Feminist Ideals Unfairly Misunderstood
March 19, 2013
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Tell people you support equality for women and they just might hear you out. Tell them you’re a feminist and suddenly you’re a ball-busting, bra-burning, baby killer with a deep-rooted hatred for men.
A common misconception today is that the ideals of feminism are wrapped in misandry and reverse discrimination, with women trying not to gain equal footing in social and professional environments, but to put the rights of men on the backburner for their own personal gain, making men out to be the “bad guys” in the process.
For this reason alone, you see many women today hesitating to identify as feminists. Whether this stereotype has been encouraged by misogynists trying to suppress women or misandrists disguising as “feminists,” the fact is that it is simply not true.
When first-wave feminism emerged in the 19th century, advocates for gender equality simply tried to make women equal to men in the eyes of the law. It was during second-wave feminism, commonly known as the Women’s Liberation Movement, in the 1960s and 1970s, when bigger social issues, such as equal pay, abortion, and stricter laws against sexual assault, were put on the table.
The intention of feminists was not to depict men as boorish, immoral fiends who were out to get women, or to blame the entire male species for the mistreatment of the opposite sex, but to have a patriarchal and male-dominant society recognize the fact that women were as capable and as competent as men. Hence, they not only deserved suffrage, but fair and equal treatment as well.
Unsurprisingly, it was with great difficulty that activists tried ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which would have guaranteed that “equality of rights under the law would not be abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” According to us.history.org, Phyllis Schlafly led the movement against the ERA, strongly emphasizing the “traditional” role of a woman.
In an interview with Andrea Sachs for Time, Schlafly stated that feminists are responsible for “divorce, millions of fatherless children, and the idea that it’s O.K. to be a single mom.” She went on to say that the feminist movement was not about empowering women, but victimizing them.
It is not Schlafly’s place to decide what the role of a woman should be. As individual human beings, women have the right to decide their own roles and mold their own paths. Recognizing and giving them the right to do so doesn’t take away from a woman’s ability or any inclination she may have to bear and raise children, if of course that is what she chooses to do.
There is nothing wrong with being a stay-at-home mom—it doesn’t make anybody more or less of a woman. Today, the fact that women have the option to choose is a great accomplishment. Gloria Steinem, one of the most famous feminists of the Women’s Liberation Movement who advocated for the ERA, was married to actor David Bale (father of Christian) from 2000 until his death in 2003.
Single-handedly blaming women for divorce hits the very crux of sexism. There could be a thousand different causes for divorce—infidelity, financial difficulties, abuse…the list goes on. If couples are indeed divorcing due to “feminism,” then perhaps certain men, not all, need to step up to the plate and accept the fact that women are no longer their inferiors. If a male individual were secure enough with himself, he would not be intimidated by or feel the need to divorce a woman because she wasn’t complacent and submissive. No doubt, having your partner agree with everything you say would certainly make having a relationship easy.
Relationships aren’t supposed to be easy—they take time and effort.
Another absurd and completely laughable stereotype placed on feminists is that they are homely women compensating for insecurities and shortcomings. Bring up the topic enough and you’ll eventually hear the words “you’ll never meet a good-looking feminist.”
There are two bones to pick here. Firstly, saying you will never find a good-looking feminist who believes in her independence and equal footing among men is like saying you will never find a handsome, Type-A alpha male who has a tendency to be domineering or hands-on in both his professional and personal lives. Acknowledging this notion feels as ridiculous as it sounds, but sadly this is the type of idiocy that currently inhabits the minds of both men and women alike. It suggests that a pleasing outward appearance is enough to make people feel good about themselves.
Really, all it takes is a modicum of higher thought to completely shut this argument down. If all beautiful women were secure, we wouldn’t see so many perfectly attractive women starving themselves or constantly putting themselves under the knife to achieve a certain standard of beauty—standards that many claim are set by men, but are all the more encouraged by women.
When Susan B. Anthony was arrested for voting in the 1872 presidential election, she did so knowing that she would probably never see women gain suffrage in her lifetime. She defied the traditions and social norms of her time, facing criticism and arrest, to stand up for her firmly-held convictions. Does this scream insecurity?
Feminists may have their insecurities, but that doesn’t mean that is why they are feminists. It simply means that they are human. Ergo, they have something they are insecure about.
Secondly, the only shortcomings that feminists are compensating for is their lack of equality among men. Though women today are definitely a great deal more independent than they were merely a half century ago in certain parts of the world, including the United States, they still have a long way to go before they have to stop fighting for their place in a still mostly male dominant society.
According to census.gov, a 2009 American Community Survey stated that women earned 78.2 percent of what men did, with women averaging around $35,549 per year and men $45,485. In a Huffington Post report, co-founder and executive director of Women LEAD, Claire Charamnac, claims women comprise only 20 percent of political leaders across the globe and only 19 percent of the U.S. Congress. She goes on to say that only 21 percent of women think of themselves as potential leaders.
The numbers will definitely rise with time, but the fact that men still hold precedence over women in certain areas is only to be expected. As the adage goes, old habits die hard, so it will take some time before more women begin to feel comfortable with their positions among men and for males to get used to the idea of having women as competitors in the job market.
This is what true feminists advocate—shared status, equality, and opportunity as well as female empowerment (not to be confused with resentment) towards all men. As stand-up comedian and satirist George Carlin put it, “men are from Earth, women are from Earth. Deal with it.”