Recently I sent out a survey through social media asking participants whether or not they consider themselves a feminist, whether they support intersectional feminism, and what their experience is with feminists. Obviously, my data is a bit biased and should not be used to represent a large group, since mostly friends of mine responded. My aunt, however, did post it on Facebook so I do have responses from an middle-aged crowd along with the young adults of Cincinnati.
First of all, I am going to start out by providing the Merriam-Webster definition of feminism: “the theory of political, economic, and social equality of the sexes” (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/feminism). But is that how the movement is perceived today? One respondent disagrees, claiming, it is “practically useless…It is all radical and degrading to all people who aren’t women.” Another supports this idea; he thinks that feminism is not “inclusive to [his] sex, whether or not it is intended.” Many associate modern feminism with misandry, the belief that women are above men. But if the definition states its goal is equality, why is this the case?
A male who would consider himself a feminist explains why this happens: “I think people confuse the term feminist with meaning something other than it does.” It appears that feminism has a dirty connotation, pulling to mind men-haters, which deeply contrasts the actual meaning, as a respondent explains, “‘Feminists’ are only people who believe men and women should be equal, not women are better than men.” In this case, most people would actually be considered feminists. Looking at the definition, being a feminist does not seem like anything to be ashamed of. Whether or not one wishes to associate with the term, however, is a personal choice.
Some respondents think that feminism is unnecessary “because women are already equal to men, and the US Judges and law have more in place to support women than men.” I am sorry, but I will have to respectfully disagree with this statement. If women were equal to men, there would be more women in STEM and politics (While 48% of the workforce is female, only 24% of STEM is. Congress is 20% female). If women were equal to men, a woman would not be shamed for having sex while a man is praised (slut, whore, hoe vs player, legend). Women would not have to take their clothes off to get a leading role in a movie (either in the movie or for a man like Harvey Weinstein). Women would not be afraid of walking alone on the streets out of fear of being raped. Women would not be told that they are at fault for being raped because of their clothes, rather than the rapist being at fault because he committed a crime (Fun fact: 99.4% of rapists are not incarcerated). If women are complete equals, we can see the bad in them as well. Women can abuse and assault, just like men. If a woman assaults a man, the man is often told he is “lucky” or “should have enjoyed it.” This should in no way be the case. In equality, both genders can be victims, and the victims should be treated with love and respect. Men are often supposed to bottle their emotions to be “tough” and “manly.” You shouldn’t have to “man up” or “grow a pair” while facing difficult situations. In feminism, we believe in ridding the world of ALL gender stereotypes, not just those for females. Men, if you don’t see how feminism would benefit you, see above.
Next topic: intersectional feminism, the understanding that multiple parts of a woman’s identity–such as race, class, and sexual orientation–can affect the levels and types of oppression she faces. A few respondents even said they were against feminism alone, but supported intersectional feminism. Some are against intersectionality, claiming that it causes disunity and conflict. This may be the case, but feminism has a history of aligning itself with other reform movements. As one respondent stated, it “brings more depth and purpose to feminism.” I agree more with this view, personally. Let’s go back to pre-Civil War America. At this time, there was a large wave of activism called the Antebellum Reform Movement. Abolitionists and suffragettes often worked together in supporting each other’s cause. In the early 20th century, many black women helped protest in order for the 19th Amendment to be passed. However, there is also a history of white women being exclusionary in their feminism. Susan B Anthony was enraged when black men got the right to vote before women. Alice Paul, a leading member of the 20th-century suffragettes, did not want black women to protest with her. Nowadays, we call this “white feminism.”
Let me try to explain this a little more clearly. LGBTQ, colored, and disabled women are often supporters of the feminist movement while supporting their own and other minority groups. However, “white feminists” only focus on gender issues and do not advocate for other minorities. This is quite silly, in my opinion, because although women face discrimination, a colored or disabled woman faces much more. One white female respondent explained it perfectly, stating, “ a black female, a gay female, or a Muslim female would experience several more layers of discrimination than I ever will and that can’t be diminished down to just a blanket ‘sexism.’” It is important to acknowledge that, while I am a woman, there are some forms of discrimination I am not subject to and do not understand, but I should still support and advocate for my sisters worldwide. My favorite response regarding intersectional feminism wraps this up quite well: “If I am free, but my fellow woman isn’t, then what does it matter?”
Last topic: feminists themselves. Oh, my beloved activists, I know your intentions are good, but you have scared away quite a few people. Many respondents explained that their experience with feminists often made them appear “angry, unhappy, and feel that the world is against them.” One of my close friends is interested in feminism, but often feels shunned because of some of her beliefs. She is politically conservative, Catholic, and prolife–all things feminists usually shy away from. But instead of just immediately shutting her down, maybe feminists should talk with her: “Feminists say they want to have uncomfortable conversations…but if I want to have a conversation about abortion or any other conservative issue, I get shut down because that doesn’t agree with them.” My fellow feminists, ignoring and yelling will get you nowhere, just like the ineffectiveness of the Jesus men with bullhorns on street corners. I’m not saying you have to agree with certain beliefs, but that discussing works much better than shutting people down.
An interesting thing I noticed among the experience responses was that younger feminists tend to claim all feminists are wonderful, whereas older feminists recognize that there are bad ones. I tend to agree with the older ones myself; feminists are just humans. One respondent claimed, “I think the people I’ve met who I would consider unpleasant feminists were unpleasant despite their feminism, not because of it.” In any group trying to accomplish good, there are radicals who ruin the image. However, we must realize that these radicals do not represent the majority; they are just more publicized. Another thing many older feminists from the 60s and 70s movements commented on was young feminists’ gaps in historical knowledge. They love what we are doing and that we are continuing their passion, but they wish we would recognize how far we have come. History is important in any movement because, if you don’t understand where it has come from, how can you move forward?
I am a strong and passionate feminist, but I recognize that the movement as a whole has lots of room for improvement. I am sorry if you responded to the survey, but an issue you brought up was not addressed. I tried to my greatest ability to discuss most of the issues surrounding feminism, but there are too many for a little blog post. I hope, however, that I addressed the main topics and explained them thoroughly. Please leave any questions or comments you have! Thank you for reading as always.