Five Things Feminism Isn't

by WiseFool

Do you really know what feminism means? Has the old, patriarchal paradigm succeeded in skewing the essence of feminism, turning it into a dirty word?

I know several women who are quick to say, "I'm not a feminist." In fact, they're so quick to say it that you'd think being identified as a feminist was akin to being identified as a Nazi sympathizer.

Feminism is seen as outdated, no longer necessary and, intrinsically, anti-man. So, I suppose, women who claim fervently that they're NOT feminist are trying to separate themselves from these negative connotations. But just because something has gained a bad reputation, doesn't mean it should be shunned.

Feminism still has a crucial role to play, whether we like it or not. And the solution to our still horribly unequal world is not to cast off the label 'feminist', but to reclaim it for the force of good it has been and continues to be.

So, just to clear up a few misconceptions, here are five things that feminism most definitely isn't.

1. Feminism isn't Anti-Man

It's not a battle of the sexes

Feminism is still relevantIf you're a feminist that must mean you hate men, right? Oh, so very wrong. But this notion is, sort of, understandable. After all, the goals of feminism are to dismantle the old-fashioned patriarchal view, and I guess it's easy to confuse that with attacking the whole male gender. 

However, there's a marked difference between seeking to destroy the 'institution' of patriarchy and seeking to destroy men. Feminists want to eradicate the view that women are somehow inferior to men, consigning it to the annals of ancient history where it quite rightly belongs.

Feminists don't want to eradicate men.

After all, to achieve the aim of feminism (which, just in case you're still not sure, is equality), feminists need men on side. The world will never change unless men who still wield the lion's share of power in almost every country, agree that their daughters, sisters, mothers and wives are human beings, too.     

2. Feminism isn't Shunning Femininity

You can be a feminist and still like pink

Why did feminists burn bras?Feminism and femininity are not mutually exclusive, and bra burning wasn't the feminists of the 60s way of trying to become more masculine.

For most feminists of the 60s and 70s, casting off make-up, bras or high-heeled shoes was about objecting to the way in which women are often perceived as little more than sex objects.

For others, the bra was seen as an item of constriction, which is far much more fitting of the earlier women's underwear, like corsets. Nevertheless, throwing away the bra was sticking two fingers up at a society that said bra-wearing was mandatory.

I suspect many bra burners quickly discovered that giving their breasts freedom wasn't always comfortable, and the fashion for it tapered off.

In any event, feminism doesn't hate femininity, neither does it seek to lump men and women in one, big androgynous pile. Feminism is happy to celebrate femininity and all that it is to be a woman, but it doesn't want 'femininity' to determine how much women are paid and how they are treated. 

Does that mean feminists should all wear flat shoes and refuse to shave their armpits? No, of course not. It means feminism wants a world in which it doesn't matter what a woman is wearing (or not wearing). 

Whether you're a man or a woman, ask yourself these questions. 

1, Do you think it's right for women to be viewed as nothing more than sexual eye candy?

2, Do you think anybody has the right to dictate what a woman should wear?

If you answered 'no' to both of these questions, then you have something in common with a feminist.

3. Feminism isn't Belittling Domestic Work and Motherhood

Can you be a feminist and a stay-at-home mom?

Can you be a homemaker and a feminist?Of course you can be a feminist and be a domestic goddess!

In the early days of feminism, women were trying to break free from the unapologetically rigid rules by which they had to live. In the very early days, of course, they were seeking basic rights: like the right to vote. Later, feminism set its sights on enabling women to go out into the labor force and earn money...if that's what they chose.

Nowhere is it written that women have to work outside the home to be a feminist. If it's a case of dictating what a woman has to do, then we're no better off for it!

Seeking a woman's right to work alongside men was about one thing and one thing alone: choice. Without that choice, a woman's lot in life was very limited; she would have to get married, otherwise who would 'look after her'? 

Thanks to feminism, a woman can look after herself, if she chooses to or if the necessity arises. 

What is important when we're talking about domestic labor, is that the work of a stay-at-home mom is treated with equal importance as the work her husband does outside the house. Yes, they're different, but homemaking is just as important as bread-winning.

Feminism recognizes that domestic duties are crucial, and it certainly doesn't belittle any woman who chooses to take on the difficult job of raising children.  

4. Feminism isn't Just a 'Girl Thing'

There are plenty of men who identify themselves as feminists

The Dalai Lama calls himself a feministAs mentioned above, in order for feminism to achieve all of its goals, it needs men.

Sadly, it can be difficult for men to label themselves feminist or even feminist allies. Not only do they suffer the same stigma that female feminists endure, but they also receive a heavy dose of skepticism from many women.

But fortunately, there are (and have been), a number of men who agree with the feminist ideals and have been loud and proud about it.

Parker Pillsbury: 19th century American minister, abolitionist and advocate of women's rights.

Jimmy Carter: The 39th U.S. President has spent the years since his presidency advocating human rights, particularly those of women. "I am convinced that discrimination against women and girls is one of the world's most serious, all-pervasive and largely ignored violations of basic human rights."

John Stuart Mill: 19th century English philosopher and co-author (along with his wife Harriet Taylor Mill), of The Subjection of Women.

David Cameron: The current U.K. prime minister was asked if he was a feminist, in reply he said, "...if that means equal rights for women, then yes. If that is what you mean by feminist, then yes, I am a feminist."

William Shakespeare: Although it's impossible to say for certain, because he was around long before feminism was conceived, if his female characters are anything to go by, Shakespeare certainly didn't think women were inferior to men.

John Legend: The singer, songwriter and actor has this to say on the subject, "All men should be feminists. If men care about women's rights, the world will be a better place."

Dalai Lama: In 2009, during his International Freedom Award acceptance speech, the Dalai Lama said, "I call myself a feminist. Isn't that what you call someone who fights for women's rights?"

5. Feminism isn't Done...Not by a Long Way

Equality hasn't been achieved

Is feminists' fight really over?The other main reason friends and acquaintances of mine have no interest in feminism is because they think it has no relevance in the modern world.

The battle has been fought, and won...or so they think. But has it really? Is it actually anywhere close to being won?

Well, there can be no debate with FGM, forced marriage and human trafficking rife in many parts of the world, women across the globe are still seen as 'less' than their male counterparts. 

"But that's nothing to do with me," you say. "In the west, women can vote, they can work, they can own property; I've got everything I need." If you truly believe what's going on elsewhere in the world is not your concern, I can't argue with that. It's selfish and blinkered in the extreme, but I can't argue with it.

However, I ask you this: do you really believe that women in modern, western countries are perceived and treated equally? 

U.S. Gender Pay Gap

Women: like men, only cheaper
Weekly Earnings of Full Time Employees
Weekly Earnings of Full Time Employees

Tweets From Everyday Sexism

Casual sexism in the lives of women
Tweets from Everyday Sexism
Tweets from Everyday Sexism

Sexist T-Shirts

Would you date a man wearing one of these?
Topman Sexist T-Shirts
Topman Sexist T-Shirts

Sexism and Men's Magazines

Objectifying women
Men's Magazine Covers
Men's Magazine Covers

So, What Do You Think?

Still believe that feminism has no place in modern society?

The playing field is still far from even.

In fact, in some ways, it's getting worse.

The 'rape culture', which sees women as fair game if they've had a little too much to drink, or are dressed 'provocatively', or have dared to flirt with a man, is a growing phenomenon; aided and abetted by the rise of internet pornography functioning as ersatz sex education.

Women's rights still need to be fought for.

And if you believe that men and women should be treated with equal respect, then whether you label yourself as such or not: you're a feminist. 

Updated: 04/21/2014, WiseFool
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paperfacets on 06/21/2014

Well done!

WiseFool on 06/04/2014

Hi ClassicalGreek. I agree completely, female empowerment isn't just good for women. It's a great thing if a couple can share financial responsibility for a home and/or family. I'm all for two people finding a system that works for them, of course. But women having a CHOICE is what's key, and what is, ultimately, good for everybody involved.

'Schrodinger's Rapist' is a very accurate way to describe how most women feel. And it's so sad that some men get very defence (for instance with the #YesAllWomen trend), and refuse to accept that sexism is endemic. More worrying is that casual sexism is so often dismissed as harmless, when it's anything but. It's the seemingly trivial things that make up a culture in which, sadly, women are regularly viewed with contempt.

Unfortunately, with easy access to pornography (and the unpleasant portrayal of femininity that comes with it), I don't think attitudes will improve with the coming generations - if anything, they'll get worse. Drastic shifts need to take place if we stand any hope of attaining real equality.

classicalgeek on 06/04/2014

To my way of thinking, feminists are pro-men as well. For example, whether in a marriage or society at large, a woman in the workforce frees up a position for a man who prefers to stay home (some men really are domestically-minded). A woman who earns equal pay frees up a man to start a business that might not produce revenue for years, or go into a profession that he loves that pays less, because he doesn't feel he has to earn as much. When women can take the responsibility for themselves, men are freed from the pressures of supporting and protecting them.

I have nothing against the traditional marriage or relationship, either, if that is the choice of both people.

I agree that the violence towards and degradation of women must stop before we poison yet another generation. We must teach the men in our lives to be more aware. I read a fabulous term on a blog that perfectly expresses the fear each woman feels: Schrödinger's Rapist. Add physical, psychological, and emotional abuse to that concept, and you've got what every woman must deal with.

Great article!

Mira on 04/24/2014

Great article, Sam; loved the comments as well. I agree that the "have it all" culture is part of the problem. You lose track of the bigger picture, how you fit in a puzzle with others, by trying to be everything. I think there's a lot of pressure nowadays on both genders, especially as the economic crisis hit so many people very hard.

Going back to that "be everything" idea though for a moment, I don't think there should be a choice between CEO and chocolate cake; just people doing what they're better suited for (and that can mean both CEO and cake), and with energy and time to help others and be with others as well. :) Well, that's an ideal scenario, but I see women pushed by their families to go into certain professions that are not of their own choosing, and women who do go into the professions of their own choosing losing track of what being a true friend means, etc., because they learn to boss everyone around, including their friends. It's not all their fault though: there's a lot of pressure on all of us to be "successful," make enough money, be with our families, so sometimes there's not enough time to be friendly enough.

I agree with many here that self-employment can be a great answer for many women and men.

WiseFool on 04/24/2014

Sounds like things in the Chazer and Beswick households run as, I think, all homes should run. Respect and appreciation for the work the other does (regardless of how 'menial' the task may seem), is key in helping us reach that point of equality. 'Cause that's really what it all boils down to: respect (and that swings both ways).

Should there be more women in top ranking corporate jobs? Absolutely! Should we be telling women that's what they HAVE to do? Clearly not. Besides, since when did ambition to be a CEO preclude the ambition to make a damn good chocolate cake? It doesn't have to be one or other other. Although, I admit, this 'have it all' culture simply doesn't work...and that's true for both genders.

frankbeswick on 04/24/2014

The account that you give is very positive. It is very much the same in my marriage, which is now thirty five years long. But she does not let me share the cooking, though I can cook. So the division is that I grow the food, she cooks it, and I wash up. She cares part time for her aged parents, but I have insisted that she makes care decisions and I back them up by doing what I am asked to do.

WordChazer on 04/23/2014

Now there you have me, Frank. I'd not mind to be a CEO, but I don't like managing people. I'm not generally a 'people person' and I dislike those who are not pulling their weight as much as I dislike those who throw it around. So I think I might also be one of those women who runs her own business rather than someone else's. I'm still going to keep some work outside the home for now, at least, while I work on building my own work within the home.

As far as equal distribution of tasks goes, my husband and I have different assigned tasks in our relationship: he does more driving than me, disposes of unwanted intruders (usually insect life) puts things on high shelves and helps with the washing up and dusting, plus paying for more than his fair share of the food. He also books holidays, handles phone calls and the social diary. I look after the washing, the rest of the washing up and much of the cleaning, the finances and paperwork, outgoing post, birthday cards, presents, incidental shopping and dealing with tradesmen. It works quite well. We share the cooking. He maintains the car, I clean it. I empty the bins into the appropriate bags before he removes them to the dustbins; he also puts the bins out for collection every week, whichever bin it is.

We are considered quite unusual among our friends as I'm happy for him to go off to coding parties and church events with his mates without me. We never forget that we had interests before we met, which we still maintain now we're married. But I still think we'll end up like that American couple who were married 70 years and died within 15 hours of each other.

frankbeswick on 04/23/2014

I dislike quantification of equality [50:50]. It seems to be associated with the notion that men and women share every task equally. There is no wrong in this, but as long as each side gives equally to a relationship there can be differences in what each does.

In Britain many women are realizing the advantages of self-employment, as it allows them to control their own working lives and juggle them with their home lives far more easily than employment does. They develop a portfolio of profitable activities.

Recently someone publicly declared that she was disappointed that many girls think that aspiring to be a CEO is less desirable than aspiring to make a perfect chocolate cake, and that we should encourage all girls to have the CEO aspiration. But as a male, I would rather bake a good cake [fruit cake, my favourite] than be a CEO. I,along with many women, wouldlike to live a geninely human life.

WordChazer on 04/22/2014

Very sniffy article about Sheryl Sandberg on the BBC today. She appears to be advocating 50/50 equality. But what Frank says is true, sometimes women want to be mistress of their own home world rather than be someone's paid worker outside it. Personally, I'm the sort of woman who gets irritated when some male asserts his claim to what I consider to be 'my space' on the bus, as demonstrated this evening when I scrunched into the corner until the bloke leaned away for some reason, so I breathed out and made him move himself away from me rather than continue to squash me. The only man I want to lean on when I'm riding the bus is my husband, if it's all the same to these alpha male bully types trying to 'teach me my place'. I really dislike that particular brand of arrogant confidence, although I'm sure I must come across as the same to others at times too.

frankbeswick on 04/21/2014

Sadly, we had a feminist sociology lecturer at one of the colleges at which I taught who told her students that women were more intelligent than men were.She erred. Men and women are equally intelligent, and their fundamental equality as persons is unaffected by some very minimal differences in skills.

There are some feminists who have replaced male chauvinism with the female equivalent. This is no good. Hating and despising men is as bad as hating and despising women.

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