It’s not a battle of the sexes.
A couple of weeks ago, I was explaining to a male acquaintance what I do for a living. When the topic of journalism came up, he naturally asked what kinds of things I write about.
“Oh, you know, politics, medical articles, nail polish, sex, feminism…”
At this point, he interrupted me. “What? Feminism?” he said, with a skeptical yet nervous laugh.
“Not man-hating feminism!” I jumped in. “Feminism in terms of equal opportunity, mutual respect between genders, and cohabiting the planet harmoniously. That’s feminism.”
“Oh, cool,” he said, a small flicker of relief on his face. “That makes sense.”
This benign altercation may seem insignificant, but it highlights a rather unnerving trend. Somewhere along the way, between the suffragettes and bra-burners, feminism has become, well, a bit of a dirty word.
Feminism is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes’. Simple. A decade or so ago, a woman, or a man, could assert they were a feminist and be lauded for it. Congratulations for progressive thinking were in order, and it usually sparked a hopeful discussion about the promising future of women’s rights.
Nowadays, society’s opinion of feminism has taken a nosedive. The middle ground between patriarchy and misandry is being ignored. Instead, feminism is almost wholly tarred with the brush of man-hating, loud-mouthed, closed-minded extremists who are more interested in emasculating and subordinating men than achieving equal rights.
So how did this come about? It’s quite a step away from the beginning of organized feminism in 1848, when Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Coffin Mott led a women’s convention at Seneca Falls, New York. They demanded full legal equality, full educational and commercial opportunity, equal compensation, the right to collect wages, and the right to vote.
The movement soon spread to Europe, and sparked what is known as ‘first-wave feminism’, which permeated the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The focus was initially on the promotion of equal contract and property rights for women, and opposed chattel marriage, along with the ownership of married women and their children by husbands. By the beginning of the 20th century, it had turned to gaining political power, in particular women’s suffrage.
Sounds innocent enough, right? It would seem contrary to 21st century Western values to oppose these basic elements of a fair and harmonious society. So maybe second-wave feminism, from the 1960s to ’80s, is to blame. Although it continued the push for political equality, the focus included ending discrimination and ensuring sexual autonomy for women.
The 1970s saw women burning their bras while clamouring for respect in the workplace, thus upturning gender roles established for thousands of years. Of course, this unsettled generations of men; how could it not? In their eyes, the natural order was being distorted by a bunch of hairy, braless women with purple hair. However, the cause they were fighting for was an honorable one, and the transition to the third wave saw the simmering down of these troubled waters, at least to a degree.
Third-wave feminism is a combination of first and second, seeking to address all facets of discrimination as a whole. It unashamedly tries to distance itself from the perceived misandry of the second wave, focusing on men standing with women, rather than a battle of the sexes. Emma Watson’s HeForShe campaign epitomizes this attitude. Third wave is inclusive, as opposed to exclusive, and encourages both genders to unite.
So why do women reject feminism and men misunderstand it? I have numerous friends who proudly declare they’re not feminists. I’ve heard many a patronizing comment when I insist feminism, not egalitarianism (which homogenizes men and women without celebrating their differences), is the way forward in society. And too many times I’ve seen the flash not of resentment but panic in the eyes of men when I tell them calmly, without aggression or condescension, that I’m a feminist.
The easiest thing to do in this situation is to blame men. To ridicule their apparent refusal to acknowledge the feminist cause, and pin this lack of understanding on misogyny. However, given the huge amount of men I know who vehemently support third-wave feminism, I’m not buying the usual “men are the root of all evil” argument. The fact of the matter is this: as with any ideology, be it religious, political or philosophical, feminism is being ruined by its small minority of extremists, who advocate the brash, ideologically violent feminism of the ’70s. And these extremists are, in fact, women.
I am sick to death of women who use feminism as an excuse for blatant misandry. I am exhausted by blog posts painting men as predatory chauvinists whose only mission in life is to sexually harass and oppress women. I am nauseated by passive aggressive listicles with titles like ‘12 Types Of Men You’d Never Date’ or ’16 Things Men Will Never Understand’. And above all, I am embarrassed by the hypocrisy of deluded man-bashers who refuse to see their actions are ruining feminism for everyone.
It is not helpful to the feminist cause if first-world problems like ‘manspreading’ (the act of a man sitting with his legs apart on public transport, thus taking up more room than is needed) are given as much focus as sexual harassment. It’s counterproductive to sexual independence when so-called ‘feminist’ bloggers write about how every act of intercourse is actually rape, (regardless of any clear and resounding “Yes! God yes!” uttered by the owner of the vagina in question). And as for insisting women don’t need men in order to get pregnant because we can simply smear semen on our vulva and masturbate – well, that’s too ridiculous to bother critiquing.
The problem with extremists is the noise they make. It’s no wonder women are spooked by what is fast becoming the new ‘f’ word. As for men, who could blame them for being wary and disparaging of feminism, when a bunch of hypocrites are giving them a completely inaccurate idea of what it’s actually about? It’s not surprising more and more people assert we no longer need feminism, when the only kind of feminism they’re exposed to is, quite simply, inaccurate.
Here’s the thing: we do need feminism. We need it to encourage men and women to respect each other. We need it to eradicate creeps like policeman Daniel Holzclaw, who raped 13 African American women while on duty because he knew they wouldn’t blow the whistle. We need it to combat the spread of rape culture in the media, and for as long as ads depicting women as submissive sexual tools for men to use as they please are floating about. But what we do not need is women hijacking true feminist ideals as an outlet for their own bizarre frustrations with the male species.
So let’s bring feminism back to what Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Coffin Mott had in mind in 1848 when they led that convention in Seneca Falls. Let’s stop rejecting the idea of feminism in its entirety, and instead ignore those who are using it for evil, not good. Feminism is not about women claiming superiority; it’s about men standing with women to restore some harmony and equality in the world – and I don’t see anything wrong with that.
Images via tumblr.com and rosierespect.org.au.
Comment: What’s the worst thing you’ve heard a ‘feminist’ say?