Myths about Feminism Among the Younger Generation

As someone who has been called a “fake feminist” by an ignorant person with assumptions about what being feminist means, I have always wanted to write a post that takes the Feminist label out of the box and deconstructs what it really means. However, before doing that, the myths about feminism have to be targeted and exposed.

Many men and women shy away from the identifying tag of being a “feminist.” Some prefer to call themselves “humanists” instead, so not as to imply the exclusion of men. Others hate the stigma attached to being a feminist – humorously (and insultingly) depicted as a hairy, bra-burning, man-hating woman who has an agenda other than equality–that of being somehow superior to men. The new generation has introduced a more modern feminism, typically involving some form of sexual liberalism that society loves to denigrate. Over the years I’ve encountered the stereotypes about feminists and am still questioning whether or not there is actual truth to some of them. Below are what I think are the main assumptions about feminists still made today–how harmful they may be to the cause, or how accurate they really are in representing modern feminists of today, is up for discussion…some of them, I am just sick to death of hearing and I want to refute them, damnit! All thoughts are welcome…

1. Feminists are man-haters. There are people in the world who hate men, that is true. And there are also people in the world who hate women. But since when does feminism–a movement towards equality between men AND women, imply anything about hating men or destroying them? If anything, men are NECESSARY for the feminist movement. Men and women both need to engage in dialogue and cooperate in order for true change to occur. Successful feminism means a movement for both men and women to fight on behalf of women’s rights, and that also means deconstructing gender roles which oppress BOTH men and women. However, to play devil’s advocate, maybe the label “feminist” does connote a sense of exclusion that scares men away from participating in feminism. After all, don’t men ALSO have to deal with gender roles, gender oppression and fulfillment of ideal “masculine” standards? Just something to think about.

2. Feminism is the reason chivalry is dead. A girl I once met at college told me that she hated feminism because she wanted the guy to open the door for her, take care of her, and she thought feminism was ruining all that. First of all, feminism is about CHOICE. It’s about understanding that you have the ability to control your own life and fight for your rights. If you want a guy who does all that, that is your CHOICE–nobody can stop you from your choice, no matter what they think of it–and the fact that you can exercise that choice freely without having to give a shit, is a result of the feminist movement. Feminism just means recognizing that both men and women can take care of EACH OTHER rather than one partner exclusively doing everything. There’s nothing wrong with feeling like you want to be taken care of–that is a basic human need, and it’s not exclusive to either men or women.

3. Feminism is just a polite way of sanctioning promiscuity for women. Is it? Even though I agree the younger generation is beginning to equate feminism with more sexual freedom (a movement I see no problem with), I guess it all depends on how you use it. Every feminist is different. For one feminist, having control over her sexuality could be the pinnacle of her empowerment. For another, sexual purity might be the way she feels she wants to live her life. Neither is right or wrong. The important thing is, the decision comes from her and what she perceives to be empowering and healthy in her life.

4. All feminists are just independent women who want to be spinsters when they grow up and never want to raise kids or have a husband. Absolutely untrue. Feminists come in all different shapes and sizes, and have different desires. Being a feminist does NOT mean that you cannot get married, enjoy married life, raise children or be a housewife if that is what you desire. What feels right for one woman’s future is not right for another. Again, it is all about choice–before when women were limited to ONE choice, it was not really up to them as to what they did. Now, however, at least in America (unfortunately not true for all countries), they have so many more opportunities on what they can achieve in life. It’s simply about the ability to recognize all the opportunities that are available.

5. If you’re a TRUE feminist, you can never ever, depend on a man or let him affect your emotions in ANY WAY!!! If you do, you’re a FAKE FEMINIST OMG!!!

Seriously. Would you expect the same of a man? To never be influenced by a woman because he’s strong and independent? To NEVER depend upon her for emotional support or cry over heartbreak? No? Then why do you expect the same of women who are independent and strong? Feminism doesn’t mean we become desensitized, asexual, or emotionless or ANY LESS HUMAN. It does not mean that you can’t seek a romantic partner or depend on them (in a HEALTHY way) for support, or make them an important part of your life. Being a strong person also means having fulfilling relationships, communicating your needs, and understanding what you want from the other person. Why would feminism discourage healthy relationships, and why would it promote indifference towards someone you care about? Just think about it.

6. If you care about your appearance, you’re not a feminist because feminists don’t care about their looks!! If I remember correctly, taking care of yourself would not only be a part of feminism but of just good self esteem in general.It goes both ways for men and women. It does not degrade a feminist to care about how she looks and presents herself to the world.

7. Feminism is only about ensuring the rights of women. Feminism can be about a lot of different groups, not just women. Whether you’re gay, transgendered, a racial minority, a religious minority, your identity can all be represented in feminist activism. Why? Because the intersectionality of all of these different groups are all evident…you are not just a sex or a gender. You have MULTIPLE aspects and facets of your identity, including your nationality, native tongue, sexual orientation, your ethnicity. It is important for different minority groups to recognize that they are not alone in their oppression, and support each other as a RESULT of understanding how oppression feels. That is what good, inclusive feminism strives to do.

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13 Comments

  1. Posted August 9, 2010 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for writing this!

  2. Posted August 9, 2010 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

    Unfortunately these assumptions aren’t just made by “the younger generation”. All types of people; men, women, young and old are so naive to what Feminist is and what it means. On the rare occasion that I might bring up Feminism to anyone I know – at leasts one of those stereotypes will be brought up and treated as though it is fact. Even after I have explained that it isn’t.

    Sigh.

    • Posted August 13, 2010 at 11:02 am | Permalink

      You’re right, the younger generation isn’t the only one making these assumptions. Older generations most likely struggle with understanding what the modern feminism is and the differences between an “old” feminism focused on civil rights and a “new” feminism that includes things like an emphasis on reproductive rights, changing sexual double standards, etc. This could lead to even more stereotyping as the modern feminism would be looked as just an excuse to support promiscuity and not really recognizing that there is a lot more to modern feminism than they would assume. Unfortunately our “Sex and the City” culture does depict modern feminists as successful but still obsessed with men (notice there’s a difference I feel with being obsessed vs. just having a healthy relationship), and having “sex like a man” in general…I feel there are a lot more ways to look at and use modern feminism than this.

  3. Posted August 9, 2010 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

    I recently wrote a post on my blog that’s somewhat similar to what you’ve written that I feel like you might appreciate: http://gtowngirl.wordpress.com/2010/07/07/i%E2%80%99m-not-a-feminist-but/

    I do appreciate your post (we need to see a lot of these so that it sinks in with someone, eventually!) but I’m a little concerned about your use of the word “purity.” Maybe I’m just being brainwashed by Jessica Valenti’s new book (entirely possible), but allowing the myth to persist that any one kind of sexual expression promotes “purity” is not necessarily the best for the empowerment of individual women. It sounds like that’s what you’re trying to say, anyway; I wonder if changing the rhetoric would equalize the discussion a bit.

    Thanks again for writing this- I hope you can share this with people who don’t identify as feminists, too!

    • Posted August 13, 2010 at 11:15 am | Permalink

      Thanks for your link! You’re right, I could’ve chosen a better word than “purity” since it implies that women who have a different sexual lifestyle are somehow “impure” which I did not intend to express at all. I think abstinence would be a better term for this article. My bias definitely comes out with that term–though not intentional–as I come from a culture that’s restricted in terms of the way they think about female sexuality. Not that I agree with my cultural rules (actually very much the opposite), but I have to admit I am still coming from a less priviledged point of view in terms of how free women are supposed to be in expressing their sexualities. I was raised in a household where the level of sexual self-restraint (oppression?) and shame were the norm.

      However, just to play devil’s advocate I wouldn’t rob any woman of considering themselves sexually pure if that is how they feel towards their own lifestyle, so long as they were not degrading or judging the lifestyles of others (though you can argue that degradation is inherent in the word itself). Language is a very powerful thing, and I think it also matters how you use it. Some women I have met have equated self-respect with that sense of being more selective about intimacy, and while I am not necessarily supporting this (as I find it can easily promote shame in the women they interact with who do not make the same choices), I think the debate on the boundaries of female sexuality is still a fascinating thing that has no definite answers….the reason why I say this is because I’ve read many articles that ponder the question as to whether or not the use of female sexuality can end up objectifying the female and end up disempowering women in general. There was an interesting article on NYTIMES regarding this. If I find the link, I’ll be sure to share it. I think female sexuality can be very empowering, but I think we should be cautious about approaching every single approach to it as empowering and the same for every woman (as we would with men who are encouraged to be “playas” and score with as many women as possible). If a woman can call herself a “sexually powerful person” why do we want to restrict someone who calls herself a “sexually pure person”–do we want to restrict how women identify themselves?

  4. Posted August 10, 2010 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    I agree with all of your refutations on Feminism. There are some man haters in the movement, but they’re vastly outnumbered by intelligent fair minded people. Frankly I’m a huge fan of a movement that encourages women to be independent and self sufficient. I think that relationships can’t help but be better when partners are looking for an equal.
    I might have called myself a Feminist once, but as I’ve followed Feministing it’s become clear that it’s not a movement that I can belong to. As a movement there seems to be more value placed on outrage over discussion, and censorship over risking injuring sensitivities. I don’t know to what extent Feministing represents the feminist movement, but it’s definitely informed me that I’m not a feminist. Still, I find that I like and value the thoughts and ideas of many Feminists.

    • Posted August 13, 2010 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      Hi James,

      Thanks for your response! I can understand your feeling of being excluded from the movement and I think it’s great you are also challenging whether or not Feministing is a true representation of the feminist movement. The idea of outrage over discussion and injuring sensitivities also interests me because I’ve also found myself wondering the same thing–when we go against mainstream feminism–why do we like to automatically try to shut down discourse that could help us see different sides of the same story? It is always good to look at these things and wonder, “Is this really representing what it means to be a feminist?” I’d like to hear more about why you feel it has communicated that you’re not part of the movement…I feel that dialogue can open up much more understanding of a male perspective on feminism.

      Remember though, that Feministing is only one representation and that there are multiple viewpoints on what it means to be feminist…that is why I wanted to put these myths there in the first place because I feel like being feminist is such a complex idea–and even the labelling can itself be restricting.

  5. Posted August 12, 2010 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

    …I had a similar experience as James when it comes to being male and considering oneself a Feminist. For a brief time in my early 20′s I considered myself a Feminist, but as I grew older I met so many Feminists that seem to have no value for anything male. That being male automatically made me the enemy, and that the female perspective always trumps the male perspective, no matter what the issue or situation was.

    Today I try to support the Feminist issues that I personally believe in ( choice, equality, respect, empowerment ), and do my best to avoid the divisive issues that bring out the worst in all of us.

    …I’ve also found very few Feminists that hold common ideas of what Feminism is. Almost everyone I’ve met has had very different beliefs about Feminism, sometimes completely contradictory of each others beliefs.

    I’ve met some people that seem to be a little schizophrenic when it comes to equality between the sexes, especially when it comes to romance, dating, and sex.

    i.e. I want to be equal in all aspects of my life, but I still hold old-fashioned traditional values when it comes to romance, dating, and sex.

    …As a man, I was really looking forward to meeting these new more equal women that would make the first move when dating, would pursue men as much as any man would, and would be direct and aggressive in the bedroom. It’s been 20+ years, I haven’t met any women that act like this, and I have doubts that I ever will.

    My comments on the list of Feminist myths:

    >>> 1. Feminists are man-haters.

    I’ve met very few women that appear to truly hate men, but I can understand why some people might feel this way, especially when Feminism doesn’t seem to have too many positive things to say about men. Yes, there are lots of repulsive, perhaps criminal aspects to the way some men behave, but I have never felt that this represents the majority of men. ( I could say the same for women too )

    >>> 2. Feminism is the reason chivalry is dead.

    As a man, I am very careful when it comes to chivalry, as I’ve had my head bitten off a few times by women that felt my opening a door, or carrying something heavy for them, automatically meant I was a die-hard chauvinist, and had ill intentions towards them.

    >>> 3. Feminism is just a polite way of sanctioning promiscuity for women.

    Most liberal minded people would see this as a good thing, everyone should be free to be themselves and act as they want to, as long as everyone is safe and treated with dignity and respect.

    It seems like it’s the religious and conservative folks have big problems with this, as they often have very limited views of human sexuality, believing that sexuality ( especially womens sexuality ) needs to be controlled or society will self-destruct from moral corruption.

    >>> 4. All feminists are just independent women who want to be spinsters when they grow up and never want to raise kids or have a husband.

    This seems to reflect the conflict of inviting the new ( Feminist values ), while trying to hang on to traditions of the past. I’ve known a few conflicted women and men that were struggling with trying to come to terms with Feminist ideals and the traditions that they grew up with and might value as much as Feminism. Everyone seems to have a different idea on this one, which might be for the best. I don’t think there are any easy answers to be found.

    >>> 5. If you’re a TRUE feminist, you can never ever, depend on a man or let him affect your emotions in ANY WAY!!! If you do, you’re a FAKE FEMINIST OMG!!!

    Again, this seems to be another representation of the conflict between new Feminist values and old traditional values. Also a little of the “battle between the sexes”, as women and men often approach things differently, and find different solutions to the same issues.

    >>> 6. If you care about your appearance, you’re not a feminist because feminists don’t care about their looks!!

    I can understand how some women might feel like traitors to the Feminist cause, if they give in to what might be considered more traditional ideas of female/male behavior.

    I think it’s important to realize that the world has never been “black and white” on any issue, that there are an infinite number of grey shades between these two positions. My own feeling on this is that Feminism should make you feel happy, that you are free to choose any path you like, even if it might not jive with everyone else in the room. ( you are not responsible for anyone else’s happiness )

    >>> 7. Feminism is only about ensuring the rights of women

    As a man, I can see some truth to this, as Feminism has always seemed to have a “women first” philosophy ( which is understandable ), and that men’s perspectives / issues are not womens problem. ( again I can partially agree with this, as men should be working on their own issues )

    …I also feel that this is part of the dividing line of what real equality means. For me, equality does not mean “sameness” or identical behavior, as men and women are not the same animal.

    We have different biology, we are socialized differently, and we often find different solutions to the identical problem. What works for a woman might not work for a man, and vice versa.

    From my own experience, I feel that men view aggression ( both physical and social ) very differently than women do. Most of the men I’ve met learned to physically fight by the time they had reached their mid-teens. We knew what it felt like to get punched in the face or the stomach, and how to physically defend ourselves against an aggressor. ( not always successfully, but you learned the basic moves ) I’ve never had to use this since my teenage years, but it’s something I’ve never forgotten.

    I feel that men and women might have different views about dominance and hierarchy in the business/political world. From my perspective, Feminism has always endorsed a cooperative model of decision making, but if you look at most power/hierarchical structures in the real world, it’s largely based upon some form of dominance. ( i.e. My boss can fire me, but I can’t fire them. My boss can make decisions about my work life, but I have little or no say about his work life. My boss has to answer to their boss, and this cascades up the hierarchical structure, until you reach the “golden” people that are CEOs, CFOs, COOs, boardmembers, etc… )

    On a personal note, I think Feminism started to have real meaning to me when I realized that my parents did not worry if I came home 24 hrs after a party or a concert, but would ( and did ) contact the police when my sisters were not home by 2am the same night.

    Moving to a big city ( Toronto, Ontario ), I’ve always been aware that personal safety in the city has been largely designed from a male perspective. I can walk alone on almost any abandoned street at 2am and still feel fairly safe, while I am certain that very few women will ever feel this way. From my perspective, cities need to be completely redesigned so that anyone can feel safe walking alone at night, but I doubt that this will happen in my lifetime.

    Yes, I support most Feminist issues, but feel that Feminism has a long way to go before the majority of men will feel part of the movement. ( thus I might consider myself a humanist, as I don’t want to be involved with a male centric movement either )

    • Posted August 13, 2010 at 11:38 am | Permalink

      Hi Eugene,

      Thanks so much for your in-depth response. I definitely agree with the fact that there are shades of grey when it comes to feminism, and I also recognize that the experience of feminists from a male perspective also hugely influences what the male perspective on feminism is. I have met men before who are very discouraged by the term “feminist” because they’ve met feminists who a) contradicted themselves on certain ideals (like dating as you say), b) did support resentment against men or feel that women were better/had a better argument no matter what and c) did not have common ideals of what being feminist means.

      However, I also think it’s admirable that you still support feminism and its ideas of choice, respect, equality and empowerment. The fact that you are engaging in this discussion shows me your dedication to these ideals. I do not have the answers, I merely want to challenge some of the commonly held ones. Sometimes I am also conflicted on what being feminist truly means–how far does it extent to the norms of dating and relationships–am I “betraying” feminism if I enjoy chivalry–am I being a hypocrite–am I supposed to be promiscuous because that’s what mainstream feminism says is cool and healthy (not to say sexuality is not empowering)? The reason I wrote this article was because I too like many men am confused about what feminism TRULY IS–what I know is what I’d LIKE it to be and how I use it in my own life–as a way to empower myself in a culture that does not empower women, as a tool to criticize strict ideals about sexuality, body policing, and gender roles. Feminism, if it were a religion, could not in my life be seen from a fundamentalist point of view. And I agree, men and women ARE different in terms of how they’re socialized as well as biologically (even though mainstream feminism also says NO! THERE ARE NO BIOLOGICAL DIFFERENCES BESIDES SEX, AT ALL!) I disagree–I think we should be open to understanding if there are differences, and of what kind.) There are so MANY different types of feminism–women of color feminism, third vs. second generation feminism, queer feminism–that there are literally interpretations on everything having to do with feminism. I think the only common ideal we all share is the freedom of CHOICE. Choosing the type of woman you’d like to be–regardless of society’s impositions. Otherwise, you and I are in the same boat—supporting respect, choice, integrity, empowerment and recognizing that not all women take the same approach to achieving these goals.

  6. Posted August 12, 2010 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

    Correction:
    Re-reading what I wrote, I apologize for using the “his” word when describing a theoretical “boss”, when I should have used something gender neutral. ( my real-life boss is currently a man, and I have had several great women bosses in my past, but I think this was my stream-of-consciousness / writing it as fast as I can that led to my mistake )

  7. Posted August 13, 2010 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

    How do you account for the common and popular (judging by the votes such comment recieved on the old voting version of feministing) “What about the Menzzzz” rebuttals that occur so often in feminist discussions. It supports points One and Eleven and portrays the feminist that use that rebuttal as self centered and lacking in empathy.

    • Posted August 14, 2010 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

      I am not sure if I get completely what you are asking. Are you saying that feminists who talk about the inclusion of men’s viewpoints/struggles are often dismissed as self centered and lacking empathy because they’re not focusing on women? If so, I would hope that it’s NOT the case that such a reaction is popular…but it DOES depend upon the topic that’s being discussed—something like an article on general rape or domestic violence SHOULD include discussion of male domestic violence/rape statistics as they are underrepresented–however, if the article is regarding a certain woman’s rape or let’s say an honor killing in the Middle East, it may be that people who feel strongly about this topic are unwilling to discuss the other end of the spectrum or find it difficult to understand how the oppression of men factor in. I cannot really “account” for them because they’re entitled to their opinions–I think it’s always good to see both sides of the story when it comes to gender roles, but as Eugene noted, it’s not always realistic considering feminism does concentrate on providing the support of women. These commentors may wish to concentrate solely on women’s rights and not have pity for men who they perceive to be the perpetrators of such an act…although I think in Feministing the article goes back to the culture itself being oppressive rather than the male population as the subject of blame and scrutiny.

      However, provided the context of the incidents you’re talking about I could have more of an opinion on this…

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