In order to understand what feminism is, one must be willing to accept that not every person who claims to be a feminist will share the same viewpoints on every issue. In nearly every criticism of feminist that I’ve heard or read, there seems to be a universal misunderstanding of what, exactly, feminism is, and who a feminist is. Most people in this category are generally focusing on one or two issues that they’ve heard about involving militant or radical feminists that do not encompass the majority of feminists. I hate to compare feminism with mainstream religion, but just as the majority of Christians you know aren’t lunatics who will tell soldiers’ families that their son or daughter is in hell, but people who simply follow a religion and bases their life decisions and perspective on those teachings. While I don’t think the two parallel perfectly, I consider the two to be comparable for their general idea and common public misconceptions.
Some basic dictionary perusing would get us off to a great start:
According to dictionary.com:
1. the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men.
2. (sometimes initial capital letter) an organized movement for the attainment of such rights for women.
Not many people, including the strongest of feminist critics, would disagree with the first assertion. The problem that most feminists have with people (more often men, but a great deal of women, as well) who are anti-feminist is when anyone makes a statement or assertion based on the idea that women are already equal to men, or as equal as they’re gong to be, and that now, all we’re doing is whining or trying to conquer society.
Claiming that women are already completely, 100% equal is problematic for a number of reasons. The majority of women in the United States could, I am assuming (I’ll look up statistics later) easily remember the last time that they encountered sexism on a personal level, and it’s probably very recent. There area number of ways in which women are still not equal. Off the top of my head:
– Women are still not earning as much as their male counterparts. I believe the figure is still around 75%, but it could be in the upper 70’s now, if I’m remembering correctly.
– Women are still being ridiculed and shamed for being sexually promiscuous, or nonchalant about sex, while their male counterparts are either being praised, or left alone.
– Many men are still of the opinion that it’s okay to have sex with a woman if she objects. The most recent statistics I’ve heard are that 1 in 4 women are raped in their lifetime. The same is not true for men*.
– Women are judged more frequently for their physical appearance as opposed to their character intelligence, and other abilities. Women are not expected to be smart or clever, so they are therefore treated as though they are not.
– People will still get mad whether a woman decides to go to work or stay home after she has a baby. No one cares about what the father does, unless he chooses to stay home. Then he’s praised for being such a good daddy.*
*I don’t know the official, or most accurate statistics for how many men will be raped in their lifetime. I am sure that I can easily Google it, and I will, but I don’t think that the results that I find will be satisfactory. I think that many men who have been raped may feel pressure not to admit it, for a variety of reasons, most of which being based upon the idea that men cannot be raped either because of the assumption that he will always want sex (making men out to be animals with no control over their physical urges, which is insulting to men), or because being raped is seen as an incredibly violating act, one that no man would want to emasculate himself by admitting to have been a victim.
Let me make something clear. The above theory could be perceived by many to be sexist against men, and to be an example of how our society does not allow men to have emotional, vulnerable, or “weak” sides. Or, we could take that perception and expand a bit further: We don’t allow men to be emotional, vulnerable, or weak, because those are seen as feminine traits, and masculinity is more valuable to our society than femininity. It’s okay if our women are feminine and show emotion, vulnerability, and weakness, because, what else would you expect from a female? But a man, on the other hand, is seen as taking a step down on the ladder by being more feminine, because he’s supposed to embrace the superior maleness that he intrinsically has. Hence why gay men receive the majority of ridicule, and people seem to be indifferent to (or excited about, but that’s a different post) lesbians, and why transgender women are mocked, made fun of, and much worse, and the majority of us don’t even realize that transgender men exist. Think about the 10-year-old girl who plays baseball and is affectionately referred to as a tomboy by her family and friends, and embraces that role, and then imagine her brother, who is ridiculed for being a sissy or “tomgirl,” because he embodies more feminine qualities in his speech, dress, or activities. This is an example of misogyny, and feminists believe that men don’t deserve to be burdened with impossible, unrealistic, or any, for that matter, expectations based on their gender, either.
Regarding the difference in how men and women are treated when they have a child and choose to work or be a stay-at-home parent, men are praised simply because it’s not expected of them to do the child-rearing. This is insulting to men because it aides in our ill-conceived assumption that men shouldn’t be primary caretakers, or that they aren’t good at it or well-suited for it, and that women are intrinsically better parents. Women are assumed to be good for only parenting in many peoples’ opinions, whether they care to admit it or not. Similarly, a father that abandons his family is not generally respected, but think of the notion of a woman leaving her family. She’s faced with a lot more rage and confusion than a man would be.
Feminism is not the belief that women are better than men in any way, or that women should have more rights than men. We all want to level the playing field, and be treated with the same respect one would give to a man in the same situation. Feminism does not seek to punish men for any privilege they were born into or shun them, shame them, or emasculate them. Feminism merely strives to be considered 100% equal in our society, and treated with respect.