Feminism: What it is, and what it isn’t

It’s almost funny how much I didn’t know about myself when I stepped foot on my college campus for the first time. For one, I didn’t know I was a feminist. I only knew feminism based on clichés, some of which, though untrue, have permeated our culture to the point where it becomes a part of the movement to those that knew very little of feminism (like myself). When I heard people talk about feminists, it was with disdain: “those man-haters are complaining again.” Those misconceptions were immediately banished, however, when I started attending and talking about events on campus with my fellow students. There were events and talks like Slut Walk, I Love Female Orgasm, Vagina Monologues, Take Back the Night, and many more. I began to realize that I had been seeing a distorted view of feminism, one that was not only untrue, but harmful to the purpose of true feminism.

Simply put, there are a lot of things that feminism isn’t, but let’s start with what feminism is. Firstly, a feminist is “a person who advocates equal rights for women.” Let the record show that nowhere in this definition were the phrases “bra burner” or “man hater.” At the most basic level, a feminist believes that women should have the same rights as men. They do not believe that all men are evil nor do they hate every man they lay eyes on. There are, obviously, radicals among any cause. Unfortunately sometimes radicals end up becoming the face of a cause. The Westboro Baptist Church does not represent Christianity across the globe, but sometimes they are the loudest. Therefore, though you may have met radical feminists that turned you off of the idea, they do not represent the whole.

Perhaps people are confused about feminism because they do not understand this “patriarchy” that we feminists so vehemently fight against. Patriarchy “is a term for societies in which male is the favoured gender, and in which men hold power, dominion and privileges.” When we look at patriarchy, we do not see evil, soulless men trying to dominate women, we see a harmful, outdated societal structure that hurts everyone. Let me repeat that: patriarchy hurts everyone. Tony Porter discusses the “man box,” a set of ideals that men must accept and live out to avoid ridicule and ostracism. I invite (read: implore) you to watch this quick video. It is illuminating.

Toward the end of his talk, he applies his stories to how this culture of the “man box” leads to violence against women. While he makes a fantastic point, I don’t have enough room in this post to delve into that topic. Therefore, I will focus on another implication of his story: the “man box” (a result of patriarchy) hurts men, too.
Challey Kacelnik states:

“The thing is, it’s patriarchy that says men are stupid and monolithic and unchanging and incapable. It’s patriarchy that says men have animalistic instincts and just can’t stop themselves from harassing and assaulting. It’s patriarchy that says men can only be attracted by certain qualities, can only have particular kinds of responses, can only experience the world in narrow ways. Feminism holds that men are capable of more – are more than that.”

Kacelnik helps disentangle the feminists from the “man hating” cliché that is so inappropriately applied. Feminists are fighting for equal rights by lifting women up, not pulling men down. In recognizing how patriarchy hurts women, we must first understand how it hurts everyone.

I’ve definitely heard from friends and strangers alike “I don’t see any inequality.” “What are feminists fighting?” “Those problems don’t exist anymore, feminists are just complaining.” Though comments like these make me angry, they also worry and sadden me. It shows that the people that made these comments have either a) miraculously not experienced or witnessed any sort of problem in our society stemming from the objectification and abuse of women or b) they don’t understand that what they have seen qualifies as abuse of women and power. It shows that these issues are born from our society itself, so ingrained in the way we see and process the world around us that they seem like the framework of our social interactions- just a part of us. (Steubenville is a horrifying example of this concept, in which teenagers didn’t understand that what they were witnessing was rape). A writer on wordpress hit the nail on the head when she said:

“They’re not self-indulgent like people seem to think, or only concerned about whining and asking for more; they have made the difficult choice to accept and live with awful truths and dedicate themselves to fighting an almost impenetrable force…Look at the words modern feminists use all the time: patriarchy, male entitlement, rape culture, social scripts, expectations. What the hell are those? Compare these concepts with words like suffrage, abortion, and employment, and they might as well be dust blowing in the wind, or sand washing into the ocean, or rain falling from the sky. What do they mean? How do we fix it? What is there to be done?…Feminists today (i.e. Third Wave feminists) have to first defend the existence of the problems they fight.”

As the writer mentions in her article, being a feminist is hard: it means letting yourself see the problems in our society instead of pleasantly ignoring them, it means taking a stand and saying “rape jokes aren’t funny,” or “slut shaming is harmful to our society and its members.” It means understanding and truly seeing the culture we live in, acknowledging both the good and the bad. It means knowing that you have a responsibility to make a difference, and accepting that responsibility.

I mentioned a few topics in this post such as rape jokes, slut shaming, and victim blaming. These are all topics that deserve full discussions and will be discussed in subsequent posts.

(This post does appear (under the same title) on another blog to which I contribute- knoblaugger.wordpress.com)

Other brilliant posts-
7 Things Feminists Always Have to Explain to Everybody Else
Hating on Feminism? I Get That.


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