I am a feminist. I’m also in my late thirties so I’m nowhere near as concerned about what anyone thinks of it as I once was when I was a teenager or young twenty something.
It is fine with me if other people don’t want to call themselves feminists. I will still believe they deserve equality under the law and in society and I will still speak out and fight for them. What you want to call yourself is up to you. Some labels have connotations beyond their real meaning and some people just don’t like labels at all. For example, “Vegan” simply means a person who does not consume or use animal products. However, there are a lot of people who believe “Vegan” means being a pushy overbearing difficult person to be around, so they believe they hate vegans. They really hate a few loud obnoxious outliers- there are plenty of soft, kind, quiet vegans too. It’s not vegans you hate, it’s obnoxious people. There are obnoxious people in every group.
Additionally some people just don’t like labels because they don’t like being lumped into a category with other people. Sticking with the vegan example, some people who don’t eat animal products choose a different label like “plant-based” or they just don’t talk about it at all. These are all valid choices.
However, there seems to be a special confusion surrounding Feminism and make no mistake about it, it is manufactured. I have heard about the mythical “Feminazi” many times, yet I have never met one. Did you know that the term “feminazi” was actually coined by Rush Limbaugh, who is hellbent on keeping women “in our place.” I don’t know about you, but feminist or not I am guessing that most rational people do not want to be associated with Rush Limbaugh. The women and men I have met who are feminists are kind people who care about the equality and rights of everyone. For certain, online, I have encountered a few extreme commentators, but isn’t that the case with everything online? Hell, there are extreme commentators in the cat group I belong to on Facebook. This is the internet. If you’re judging an entire movement by the comments of a few people, you might be missing the overall point. However, again, it’s okay.
The highest tenant of my feminist belief is that you alone should be able to choose how to live your life and you should be given the same treatment under the law as everyone else. The fact of your sex or gender should not be a deciding factor in what you are allowed to do. Women who want to be stay at home moms or fashion models are just as welcome and valid as women who want to be corporate CEOs or President of the United States.
Most anti-feminist arguments I encounter are nothing more than Straw Man arguments. A Straw Man is a type of logical fallacy, which is, in-essence, a misrepresentation of the other side to make it easier to attack. Here is a list of the most common straw man arguments against feminism I see repeated again and again:
1. “I am not a feminist because I love men.”
Straw man: Feminists hate men
Reality: Feminists do not hate men. Feminists want equal treatment for both sexes and all genders and believe this will benefit men as well as women. Many feminists are women who are married to men or in long term relationships with men. Many of us have fathers and brothers and sons and we love them dearly.
2. “I am not a feminist because I want to marry and have children.”
Straw man: Feminists believe women should all have a career and not prioritize family.
Reality: Feminism is about allowing women to make our own choices. Marriage and children are great choices for some women, and not others. Some women want to be at home with kids, some don’t. Some men want to be at home with kids too. These are all valid choices. Feminists can be stay at home moms.
3. “I am not a feminist because I like to wear makeup and high heels.”
Straw man: Feminists are masculine and don’t believe in presenting yourself in a feminine way.
Reality: Feminism is about choices. If you want to wear high heels and makeup and you enjoy those things, that’s wonderful. Go for it! You can dress sexy and be a feminist. However if you don’t want to, that is also a valid choice. You don’t have to wear makeup or high heels. If you feel forced into those things and you do not enjoy it, that is something feminists want to change. We want you to be able to be you, whatever that means to you, without being forced into a tiny little box marked “woman” by society.
4. “I am not a feminist because men and women are different.”
Straw man: Feminists think men and women are the same.
Reality, Feminists know that men and women can be different in a variety of ways, we just think we should all have equal rights and equal choices. Sure men and women are different. And women and women are different. And men and men are different. Certainly, in general, men are bigger and stronger than most women. However, some men are 5’3″ 120 lb and some women are 6′ and 200 lb. Some men like to be quiet and peaceful. Some women are loud and competitive. These are all valid choices under feminism. It’s about breaking out of the narrowly defined gender roles IF you want to. We are all different.
5. “I am not a feminist because I think men deserve rights too.”
Straw man: Feminists want to take away men’s rights.
Reality: Feminists simply want women to have all the same rights men have always had. And we also want men to be free to make choices that are right for them as individuals. Men and women should have equal treatment under the law. Just as women should not be discriminated against, neither should men. Men should not be disadvantaged in custody court. This is a feminist position. The law should treat us as equal individuals, not judge simply on our sex or gender.
In conclusion, I completely understand why some people who believe in equality cannot be persuaded to use the term feminist. And some people do not believe in equality. Just remember, without feminists, women would not be allowed to vote or own property or basically do anything without the blessing of her husband. If that’s the world you want, you are definitely not a feminist. But if you’re making the above arguments, it would be worthwhile to read some history and find out if what you think about feminism is really true or if you’ve fallen victim to Rush Limbaugh’s anti-feminist smear campaign. A lot of people have, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. You can always change your mind, and you will always be welcome to call yourself a feminist if you realize the label truly does suit your beliefs. Even if you do not, we will continue to fight for your rights regardless.