27 The Truth Behind Feminism
I would like to thank my mother, for showing me that a woman can be strong, loving, assertive, caring, kind, and smart all at the same time.
Keywords: Understanding, Equality, History, Words, Connotation
“I am not a feminist, but…” are some of the six most decisive and painful words used by many in our current political climate concerning matters around gender inequality. Today, women still fight for equality, and many still refuse to associate themselves with any particular movement due to certain misconceptions or false associations that are attributed to them. These tensions around Feminism prove that the fight for full equality of the genders is a battle that has not been won yet, and that our culture must continually work towards solving it.
I am writing to people who do not define themselves as feminists, and/or define themselves as anti-feminists. I hope to show readers who do not support feminism why that is so dangerous to the equality of men and women. Feminism is not a bad thing, but instead a way to empower and unite women to achieve equality. I hope to show readers that Feminism is a good and necessary movement for all people.
Feminism is largely defined as “a belief in the equality of the two sexes” (McAfee, 5). However, in the United States, negative connotations engulf and overshadow the true meaning of this word. Feminism is meant to unite and empower those who identify as women, but instead, people who are not feminists view it as divisive and an attempt to marginalize other genders and sexes.
In this chapter, I explain what “Feminism” means and debunk the untruthful and weaponizing conceptions that surround it. This word, although only 8 letters, has changed the history of female life in the United States. The “patriarchy” may seem like an overgeneralization to define male-dominance, and while this may be true, it presents a dichotomy between those who are for Feminism and those who are against it. Those who are against Feminism view this term as an excuse to hate all men, while feminists see the patriarchy as a specific group of men who limit female power in society. As such, defining this feminine ideology causes uproars within communities and social groups who either support Feminism or are critical of it. Some radical feminists have contributed to a “man-hating” narrative that has produced a negative connotation of the word; however, this does not represent the entire movement.
The six words I mentioned in the beginning of the essay, are still commonly used by women to describe moments of gender inequality. “I’m not a feminist, but she should be paid the same as him.” “I am not a feminist, but women should be allowed to have abortions.” This phrase is commonly used by women who do not align themselves with Feminism but believe that women should be equal to men (McAfee, 7). It is quite baffling for scholars such as Karen Offen that women could fully believe in ideals of equality, but still refuse to align themselves with the term that describes it.
According to Offen, the need for equality is not a novel concept, but the need to define a word for equality of the sexes is relatively new (Offen 137). Scholars and authors have tried to pinpoint a specific starting time for the feminist movement, and the coining of the word Feminism. Many researchers place the first “feminist event” at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, however, this does not sit well with Offen. Offen’s interpretation is that women have been fighting for equality since the beginning of time, even before mentioned by the history books. Every time a woman refused to follow the political and social standards of her community, or she displayed an act of disobedience: she was a supporter of Feminism (Offen 139). Offen argues that Feminism has no starting point. This further proves that Feminism is not a decisive moment or action, but instead it is consistent throughout history.
The term became slandered by anti-feminists after women in the early 20th century began marching and joining protests to support universal suffrage. This idea was not widely accepted, especially not by men, and was viewed negatively by most conservatives and “high ranking” members of society (Young). The media criticized women involved in the movement by calling them “brutish, mannish,” and “man-haters” (Offen). Even after women were granted the right to vote, this stigma around the term “Feminism” persisted (Young).
Tension surrounding the word Feminism created an entire population of people who were scared to join in on the movement, despite supporting its only central belief. What came as a shock to most feminists was not the push back against the movement by men, but instead the push back by some women. Women who chose to conform to the rules of politics, society, and economics, previously set by men, were known as “anti-feminists.” This movement was led by mostly wealthy, conservative women and men who argued that too much equality of women would disrupt society (Young). Women who do not choose to align themselves with the Feminism movement, but still support equality, are also anti-feminists.
Another overgeneralization of the feminist movement revolves around the “men-hating” culture that some women against Feminism use to describe the movement. Accusing feminists of hating men is wrong because most women are not pushing or fighting for more rights than men or to silence men within the bounds of the feminist movement, but instead to achieve equality with men. Men, for the majority of time, have been in the dominant place of power over women (Friedman). This “men in power” culture needed to be changed and altered in order for women to achieve equality. It is not the men that women are trying to override or break down, but the society and culture that allows them to dominate women in areas concerning social, political and cultural roles.
A word is a phenomenon because it can mean anything that you want it to mean once the letters are put into place. The word Feminism is not what is radical or dangerous, it is instead the idea that women would be given a platform in which to speak more openly about educational exclusion, economic dependency, and even genital mutilation (Lemma).
Feminism is not bad, and instead, it is a good thing to be a feminist. Women are powerful, unique people who deserve to be celebrated and treated with equal respect as men. Feminism, while originally meant to represent equality, empowerment, and change, appeared to go against traditional values of society by anti-feminists, although this was never its intention. Persuasion tactics used by men throughout history have determined the view of women’s economic status, political status, and womanhood as a whole. These rules and stereotypes surrounding women were challenged with the ideals of Feminism. Feminism changed the way that men and women view womanhood and the abilities that surround it and should be understood as such. Feminism stands for equality, not man-hating.
Friedman, Michelle. “What Is Feminism? And What Kind of Feminist Am I?” Agenda:
Empowering Women for Gender Equity, no. 1, 1987, pp. 3–24. Accessed 24 Feb. 2021.
Lemma, Bobby. “A Million Women’s Movements: Reconciling Diverse
Conceptions of Feminism.” Harvard International Review, vol. 40, no. 3, 2019, pp.
14–15. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/26917246. Accessed 24 Feb. 2021.
McAfee, Noelle, “Feminist Philosophy,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Fall 2018.
Offen, Karen. “Defining Feminism: A Comparative Historical Approach.” Signs, vol. 14, no. 1, 1988, pp. 119–157. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3174664. Accessed 24 Feb. 2021.
Young, Cathy. “Stop Fem-Splaining: What ‘Women Against Feminism’ Gets Right” Time
Magazine. 24 July 2014.