The truth about Feminism and the fight for equality
The push for gender equality has been a long, extensive fight and it’s not over yet. Even still, the word “feminist” has a very different connotation depending on who provides the definition. Those that ascribe themselves the label of feminist argue that they are equal rights activists. Those who oppose the feminist movement undoubtedly see it as a male hating conspiracy, the goal being to destroy the patriarchy, which in the most severe instance means the demotion of men to second-class citizens. There are those who misunderstand the word to mean that women are better and those who just wonder why the word has to be gender specific if it is meant to encompass all.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines feminism as such: belief in and advocacy of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes expressed especially through organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests. Yes, the feminist movement began as an effort to specifically advance female rights; however, it has since evolved to encompass much more. What’s crucial in understanding the complexity of the feminist movement is to know the lengthy history behind it. Women have been fighting for equality since ancient times and feminism as we now understand it, has arguable fours separate waves. The main thing to note is that feminism isn’t synonymous with male hating and this idea is one of the most venomous threats to the validity of the movement and the true intention of feminism: equality. Equality as it pertains to job opportunities, financial security, general safety, and healthcare.
Feminist thought has been around since ancient times; Plato even argued for women’s rights. The first wave is characterized by the suffragette movement, where women fought for the right to vote. The unfortunate truth is that racism pervaded this moment and while white women believed they should possess this capability, they refused to stand in solidarity with black people. Their screams for equality were for them alone. The 15th Amendment was ratified in 1870, giving black men the right to vote. However, discriminating practices would carry on through the late 1960s infringing upon this right. The 19th Amendment would eventually grant women the right to vote in 1920, 50 years later.
The second wave of feminism focused on reproductive rights and equal pay. This movement started in the 1960s and is said to have run through the 70s; however, it could be argued that this wave is still in progress since the goals of this movement have yet to come to fruition. While the second wave of feminism aligned itself with other social movements at the time, such as the LGBT movement and the Civil Rights movement, it was still seen as a white women’s platform, failing to properly include and advance the rights of women of color.
The 1990s brought about the third wave of feminism, this time focusing on diversity, inclusion, and intersectionality. Finally, women of color were included in the dialogue. Together, women fought against patriarchal definitions of a woman’s worth, purpose, and over sexualization. The fourth wave is classified as the fight against sexual harassment, sexual violence, rape culture, and body shaming. This undoubtedly ties into the second wave of feminism and the understanding that a woman’s body is her own and should be protected. Though the social norms and understandings surrounding rape and sexual violence have improved, there is still vast work to be done to rewire the societal conscious in order to understand that a woman should ever be blamed when victimized by violence.
Feminists used to be seen as a threat to the very fiber of American existence. Female protesters were jailed, beaten, tortured, and even killed. Now it’s in vogue.
Hundreds of thousands of people showed up to the Women’s March in Washington and even more across the entirety of the United States. People dawn “pussy hats” and the 1970’s feminist slogan “The Future is Female” is back in full force to be seen on t-shirts, sweatshirts, pins and more. Women are celebrating themselves and one another, regardless of color, sexuality, and now gender. So why is there still debate? Where does the opposition come from and why does it feel like now more than ever, conversation has shut down and people who think differently aren’t seeking to understand one another through comprehensive and respectful discourse?
It’s because the idea of the angry, male hating feminist. So truly, as a feminist, one of the most sabotaging things you can do is scream the words, “I hate men.” And for many, that’s a hard thing to do. When you have been victimized and brutalized, it’s a natural to lash out. To scream. It feels like self-preservation. And it’s incredibly challenging not to completely write off a society that does not feel representative nor protective of you. One where women are either seen as being at fault for rape or otherwise not even believed. One where women are still paid less than men. One where showing your emotions is seen as weakness and unbecoming. It’s hard to choose that society, to grow within it, and to make space for the necessary changes. Rather, it almost seems easier to completely toss it aside and say let’s build something entirely new.
Many people are ignorant to inequality or violence unless it directly affects them. Those who haven’t been victimized struggle to imagine a world where every day women are under threat due to their sexuality, what they wear, or the color of their skin. It’s hard for women or men who have never experienced violence to imagine what it’s like to be one of the women that makes up the staggering percentage of native women who are rapped every year. It’s incompressible to imagine being murdered because you’re a transgender woman who chooses to walk down the street wearing heels. The discrimination black women continue to face in the work place is infeasible if you have not fallen victim to that discrimination. For those who are not conscious of inequality, it’s inconceivable to understand the resentment and detestation that comes from those who are affected by it each and every day.
So continues the cycle of misunderstanding and dissension. A very simple explanation of human nature is that more often than not, people tend to dislike people who don’t like them. Therefore, men who feel animosity and insecure from the statement “I hate men,” and associate that with what they believe to be feminism, are likely to disenfranchise the entire movement. Women who are naïve to the breadth of the feminist movement hear these statements and don’t want to align themselves with something that perpetuates what they see as hatred. Beyond that, we continue to see political polarization and the complete breakdown of conversation that seeks understanding. If people believe that something threatens their wellbeing and way of life, they’re going to fight against it. When someone feels that they are hated by you, they aren’t going to take heed of your opinion. And when dialogue ceases, there is no way to fix the misunderstanding and heal the issues that arise from it.
Achieving equality takes lifetimes. Lifetimes. And there are those who regrettably wish to stop the advancement. Whether that is because they hate women, they see equality as something taken from them, or they fear that the pendulum will fully swing back in the opposite direction leaving them as the newly oppressed. To incite change, you have to succeed in convincing the majority. Change does not succeed from an us versus them mentality. So that little statement, “I hate men,” is insidious. It’s the very thing that people use to push back against the advancement of women. Love women, yes. Love yourself. Encourage others to do the same. But don’t let the positive intention be drowned out by negative words. Realize that though they try to deny it, men are sensitive. Spread positivity so that people are encouraged to listen. It’s hard, but changing the world is never going to be easy.