Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Misconceptions: is radical feminism giving feminists a bad name?

"I am NOT a feminist!" A girlfriend of mine declared during a recent conversation. "Feminism is a bad thing. Everytime I hear the word 'feminism,' I cringe! It is all about hating men and thinking women are better than men, and burning bras. I am not a feminist, I just believe in equality."


I proceeded to let her know that her conception of feminism is not completely accurate. While some strands of feminism have extreme views, and may negatively portray men while depicting woman as superior beings, most feminists have a more moderate perspective.

I explained to her that being a feminist simply means that you recognize that our society generally treats women as inferior to men, that you believe in the equality of the sexes, and that you want to promote this idea in some way. In fact, I told her, "you sound like a feminist!"

My friend's deep-rooted negative reaction to feminism is unfortunate, but not uncommon. Society tends to emphasize strands like radical feminism, which have the most shocking views, and widely publicize its most unconventional ideas. For example, I have yet to come across any strand of feminism that seriously advocates burning bras, and in fact some say that there is no proof that bra-burning demonstrations ever happened. It may just be a myth intended to create a vivid picture of the rabid feminists! But I digress...

People with views outside those of the dominant group tend to expose themselves to ridicule and disdain. Here for example, those who do not want to achieve equality of the sexes, presumably because equality would be of no benefit to them, would be inclined to counter and contradict feminist theory. One way to successfully tear feminism apart is to declare it a radical notion and to promulgate certain ideas that most would have a difficult time agreeing with, in hopes that it will be promoted as a ridiculous and worthless theory and/or movement.

For example, one of the ideas behind radical feminism is that "men fuck and women are fucked" both literally and figuratively. Of course, this is a loaded and general concept that is easy to disagree with. Especially the literal part. Thus, an anti-feminist would jump on this "anti-sex" belief of feminists and circulate the message that if you are a feminist, then you hate sex and you hate men. Therefore, feminism in general is "bad" and "wrong."

Although this is an idea that has presumably been started by men, women buy into it as well. Even my friend, who is an intelligent and progressive law student, has been fed misconceptions about feminism, when she clearly is a feminist at heart.

The true feminist message is important to learn about and to understand. The more we understand feminism and study feminist theories, the more we are exposed to the injustices that face women in our society. The more we are exposed, the more solutions we will advance, and the more we will be inclined to reverse these injustices!


Alcestis said...

I, like your friend, was terrified of considering myself a feminist and once cringed at the idea of it. I didn't want to associate myself with women who hated men, complained all day, and didn't wear makeup. But more importantly, I couldn't see the point of feminism. We are all equal now. Women can do anything men can do. And if we can't, we just need to try harder until we can. Right?!?!

Wrong!!! In these few weeks of class, my misconceptions of feminism have been dispelled. Feminists don't hate men, don't complain, and can wear makeup (3rd generation feminist). But more importantly, women are not equal and will never be equal until all of us recognize that. Although women may be capable of doing anything men can do, we have to recognize that we live in a society and a system which treats women as inferior and perpetuates this treatment by claiming that there is equality of the sexes.

Women can try their hardest to attain what men have, but it may prove fruitless if we don't understand the root and nature of the inequality that exists today.

N.P. said...

Feminism does have a bad perception to many individuals. Something about the term seems to send shivers down people's spines. However, while I may not specifically consider myself a radical feminist, I do appreciate its place in theory.

The way I consider the different aspects of feminism, and the way I derive by sense of how I see my self as feminist is similar to the way I think of religion (not to get too controversial here). I tend to view both as picking portions that you believe in and portions you identify it, and practicing it to the best way you see fit. This might not make me radical, or even progressive in a forceful sense but I think it's a good way for me to "stay the course" when people criticize me about being a feminist or misunderstand what it is to be a feminist.

gtg263r said...

As a male feminist, I have had discussions with both men and women who view feminism skeptically, especially when a man espouses feminist viewpoints or expresses support for other feminists.

As Alcestis pointed out, one of the major arguments against feminism that I've encountered is that men and women are equal now, so what is the point of feminism? While I would agree that we have made progress towards equality for many different minority groups, I believe we are far from true equality for women or any other minority group.

As a male feminist in particular, I hear other suggestions, including: (1) that I am not female and that feminism is for/should only be espoused by women; (2) I am gay; (3) I describe myself as a feminist in order to get laid.

Granted, when people bring up these points to me they are usually always being tongue-in-cheek or facetious, but they still illustrate a fundamental problem: that many people do not take heterosexual male feminists at face value.

Dusty said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dusty said...

Jumping on what Alcestis was saying about 3rd wave feminism progressing the idea of radical feminists, I wonder if in 20 years from now "radical" feminism will be associated with a sex positive, or even sex radical attitude. With third wave feminism has come an increase in sex positive and sex worker positive feminism. It is an interesting shift that the most radical of feminists of the defining era of modern feminism in the 70s were viewed as so sex negative. And now a few waves in, the radical edges of current feminism are deeply wrapped up in the politics of sexual empowerment and positive reclamation. Radical feminism has grown and changed, I hope the face of it in the mainstream will start to catch up soon enough too.