Sex & Life
Sex & Life July 5, 2018
Outdated misrepresentations of feminism are harmful to everyone, not just women.
There’s a fairly common misconception about modern feminism. It sounds something like this: “Women have the right to vote and work so we don’t need feminism anymore. We already have gender equality!”
This line of reasoning misses the mark. It misinterprets and misrepresents the philosophy of modern feminism. In doing so, this perspective undermines the entire movement.
Modern feminism is about so much more than the ability to vote or work. It extends throughout every branch of society. Feminism isn’t about female superiority, and it isn’t just about women.
Viewing feminism as some rage-driven fight for female superiority does real harm. When society vilifies a movement that is trying to overcome systemic barriers it perpetuates existing divides.
Pretending feminists are an irrational, angry congregation of women fighting against a non-existent problem disparages everything the movement stands and works for. When the humanity of a group is reduced to a caricature, it is much easier to dismiss what the group is saying. This increases the risk of people viewing feminists as less than “real” women.
When people view a fight for equality and respect as unnecessary or irrational then nothing ever changes. Society is complicit in discrimination and bent on scoffing at those fighting for change.
A want for equality is not “whiny” nor “unnecessary.” This “angry social justice warrior” rhetoric undermines more than just feminists. It invalidates all social change movements, including Black Lives Matter and March For Our Lives.
We forget that feminism, on its most basic level, really is the fight for equality, not superiority. When we inaccurately define the movement, we harm those it works to help. We dehumanize those who advocate for equality into angry and irrational caricatures.
Feminism at its most basic definition may be the equality of the sexes, but modern feminism has evolved into so much more than that. Modern feminism is fighting for more than just women’s rights to vote and work. It is is fighting to end rape culture and slut shaming. It is working to redefine gender roles. Feminism is breaking the glass ceiling but also acknowledging the rights and struggles of women from much lower socioeconomic conditions. Feminism is about everyone and about an array of different societal problems.
A narrow definition of the movement misrepresents what modern feminism is really about. A constrained representation ignores the specific struggles of women of color, queer women, poor women, etc. Feminism is not about viewing women as a homogenous entity, but embracing diversity and fighting for the equality of all groups of women.
This is an idea often referred to as intersectionality or intersectional feminism. Intersectional feminism resists white feminism (which caters only to upper-class, heterosexual, Caucasian women). It addresses the discrimination faced by different groups. It recognizes the struggles of women from more than one marginalized group (LGBTQ+ women, women of color, disabled women) as qualitatively different. Different women experience gender inequality in different ways and it’s important that we recognize this and understand that different challenges different groups of women face.
When we define feminism through a singular lens we oversimplify the problem. We ignore very real issues and we overlook whole groups of women.
The focuses of feminism are changing. Feminism today combats traditional gender roles. It pushes back against the confining dichotomy of “masculine” versus “feminine” traits, activities, jobs, etc. The movement challenges what constitutes something as traditionally “feminine” in the first place.
Feminism also questions why people look down on what we consider to be “feminine.” Why are we telling young girls and boys that it’s shameful to act “girly?” Feminists are challenging the negative associations of traditionally feminine qualities and traits. They are breaking down the barriers of societal expectations of gender. Why are girls and boys confined to these set expectations? What’s wrong with being “girly” in the first place?
The same gender roles that hurt women are also harmful to men. Traditional gender roles confine men to a set of specific and constricting expectations. Society teaches boys to be hyper-masculine from a young age, policing what they like and how they behave. We categorize certain traits or activities as “girly” or “feminine” and then tell boys they need to steer clear of them. Boys are told to repress their emotions and abstain from certain activities they may otherwise enjoy. Men don’t get to truly be themselves. Modern feminism wants to change that.
When we don’t address all the different aspects of modern feminism we harm the boys and men that remain constrained to hyper-masculine ideals. Misrepresenting feminism perpetuates problematic realities. We harm society as a whole. Because of this, we need to redefine feminism for the good of everyone, not just women.
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