The F-Word: FeminismOn February 15, 2021 by Harmony Sheftall
When you google Feminism, the definition provided is, “the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes.” But if you were to ask people how they define feminism, you would get a variety of responses due to the controversiality of the word and how the meaning has been perceived and misunderstood. Some responses could include, “feminism is women fighting for dominance and superiority over men,” or “feminism is women playing the victim,” or even “feminism is man hating.” These responses have been perceived partly from all the flaws within the feminist movements and partly from the impact of society and social media that misundertsands or construirs the meaning. At heart, feminism does mean believing that men and women should be equal, but there have been many different approaches to this belief and various opinions that have resulted in different connotations of the word.
There are 3 types of feminism that have evolved throughout the years.
Liberal feminism, also known as “mainstream feminism” is, “a main branch of feminism defined by its focus on achieving gender equality through political and legal reform within the framework of liberal democracy.” Traditional liberal feminism strongly focuses on political reform that aims to provide equal rights and opportunities for women. Liberal feminism supports laws that promote equality and ban practices that are discriminatory toward women. The roots of this branch of feminism is planted in the 19th century first wave of feminism that focused particularly on women’s suffrage and access to education. Liberal feminism is a very broad term and frequently encompasses all beliefs of feminism that aren’t radical or socialists.
Radical Feminism is, “a philosophy emphasizing the patriarchal roots of inequality between men and women, or, more specifically, the social domination of women by men.” Radical feminism views patriarchy as dividing societal rights and power, primarily on the basis of sex, and as a result, oppressing women and priviliging men. Radical feminism opposes existing political and social organizations because it is inherently tied to the patriarchy, so they prefer cultural change that will undermine patriarchy and associated hierarchical structures. This branch of feminism is known as ‘radical’ because it aims to dismantle the patriarchy rather than make adjustments to the system through legal change. Radical feminism is what sparked the belief that feminists are ‘man-hating’ but to equate radical feminism to man-hating is to say that men and the patriarchy are inseparable. Radical feminists do not hate men, they hate the patriarchy system that superiorilizes and privileges men. The modern struggles for women within our society align most similarly with key issues radical feminists focused on, such as:
- Reproductive rights of women (freedom to give birth, have an abortion, use contraceptives, or be sterilized)
- Evaluating and breaking down gender roles within relationships and in society
- A critique of institutions, including government and religion, that is historically centered in patriarchal power
- The female identity, roles, and beauty influenced by and formed around patriarchal and heterosexual norms
Socialist feminism is, “a two-pronged theory that broadens Marxist feminism’s argument for the role of capitalism in the oppression of women and radical feminism’s theory of the role of gender and the patriarchy.” Socialist feminists reject radical feminism’s main claim that patriarchy is the only, or primary, source of oppression of women. Socialist feminism asserts that women are oppressed due to their financial dependence on males, therefore women are subject to male domination within capitalism due to an uneven balance in wealth. Socialist feminists attempted to integrate the fight for women’s liberation with the struggle against other oppressive systems based on race, class, sexual orientation, or economic status.
Moreover, these branches of feminism have somewhat been merged into the public view of what feminism is. When someone thinks of feminism, they may think of all these branches combined and there is less differentiation between them in current society, for they all fall under the general umbrella of feminists and the way women fight against oppression; whether it be constitutionally, culturally, or economically. But again, though these are the roots of feminism, there is still much controversy within society due to people believing the words of a few, that don’t speak for the many. A few feminists may say they hate all men, but that has nothing to do with feminism, that has to do with their life experience and opinions of men. Plus, just because this is what a few believe, doesn’t mean it is a fundamental belief of ALL feminists. One of the biggest misconceptions about feminism is that it’s a movement for women, by women, and made up of women in opposition of men. While there are reasonable concerns about feminism, including ways feminism has failed to be intersectional and meet the needs of people of color, trans and gender non-conforming people, feminism is based on equality not superiority.
Here are some of other misconceptions about feminism and the truth of the situation.
- ‘Feminists are just playing the victim’
Many believe women have already achieved equality because we can vote, say and dress how we want, have the same access to jobs and education, and feminists are just being picky and not enjoying the freedoms we already have. While women have come a long way from our early primary roles of housewives and babymakers, we are not yet equal and there is still progress to be made. In the workplace, women have to talk even louder to get their voices heard. If men talk loud and demonstrate confidence, they are assertive, but if women behave the same way, they are bossy. In public, women get catcalled because men automatically sexualixe them and view them as sexual objects rather than people. These things make a difference. When acknowledging these current and frequent acts against women, women are in no way saying they don’t appreciate the progress made in the past, they are just saying that sexism is not dead and it still hurtfully impacts women today.
- ‘Feminism say women are weak’
“Women may have a few obstacles that men don’t, but feminism actually insults women by acting like they’re not able to overcome those obstacles. It encourages women to be sensitive and thin-skinned instead of being tough and going after their goals. Women don’t need feminism. We’re strong enough to succeed on our own.” It’s true that some women are capable of overcoming every obstacle that sexism puts in their way. There are women heading up corporations, pioneering scientific discoveries, and we have a female vice president. But the strength of these women, while I admire and celebrate it, shows off a part of the problem. Women can achieve just about every success men can, but they have to be stronger, tougher, and usually more qualified than their male counterparts. They need to be thick-skinned enough to shrug off harassment. They need to walk a fine line of being assertive without being judged “bossy” or “bitchy.” Feminism doesn’t say women are weak: it just says that in order for women to succeed in any field, they have to be much stronger than the men.
- ‘Feminism means rejecting traditional gender roles
“Feminism is for women who want careers, who don’t like makeup and shopping, who want to be the boss in their relationships. Women who like being homemakers, being traditionally feminine, and having their partners take the lead don’t need feminism – and feminism often looks down on those women.” Femmephobia is that attitude that anything associated with women is inferior. People all over the gender and political spectrums can fall into femmephobia. Sometimes feminists do a good job of questioning why “girl stuff” is considered less valuable and worthwhile, and sometimes they fall into the trap of looking down on it. What’s important to most feminists is not steering clear of traditional femininity, it’s getting rid of the assumption that women should be feminine and men should be masculine. Feminism isn’t about flipping the script of gender roles, where women are powerful and in charge and men are submissive. Feminism is about increasing the freedom we all have, to find the roles that fit us best.
These very common misconceptions are the very reason why if you ask someone if they are a feminists or if they believe in feminism, they view it negatively, due to their negative perspective of feminism they have perceived from the media or society. Women aren’t weak or victims. Women are strong, powerful, smart, talented, and capable of anything. Feminism only seeks to create a world where women are in every way given the same treatment, same opportunities, same pay, etc. Feminism has never been about complaining or seeking superiority over men, but continuing to acknowledge the differences between genders so we can continue to progress until there aren’t any. So everyone can choose who they are, their jobs, their style, their interests, their passions without patriarchal and heteronormative norms luring over them telling them to be masculine or feminine; without conforming to fit into the box society has made for you.