Don’t you just hate those damn feminists? They incessantly drone on and on about their little pet ideology, which seeks to glorify women and strip men of their rights. They want to turn men into slaves. The world was so much better before feminists started changing things, so we’d be better off if feminism had never been popularized. If there is any redeeming feature to feminism, though, it’s that everything I’ve said before this sentence is complete nonsense. No feminist wants these things, and if you think feminism has damaged the social fabric, I invite your
public humiliation comment.
“But those people really do exist!”
Even if they do, those people represent feminism in precisely the same way that the zealots who want to murder all nonbelievers represent modern Christianity; they may have existed in the past, and there may even be the occasional person who still feels that way today and self-identifies using that label, but so what? The majority view is that these people are crazy and not worth listening to, so they cannot be viewed as representative of the whole. This view of feminism is erroneous, but why do so many people fall for it? In large part, the blame falls on logical fallacy and political opportunism.
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I’ve given an example of what feminism is not, but what is it? Before I answer this question, I’d like to offer a disclaimer: If you happen to be someone who decries feminism, you may feel the urge to reject my definition. Do both of us a favor and fight back this urge. If nothing else, you will need to know this definition in order to understand everything that follows. At its core, feminism is nothing more than the relatively recent idea that women are people, so they are entitled to exactly the same rights as men.
“What, that’s it?”
Yep. That’s it. You don’t even have to be a woman to be a feminist.
“Then why do people think feminists are evil?”
Hush. We’re getting to that.
If this is what feminism really is, why is there so much hostility towards feminists? As I mentioned earlier, the answer to this can be found at the intersection of fallacious reasoning and politics. Fundamentally, most objections to feminism are built around a straw man—a mischaracterization of what feminism is (essentially a lie). If you’ve ever heard the term feminazi, you’re familiar with this distorted idea. This word brings to mind pictures of man-hating lesbians who hate sexuality and want to dominate (and possibly castrate*) all men. This is not feminism. This is not a feminist position. It is entirely possible that certain people who call themselves feminists have taken this kind of position, but this means feminists hate men and want to be superior to them in exactly the same way as Anders Behring Breivik means that all Christians want to murder everyone who doesn’t agree with them. (That’d be a hasty generalization, you see.) But now I’m just repeating myself.
Why does this straw man endure and even thrive? The people who believe it obviously think it’s true. Politicians, typically those who lean conservative, simply love to invoke the specter of feminism to rile up their voting bloc. Scaring people into thinking that feminists are a political enemy who want to take away their rights is an easy way to score easy votes for your candidate of choice. Once this has gone on long enough (and it has), people start internalizing the idea feminism = scary. Perhaps you’ve noticed some of the defense mechanisms pundits use to rationalize this position? “Feminists say they want equality, but what they really want is to destroy traditional family values, do away with marriage, and outlaw skirts!” (I’m not kidding in suggesting these claims are made. Seriously. Don’t believe me? Go ahead and look up the Conservapedia page on feminism. I’ll wait right here for you to finish. You’ll probably want to wash your eyes when you’re done.) With this kind of conspiratorial rhetoric, what hope is there for serious, grown-up discussions? Yet baseless rhetoric is all it is, much like the homosexual agenda and job creators, but I’m digressing again.
It’s not just politicians who keep this straw man alive. TV and movies do their part too. This video does an excellent job of illustrating this dimension of the problem, and you should watch it. It even includes the best response to “I’m not a feminist” I’ve ever heard. (It’s at the end. You can click here if you’re too lame to watch the whole thing, but you should watch the whole thing. No seriously, watch it.) The militant feminist trope has essentially become an archetype that writers can drop into their stories without needing to spend precious screen time time explaining. But you already know that because you watched the video, right?
When it comes down to it, people who say “I believe in equality, but I’m not a feminist” are contradicting themselves. Feminism is the pursuit equality regardless of sex or gender, and if you believe in equality, you are a feminist. Don’t shrink away from the label. Wear it. Embrace it. Act on it. Are there people in the world who subscribe to feminazi-ism? Maybe, but I’ve never met or heard of one, and, most importantly, these people are not feminists. If you believe men are superior to women, you aren’t a feminist; if you believe women are superior to men, you aren’t a feminist. If you fall into either of these categories, you’re simply an asshole.
* Okay, I don't know of anyone who admits to believing this, but it's a funny picture.