sex like there are no strings attached, women also expect chivalry and often retain a "ladies first" mentality. I'm in college, so I am no stranger to the ins and outs of hooking up. I was originally confused as to why each encounter left me disappointed, until I realized that I could not expect to be called the next day or asked out for the whole wine-and-dine extravaganza when I went into a relationship just chasing the physical.

It's almost as if the benefits that girls of my generation have inherited come with unwanted strings attached. In other words, when a woman approaches her relationship with a man, like a man, she is giving up her chance to create an intimate connection.

Instead of encouraging women to respect their own desires for intimacy, the media has created a false romanticized ideal about how hooking up creates the right foundation for building a relationship (through movies like Friends With Benefits, No Strings Attached, etc.) -- and thus further propels this way of interacting.

I'll ask again: Can women have it all?

My response so far still involves further questioning.

Is the answer to go forward with one specific focus? To say, "I realize that 'doing it all' is impossible, so instead I'm going to simply be the best professional/mother/wife I can be and accept that as enough."

Or is it to admit that the burden of "doing it all" is unrealistic and has instead led women to have a skewed sense of their own gender roles and relationship to feminism?

I know blaming everything on your parents is not the answer (though it may be easy), but I think there is a disconnect between the way parents intended phrases like "girl power" to be understood and the way children actually understood them.

My mother's generation, propelled by the scars of my grandmother's generation, raised their daughters to feel like they could do anything.

I'm starting to believe that girls my age misconstrued anything to mean everything.

Meaning, the way women have internalized that they can do anything and that they play an equal role to men has also created a toxic environment when it comes to the way women view themselves in the workplace, balance their role as a mother with the rest of their responsibilities, and handle themselves in romantic relationships.

This burden of "everything" has, in turn, created resentment and pushback towards the idea of feminism. Instead of banding together when statistics confirm real inequality in the workplace, women of today roll their eyes and shake their heads in disbelief. Rather than leading us to action and further protest, our inability to do it all it has led us to resentment: we have become numb to feminism's PR problem.

Inserting myself into the discussion, I've realized that I am a feminist in the true sense of the word, but I reject today's model and definition.

In light of this, I can tell you that at the moment, my generation is happily playing its role as the ignorant kind.

But I am here before you, with the optimism of my mother and the strength and scars of my grandmothers, vowing to go forward as the questioning kind.