‘Feminist’ is so offensive and unflattering it was removed from a schoolgirl’s t-shirt

An American middle school student has begun a campaign against the stigmatisation of feminism after her Ohio middle school blacked out the word ‘feminist’ on her t-shirt in a school photograph.

Sophie Thomas wore a black t-shirt with the word ‘feminist’ printed in white lettering to school on the day that school photographs were being taken. When Thomas received the printed photograph last week, she and her mother Christine discovered that the school had erased the word completely without their knowledge.

Christine Thomas approached the school immediately and demanded an explanation. The one she was offered was disheartening.

School principal Kendra Young said she had made the decision to remove the word because it is “offensive to some people”. 

Is it? Is the word ‘feminist’ really still offensive to some people? Unfortunately it seems so. And it’s not just school principals who think so – remember when TIME magazine tried to ban the word from the English language?

 And it gets worse. The superintendent of the Northeastern School District, in which Thomas’s school sits, said this of the decision:

“We took the photo and she was in the front row with the T-shirt on, and it was just not a flattering picture.”

Not flattering? Apart from the fact that it is offensive and mildly sexist to use an appearance-based value judgment todescribe the word ‘feminist’, I would also venture that Young’s decision to wear something “flattering” or otherwise is entirely up to her. 

Thomas’s mother was similarly disappointed with the response she received from the school.

“Sophie was not violating dress code, she was not inappropriately dressed. Being a feminist is not a bad thing. She should be allowed to express herself,” she said.

“She just wants everyone to be treated equally. Merriam Webster’s definition of feminism is the belief that men and women should have equal opportunities.”

“Most people, especially in this area, seem to think feminism and misandry go hand and hand and that’s a common misconception. You can still love men and be a feminist. You can still be ahomemaker and be a feminist. That’s where we are with this. We just want equality.” 

Thomas herself took a similar view.

“People around here misconstrue the word [feminism]. Like, ‘Oh, you’re a feminist so you hate men,” she said.

“I just want to spread equality, and a lot of people here don’t agree with me.”

Eventually, when the story was picked up by local news stations, principal Kendra Young spoke to Thomas and asked her what she would like to happen next. Thomas requested formal education in their middle school about the true meaning of feminism and the need for equality in order to break down the stigmas that still surround the word.

“I was so proud of her. She never once said I want a public apology or anything like that. She just wants to give to others. She is such a great kid,” her mother said.

It seems difficult to believe that the word ‘feminist’ still carries this stigma and is still considered controversial – “offensive” and “unflattering”, even. And yet, it is unsurprising when you consider that people like Kendra Young and the editors of TIME – those in positions with enormous influence on young minds – are setting such a disappointing example.

At least it is encouraging to know that young women like Sophie Thomas are doing what they can to combat this anachronistic stigma. Bravo, Sophie!

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