Simply put, feminism is a movement for the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes. Yet, people continue to falsely equate feminism with the hatred of men, or the belief that women are superior to men.
For instance, American conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh coined the term “feminazi,” during a recording of his show in the 1990s, in an attempt to smear the movement by comparing it to the atrocities committed by the Nazis during the Holocaust. More recently, Janice Fiamengo, a University of Ottawa Professor, who gave a lecture in 2013 at the University of Toronto, said that “[feminism’s] obsession with violence results in men charging men for assault, while absolving women.”
Accusing feminists of being man-haters goes back at least 200 years — since the beginning of women’s suffrage. Those who advocate for the equality of voting rights, living conditions, and life opportunities between the sexes have been, and continue to be, painted as radicals. It is through such narratives that social change becomes suppressed, as people seek to disassociate themselves from movements that challenge the status quo.
Indeed, a surprisingly high number of people do not identify with feminism — 72 per cent of respondents in the Economist/YouGov poll in 2013 said that they do not see themselves as feminists. Several high profile celebrities have also rejected feminism, with stars like Carrie Underwood saying she believes the word can “come off as a negative connotation,” and Lady Gaga claiming that she doesn’t see herself as a feminist because she “loves men.”
What these people seem to miss, however, is that while hatred towards men may exist within pockets of the feminist movement, it is certainly not representative of the campaign as a whole. Feminism asserts the rights of women because, at times, women have been disadvantaged and these rights have not been equally distributed: this is visible through rape culture, reproductive injustice, and economic discrimination, to name only a few instances. Consequently, the fight for equality is not a zero-sum game — recognizing women’s rights does not oppress men, it seeks to rectify the existent inequality.
Feminism also seeks to destabilize problematic norms for men. For instance, challenging gendered careers for both men and women will hopefully lessen the ridicule man can face for choosing to stay at home and raising their children. In ways such as this, men can benefit from the work of feminist advocacy.
While extremists exist in every movement; they should not and cannot overshadow the cause at large. This would do a grave disservice to the feminists before us, who fought for the rights that women now possess, as well as the feminist advocates of today who seek to further that work and rectify inequality.
As the first step to unifying the feminist movement students need to reclaim the words feminism and feminist. They must also eradicate the negativity surrounding these terms. In an effort to accomplish this students can attend lectures, take courses on women’s studies, and educate themselves by participating in healthy discussions.
If you believe in equal rights for men and women, you are a feminist. Perhaps going back to that dictionary definition and keeping it simple is the most important step.
Naveli Gandhi is a second–year student at Woodsworth College.