Aside from crazy Halloween parties and the SF Giants winning the World Series, this weekend also saw the first anti-feminist conference, held in Switzerland. Lately, I’ve seen some men’s groups popping up that equate feminism with an all-encompassing hatred of men. Let’s set the record straight.
What Feminism is Not
- A hegemonic ideology. The stories we hear about feminism tend to fit the accepted schema (Socialist Feminism, Separatist Feminism and PostModern Feminism) but, in truth, feminist theories are highly divergent.
- A movement to destroy men. Social power is not a zero sum game. The reason this idea persists is because a) media gives the mic to the most radical viewpoints (Teabaggers anyone?) and b) people increasingly tend to focus on news items that confirm, not challenge, pre-existing beliefs.
- A conspiracy among women. Put five people in a room and have them order one pizza. Getting that small group to unanimously agree on pizza toppings is enough of a struggle. Getting hundreds of thousands of people to agree on how to ensure women’s rights is a never-ending argument and a far cry from conspiracy.
Putting Feminism Into Context
The one thing I think anyone calling themselves feminist will agree on: women have a right to agency, a right to make decisions about their lives. In short: CHOICE. And the forgotten fact attached to this is that women have historically (in some parts of the world, currently) not had a say in their lives. Imagine being property in the most literal sense. Imagine your decisions in life left up to other people because you’re thought to have the mental capacity on par with a child.
We tend to forget our own history, especially in a world of increased media saturation and obsession with the next big story. Not even a century has passed in the United States since women gained the right to vote. This is not a long time in historical context. Aside from voting, there have been countless struggles to change both legislation concerning gender as well as cultural norms. Women did not have equal access to birth control until the Eisenstadt v. Baird decision in 1972. Until 1976, a little over three decades ago, spousal rape was still legal in the United States.
Feminist groups were instrumental in bringing about these changes. So, if you’re pretty happy that women can vote, own property, not be legally raped or beaten by spouses, have equal job access and a whole slew of other rights, you might want to give a little head nod to Feminism.
Issues with Modern Feminism
People often level the argument that modern feminism focuses on trivial issues. To a certain extent, I agree. There is an inordinate amount of writing on pop culture invoking feminist theory to illuminate conceptual links to sexism. I think one of the reasons is because it’s more comforting to argue whether or not Lady Gaga’s costumes hinder female empowerment than to discuss the horrific rape of women and girls in far flung corners of the world. It’s easier to focus on photoshopping in magazines than on gender-based violence like honor killings or disfiguring acid attacks.
(I freely admit that I am kind of guilty of doing this and I promise to devote more articles on this blog to covering what I consider more pressing women’s issues.)
And there is a fair amount of disunity within and between feminist groups. While we can all agree that women deserve choice, we can’t seem to agree on where to put our efforts to guarantee choice and access to autonomy. Why? Because there are so many potential tactics at home and abroad. Plus, especially with issues pertaining to women’s sexuality, the discussions get pretty divisive and heated. (Go look up arguments about porn and feminism. You’ll see what I mean.) And I agree that some legislative tactics meant to help women, such as custody rights, have ended up hurting men.
What you won’t find as much of, if you read a broad range of feminist writing, is massive hatred against men: misandry. Yes, there are female misandrists who are also feminists. There are male misandrists as well. There are even men referring to themselves as feminists and aligning themselves with feminist groups. Some of them possibly ascribing to misandry, some of them not. There are even feminists arguing vehemently for more respect for men and supporting men’s groups.
So, to recap: Feminism is not Misandry. Want a more sensible discussion of misandry? Check out this article in Psychology Today.
Want to comment? Great. Feel free to disagree with anything here, I welcome differing viewpoints. What’s not welcome: name-calling, unfounded claims, uncivil discussion.