Given the mission of feminism, people (men and women alike) who are invested and conditioned to keep sexism and patriarchy alive have fought to distort feminism for the public.
Conservatives have done a very effective job of making feminism a “dirty word” so that many women and almost all men do not want to say they’re a feminist regardless if they agree with feminism or not. They’ve kept people so focused on trying to not be a feminist so we don’t see all the sexist policies the conservatives are pushing.
Here are a few popular quotes from popular conservative leaders:
“Feminism was established to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream.” – conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh
Feminism “encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians” - television evangelist Pat Robertson
“Feminist is a bad word and everything they stand for is bad..Find out if your girlfriend is a feminist before you get too far into it. Some of them are pretty. They don’t all look like Bella Abzug.” – conservative activist and author Phyllis Schlafly
Misrepresentations of feminism are so powerful that many progressives and liberals today don’t necessarily want to self-identify as a feminist even when they believe in what feminism stands for. They don’t want women or anyone else to be abused, raped, exploited and discriminated against. They want all people, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, and class, be treated with respect and free to determine their own lives.
As much as they believe in what feminism stands for, they still have difficulty thinking they’re a feminist due to the aggressive smear campaign on feminism.
Let’s explore some commonly believed stereotypes of feminists. We’ll tell you the truth.
- Feminists hate men and think women are better - This is the biggest myth in the book and one that even some of the most educated, progressive people seem to think is true. Feminists stand against the sexism and oppression that society conditions us to perpetuate. That means both men AND women are raised to be prejudiced against women and limit what is possible for women to achieve. The point is to eradicate the sexist and oppressive thinking and action in both men and women – not eradicate men. Giving freedom and rights to women doesn’t take away those of men. This isn’t a zero-sum game where there has to be a winner and a loser. In fact, with feminism, we all win.
- Only women can be feminists - Anyone committed to ending sexism and oppression can be a feminist, including men. Just as white people can stand against racism, men can stand against sexism. To stop sexism, we must help men identify and let go of their sexist thinking and action. Feminism also supports men in freeing themselves from the limits of traditional male roles and conforming to the patriarchal definition of masculinity based on sexual prowess, physical strength, ability to fight, inability to express emotions, and being the breadwinner as the only role they can have in the family. Male feminists are encouraged and supported to break free from traditional roles and discover what gives them a happy, meaningful life. So not only can feminists be men, feminism needs men and men need feminism!
- Feminism only cares about women - Given its name, most people think feminism is a female thing but feminism is actually for everyone, not just women. While feminism began focused more solely on issues related to being a women, women do not experience their lives as merely women but also as women of different races, classes, sexual orientation, and other groupings. There was a backlash within the feminism movement who felt it overly represented issues of white, upper class women. This led to feminism expanding its focus to understanding how all these groupings of different power and privilege intersect to shape the everyday lives of women. Over time, this has led to seeing how essentially everyone – women, men, LGBTQ, people of color, poor, etc – is mistreated and exploited in socially acceptable ways due to their social status. Frankly there’s not a single person who isn’t pushed and punished into fitting into a box by society. That’s why feminism is about liberation for everyone.
- There’s no sexism so feminists aren’t needed anymore - There are some people who believe sexism is dead and feminism isn’t needed anymore.Things aren’t really that bad, people are just whining, or it’s just the way things are. But look around. We all know women and girls who have suffered from sexual assault, body image issues, street harassment, and domestic violence. Popular culture teaches our young daughters that they have to be skinny, wear skimpy clothing, be sexy but not slutty, and focus on their appearance and not their education . Some men still believe an attractive woman must want attention from men even if she says she doesn’t, judge a woman’s value based on how much they want to have sex with her, and treat women “like she’s just a girl”. Many men respect women but don’t know what to do when their friends begin cat-calling, when they see a friend taking advantage of a girl who has had too much to drink, or when they find out their girlfriend is a rape survivor or has experienced sexual violence. If sexism was dead and feminism wasn’t needed, then these things would not be happening. But they are. Don’t you want this to change?
- Feminists are angry and irrational people - Let’s look at one of the issues that feminists get angry about. 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually molested by 18 years old. 1 in 4 women in college survive rape or attempted rape. 52% of gay men and lesbian women report at least one incident of coercion by a same-sex partner. 2 in 3 survivors will know the perpetrator. 54% of sexual assault crimes do not go reported. 97% of rapists don’t spend a single day in jail. The average prison sentence is 4 months. Heard enough? This is why feminists sometimes seem angry but we certainly are not irrational in why we’re angry. If we need to say it loudly and risk looking “angry” and “unladylike” in order to stand up for women, men, and children who are being raped, we will. Wouldn’t you?
- Feminists are all butch lesbians - There certainly are feminists who are butch lesbians and we’re proud of them. There are also certainly many feminists who are straight and look traditionally feminine and we’re proud of them too. In fact, we welcome and work with people of any stripe and shade who are fighting for equality and recognize the humanity in all people. Also we don’t appreciate using homophobia to scare women into thinking feminism isn’t for them.
- Feminists don’t shave their armpits or legs - Some do and some don’t but why do you care? A woman’s worth shouldn’t be judged by how hairless she is. It’s her choice. Just like a man who decides to shave his face. See, feminists are not really concerned about what’s under your arm. Instead, we are concerned about whether or not women feel pressured to look a certain “acceptable” way. Like how this stereotype is doing.
- Feminists can’t make or take a joke - We think we’re pretty funny actually. We just don’t make jokes aimed at hurting, demeaning, or belittling other people. We don’t stay quiet when someone makes a joke at the expense of a certain gender, race, class, or sexual orientation or if they use a stereotypes that encourage prejudice. If someone was making fun of you and your family, wouldn’t you want someone to say something?
- Feminists are useless - If feminists were useless then, women wouldn’t be able to be freely reading this right now. Thanks to feminists in the past, women can attend school, vote, hold political positions, choose to work inside or outside the home, decide if and when to have children, and choose when, if, and to whom they get married. There are a so many things that we take for granted everyday that we have earlier feminists to thank for. We hope that future generations will thank us someday for making the future a more equal and safe place for everyone!
So the next time someone starts talking nonsense about how feminists are angry, man-hating, hairy, butch lesbians, feel free to correct them on it. You’ve heard it here from an official feminist.
Sandra Kim is the Founder & Editor of Everyday Feminism. She brings together her personal and professional experience with trauma, personal transformation, and social change and gives it all a feminist twist.