16/02/2014 17:21 GMT | Updated 18/04/2014 06:59 BST

When Did Feminism Become a Bad Thing?

I am a feminist. All women should be, and all men should be supporters of the feminist cause. When I say these words out loud, some people will respond with a whole-hearted "good for you". But the majority of the time, when women label themselves "feminists", they are met with audible groans, ignorance, and sometimes, pure anger. Margaret Thatcher, our first (and only) female prime minister, should have been a champion of feminism; instead, she referred to it as "poison". Why has "feminism" become a dirty word, and when did it become something to be ridiculed?

Beyonce Knowles, possibly one of the most famous women on the planet, recently said in The Shriver Report that: "We need to stop buying into the myth about gender equality", and she is absolutely right. Anyone who claims that we live in a society where women don't automatically face discrimination needs a severe reality check. Take the disparity in wages, for example; according to TUC statistics, on average, women are paid 15% less than men, and this increases to 35% in part-time work.

This is what feminism is based around; it is a fight towards gender equality, which must be achieved by women and for women. A common misperception of feminism is that it is about women being better than men, about giving us the highest status in society. This is absolutely untrue. I do not believe women are the superior sex, and you'd be hard pushed to find a feminist who does believe this. What we want is equality. I want the same opportunities as men. I want equal pay to men. I want to walk alone and feel safe. I don't want to be discriminated against on a daily basis because I am a woman. I have yet to be given a valid reason why this is an unreasonable or impossible request.

This is just one of the misconceptions around feminists; there are so many I could list. For a start, burning bras. This is one of the strongest images associated with the modern feminist, which first came about in the media around fifty years ago. Sorry to disappoint, but that didn't happen. There are many theories about how this story came to be, but mass bra-burnings are generally accepted to be a completely fictional event, probably introduced by a male-dominated media in order to make the new wave of feminists sound hysterical.

It's also a myth that feminists are man-haters. Some of my best friends are men, I have brothers, and there are lots of men in the world who I respect enormously. We don't hate men, we hate misogyny. I would say that the general feminist standpoint is one of "don't hate the player, hate the game". Often, people can have sexist viewpoints without even realising, because Western culture is one based around discrimination and exploitation. People should be called out on their sexism, and educated on the topic, and this is unachievable from a "man-hating" stance. Whilst it's true that men shouldn't be leading feminist movements, they can undoubtedly contribute to the fight against inequality, purely through support and a willingness to learn. To say that feminists "hate men" is a massive oversimplification of the subject, equivalent to saying that those who are anti-racism "hate white people".

It is so disheartening to see the perpetuation of this myth that feminism is unnecessary, something to be laughed at, and to see others, particularly women, denounce the feminist cause. On being awarded Billboard's Woman of the Year 2012 award, Katy Perry felt the need to say: "I am not a feminist." I repeat, for a woman of the year award. Whether or not she intended to be, Perry is a role model to millions of young women around the world, and in saying these words, she devalued them all. She told them that feminism isn't important, that it isn't something to be admired.

In an article for Vice, Amy Kellner and Lesley Arfin summed up modern feminism perfectly:

"We get so mad when some nitwit says she's not a feminist. I guess if you're cool with being raped all the time and having no options in life other than being a baby machine or a prostitute, then yeah, you're probably not a feminist. But if you enjoy birth-control pills and not being beaten up by your owner- I mean, husband- then you pretty much are one so you may as well stop shaving your legs right now. Just kidding. Somewhere along the way feminism got a bad rep, but it doesn't mean you have to be a sourpuss or that you can't write tongue-in-cheek articles riddled with silly gender stereotypes. All it means is that you don't hate yourself."

Why shouldn't women seek equality? Why should we put up with being silenced all our lives? A simple answer would be that the patriarchal society in which we live is intimidated by feminism, by the idea of women having an opinion on the way they are treated, and being prepared to fight against this. However, I would hope that this isn't the case. I'd hope that I don't live in a society where people are scared of change, change that is beneficial to the entire population. Feminism isn't a threat to men, it represents a progression of society as a whole. I am a feminist, and I shouldn't be ashamed to say it.