The 10 Worst Myths About Feminism, Debunked
This week, the New York Post ran an op-ed written by Doree Lewak in which she expressed delight in being catcalled by strange men, while at the same time pointing a not-so-subtle finger at all those "unfun" feminists who keep telling her that street harassment was a form of abuse.
"I realize most women with healthy self-confidence don’t court unwanted male attention. In fact, most women seem to hate it," she noted. "Oh, don’t go rolling those sanctimonious eyes at me, young women of Vassar."
The message is fairly simple: Feminism in this case is the sanctimonious, uptight older sister, always out to spoil everyone's fun.
In 1990, Pat Robertson famously said, "The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians." Despite countless well-reasoned arguments to the contrary, it's clear that some 25 years later, feminism still has an image problem.
This isn't to say it's feminists' fault. For whatever reason, a comprehensive definition of feminism has failed to stick in some circles, as suggested by the fact that actress after actress has gone out of their way lately to publicly reject the feminist label. The recent popularity of the Women Against Feminism Tumblr has similarly proven that far too many women don't understand what feminism is or what its main goals are.
As my colleague Marcie Bianco noted recently, "Feminism is legal equality for all genders. This newest wave of feminism is one that acknowledges a plethora of genders, both cisgender and transgender, within the two sexes. It also recognizes that equality is an idea that can only manifest in a legal realm." We've said this before, but it's worth saying it again: Feminism advocates for and empowers women, and, yes, also men.
This means that all those who believe feminism hurts women, is perpetuated by man-haters or is designed to subjugate men's rights are confused. So, in order to counter some of the more problematic and pervasive stereotypes about feminism, we've given some of the most popular myths a good old fashioned debunking:
1. Feminists hate men.
This may be the most persistent myth of them all. Faulty logic dictates that because feminists are active and engaged in making the world equal for everyone, they want to do so at the expense of men.
This is just not true. The fight for equal rights isn't about the hatred of men, it's about fairness and equity for everyone.
If anything, the feminist critique of unhealthy masculinity drives this "you just hate men" narrative. Feminists want to put an end to catcalling, harassment and abuse of women. But if the vast majority of abuse of all people, including that of women, is at the hands of men, are you a raging man-hater for pointing that out? Of course not.
Feminists don't hate men, feminists hate sexism and the patriarchy. As bell hooks wrote in Feminism Is for Everybody: "Masses of people think that feminism is always and only about women seeking to be equal to men. And a huge majority of these folks think feminism is anti-male. Their misunderstanding of feminist politics reflects the reality that most folks learn about feminism from patriarchal mass media."
2. Feminists aren't funny.
While there is a broader debate centering around the fallacy that women are inherently less fun than men, that misconception is even stronger with feminists. But while there is certainly a seriousness with which feminists address issues like the abuse and murder of trans women, for example, there are a million examples of feminists who are funny as heck.
Don't get me wrong, I love Jon Stewart as much as the next person, but Lizz Winstead, who co-founded The Daily Show (oh, and Air America and activist-minded comedy group Lady Parts Justice) is one of the funniest people in America. Humor is an essential component in progressive activism, and fellow feminist-leaning comedians like Jamie Kilstein, Amy Schumer and Tina Fey are proving that feminist politics don't kill comedy.
3. Feminists are hysterical.
"Hysterical" is a term historically thrown at women to silence them. It dictates that any analysis or complaint raised is inherently over the top. For example, feminists who argued that rape culture is a problem that needs to be seriously addressed are often dismissed as overly emotional and exaggerating.
Returning to bell hooks in Feminism Is for Everybody: "As all advocates of feminist politics know most people do not understand sexism or if they do they think it is not a problem." It is a rare feminist indeed who does not have an arsenal of statistics at her disposal to back up her claims. When feminists argue for equal pay, it is because we know a woman only makes 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. Likewise, when feminists argue against rape culture, it is because we know "75% of women who reported a rape were under 25 years old at the time of their assault." Fact, not emotion, drives feminism.
4. All feminists agree.
Diversity of opinions within feminism is the norm, not the exception. And that's a good thing. Yes, even feminists sometimes get things wrong, and are swiftly called out. But this process is the heart of feminist analysis, a rigorous ideal that never remains silent simply in the name of uniformity.
Vibrant and enthusiastic debate among feminists can sometimes become heated, but it's important to remember that while we may disagree on tactics, some of the best solutions for fighting the patriarchy come from this honesty of discourse and cycle of respectful disagreement.
5. Feminism hurts men.
Feminism helps men. Period. For one thing, it works to free men from the pressures of having to conform to an unhealthy version of masculinity, something that hurts men by potentially stifling their true emotions, stunting personal growth and perpetuating abuse they haven't properly processed in their own lives. A 1981 study, "The Unintended Victims of Marital Violence," found that "Male children who witness the abuse of mothers by fathers are more likely to become men who batter in adulthood than those male children from homes free of violence."
But the feminist focus on ending cycles of abuse in America is only one of the ways men benefit. They also are aided by laws which mandated more family leave, expanded sexual assault protections to include all genders, raised awareness of HIV and AIDS, and pushed to break free of the kind of binary thinking that unfairly stigmatized careers like nursing and teaching.
6. Feminists are only women.
Yes, there are male feminists! Sure, if you ask the average American to name a feminist, they most likely will name a woman, but that doesn't mean that feminism is only for women.
The key here is that men who are allies in the fight against patriarchy need to be hyperaware of their own male privilege. In a post over at TIME magazine, author Noah Berlatsky says, "It’s true that sometimes male feminists, myself not excluded, imagine we’re brave allies, altruistically saving women by standing up for them. ... But dreams about men saving women are just another version of misogyny — and, in this case in particular, totally backwards. Misogyny is a cage for everyone. When I call myself a male feminist, I’m not doing it because I think I’m going to save women. I’m doing it because I think it’s important for men to acknowledge that as long as women aren’t free, men won’t be either."
7. Feminists don't like being moms.
Here's a myth that gets trotted out from time to time, perhaps most recently following New York magazine's groundbreaking feature on New York City's first lady Chirlane McCray. McCray, often described as a strong feminist leader, was slammed by the New York Post for admitting she didn't always want to stay at home with her daughter.
Sorry, Post editorial board, but this myth in particular is fairly easy to debunk, simply because there so many examples of people who identify as feminists and also love being moms. Feminism and motherhood aren't mutually exclusive, and the fact that feminists have long fought for access to reproductive health care does nothing to influence this fundamental truth.
Feminists simply want the agency and freedom to decide when and under what circumstances they have children.
8. Feminists are anti-marriage.
In a famous fundraising letter, television evangelist Pat Robertson described feminism as a movement that "encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians."
There's a lot going on in that absurd statement, much of which has to do with Robertson's clear worry that feminists are somehow fighting to undermine so-called traditional marriage, whether that be through divorce or "becoming lesbians." While feminists certainly fight for the rights of women to have autonomy in their relationships, they also fight for the right of everyone to marry if he or she chooses. This means that while many feminists are gay rights activists, they also fight for equity within a marriage as a partnership, as opposed to a patriarchal entity.
9. Feminists' primarily care about abortion.
Feminism isn't only about abortion. By and large, to identify as feminist a person must believe in full bodily autonomy, but abortion is only one part of the fight for reproductive justice.
The right to have children, the right to not have children, the right to parent the children you do have in a safe and nurturing environment, and the right to determine under what circumstances you start a family are crucial components to full social, economic and political equality. If you don't have control over your reproduction, you don't have control over your life.
10. Feminists are angry.
In conjunction with the whole man-hating stereotype, the trope of the angry feminist is one of the most often-repeated lines in the history of anti-feminism. Dating back to one or two iconic images of feminists burning bras, this stereotype has been used by men and women alike to smear the movement as emotionally driven, the same way the stereotype of the "hysterical" feminist is used.
Yes, perhaps at times feminists have expressed their frustration with patriarchy and sexism in less than cordial tones. As it turns out, continued second-class citizenship isn't something that makes you feel warm and fuzzy. Let's be clear: Feminists have a right to be angry. Whether it's rampant sexual assault without accountability, the wage gap, the glass ceiling, gender-based discrimination in general or decreasing access to birth control, righteous indignation is certainly called for here.
But it's much more than that. As Jessica Valenti noted in 2013, "We have a right to be angry, we have a right to be sad, and shocked. We have a right to be exhausted... That anger, that sadness, it can help us do what we have to do. And I am angry and sad and exhausted with you. But I also know that what brings us together is more than a confluence of hardships. We don’t do this work because of anger—we do it because of love. We do it because of compassion."