misconceptions about feminism

“I don’t need feminism” : misconceptions are a threat to the movement

This article is an excerpt of a longer piece written by Romain Lessart. The French feminist is a member of the HeForShe movement. The entire article can be read on his Facebook account and his blog, Human Advocate.

Over the last months, I have spent quite a vast amount of time on social media, which I consider true ways of expressing ideas and feelings. It has enabled me to gather various reactions from all over the world on different topics. Of course, I also came across stupidity at its finest, but it is part of freedom of thought and speech.

I have always found a lot of interests in Feminism. Whenever I came across the “I don’t need feminism” tendency, ]whether it was on Twitter, Facebook or Tumblr, I stopped scrolling, took a deep breath, and read as much as I could in order to really understand why people expressed themselves through such a trend.

It is clear that these people have the right to express their opinions, and if they believe they don’t need feminism, their stands should be respected, and I respect it. My goal here is to discuss the reasons why they think so, and to show how their belief often relies on prejudices. I will also talk about how feminism has always been perceived in society.

“I don’t need feminism because”

 Through research and a thorough exploration of the Internet, I came to realize that those expressing themselves through the “I don’t feminism” trend can be classified into several categories. I will refer to these people as “women” since they represent the vast majority of those I am talking about.

  • “I can vote, I can get an equal education, I am not catcalled…”

The first category gathers women explaining how their lives are a far cry from the issues raised by feminism. “I don’t need feminism because my boyfriend doesn’t beat me, because I am not underpaid, because no one has ever catcalled me, because I have not undergone genital mutilation”… To these women, I only have one thing to say: I am glad and happy that you are living such lives. Really. I wish there were more women having the same opportunities, but what about the other 3.5 billion women all over the world? They are not as lucky as you are. In short, this category gathers people who have not experienced gender inequality.

  • “I can fight my own battles, think or fight for myself.”

Feminists are not here to tell you what to do or what to think, or to make decisions for you. Do you want another example of a great way to think for yourself ? Stop watching television and listening/reading the vast majority of media, but it is funny how  no one cares about expressing themselves through a “I don’t need television because” movement.

  • “I am not a victim.”

For this category, it seems important to know what feminism really is. I will not go into details about this definition since I do in the next part of this article. Let’s just say that, basically, it means striving for equality between men and women in various realms. Such a definition relies on the principle that nowadays, women globally have fewer rights than men, and the rights granted to them are not respected as often as men’s rights.

Though basic, I think it is fair to say that feminism implies that women are in some way inferior regarding several areas of life, and do not have as many opportunities as men. Women using the “I am not a victim” argument cannot face the reality of this situation, and cannot stand the idea of being “inferior”l. “I don’t think I am inferior” simply means “I don’t live in a situation making me feel like I am”.

  • “Feminism means man hating.”

I stopped counting how many times I have seen this written on white pieces of paper held by women: “I don’t need feminism because I don’t hate men”. Feminism is about social, economic, and political equality. And equality does not have anything to do with hate. No more explanation needed. It is true that some feminists hate men, and are proud to say so,  but it makes them more of misandrists than feminists.

  • “I need egalitarianism instead of feminism.”

The last part of this article explains why egalitarianism and feminism are two different but overlapping concepts. They share many similarities, so to ask for egalitarianism instead of feminism should not be a problem despite the differences between both. Unfortunately, most of those asking for egalitarianism instead of feminism only do so because they believe feminism advocates for  women supremacy.

  • “Feminists told me I deserved to be raped, etc.”

Those who experienced this came across what I will call “bad feminists”. I never said and will never say that all feminists are wonderful people doing their best to make the world a better place. Anyone can pretend to be a feminist. All there is to do is to say “I am a feminist, now let me tell you why all men are jerks who just want to have sex”. And there you go, associating feminism with random and stupid ideas when in fact, you met a stupid person pretending to be a feminist.

  • “Women already have the same rights as men.”

First of all, this assertion does not apply to all the countries in the world. Second, feminism is an ever changing movement. The first wave was for women to have the same rights as men, and the second was for women to have new rights such as abortion and/or birth control. The new generations created a third feminist wave: they are fighting for the effective implementation of the rights granted since there is a huge gap between theory and facts. They are also fighting against oppression in the name of culture.

Feminism cannot be stopped and it will not stop because people think women already have enough rights and some of them were granted after feminists complaints. In France for example,  if movements for women’s rights had stopped after women were granted the right to vote in 1944, they would not have been allowed to work without their husband’s consent in 1965, or they would not have access to birth control in 1967, or they would not have been authorized to get abortions in 1975. The under-representation of women in political spheres, the fast growing number of rapes around the world, differences in wages and household chores sharing are few examples of the reasons why we still need to fight.

  • “Feminists are lesbians with hairy armpits.”

 Mean and stupid people are everywhere!

Though they are everywhere in newspapers, TV and the Internet, Femen are not the only feminists in the world. They are famous through media because they are extreme. The over-representation of a minority truly harms the concept.

A critical review of the argument

The bullet points above list the “bad” arguments used by women who claim not to need feminism. You may stumble on some arguments not mentioned here. Truth is there are some I don’t have anything to oppose to.

The “I don’t need feminism” trend represents only a small part of the anti-feminist movement which goes from true mysogyny to pure lack of knowledge. Not needing something absolutely does not mean you are against it. I don’t need pills in order to fall asleep, yet I am not against it, or against its use by other people and even by me if one day they become a necessity.

“I don’t need feminism” is basically a problem in itself because of a single word : “I”. It would have been ok if this was only about someone giving her/his opinion about feminism, like “I don’t need meat because I get proteins elsewhere” or “because I don’t like the way animals are killed”. Most reasons underlying that movement rely on misjudgments or preconceptions. The only reasons acceptable to me are those not based on prejudices like “Feminists try to tell me what to do” , “They are hypocritical”, “They are against men”…

What exactly is feminism and how is it perceived ?

People tend to define feminism based on the ideas of those labelling themselves as feminists. No one can embody a movement. Inna Shevchenko, Emma Watson, Gloria Steinem or Michael Flood who are great figures of feminism do not embody the concept. It should be defined based on women’s rights, and this is essential. Feminism is not about one person, it is about each and every human being in the world. In a perfect scenario, they would gather and fight for common ideas, and the definition of feminism would be known and accepted by all of them.

But truth is feminism is not singular, but plural. There are several feminisms. Most feminists agree on the definition, but when it comes to the actions to be taken, they often disagree. Feminists fight for women’s rights and the domain is a very large one. Each feminist fights for the rights she/he thinks are relevant or violated.

Anger is part of the message. Unfortunately, the media scan every single word uttered by feminists to find a weakness and extend it to the whole movement. Feminists are often described as toxic, violent and aggressive. People should understand that they are not out to be loved and appreciated, but to fight for what they think is right. They are fighting for change and being verbally (and not physically) aggressive is sometimes the best way to get attention. This aggressiveness is justified by the multiple abuses women are experiencing on a daily basis.

Feminism is described as vicious and toxic for men and women simply because it shakes social values to the core. It demands change and change is the most feared thing on the planet. I would like to give my own definition of feminism, the one I came to after extensive reading on the subject: “Feminism is a range of political, philosophical and social movements and ideologies that share a common goal: to define, establish, and achieve equal political, economic, cultural, personal, legal and social rights between men and women.”

I think this definition is easy to understand and it is fair to say that feminism and fighting for women’s rights go together. But as Emma Watson said (and I agree with her) in her speech on gender equality for the launch of the HeForShe campaign “the more I have spoken about feminism, the more I have realized that fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating”. To be sure I was on the right track,  I asked men and women from various social backgrounds what feminism meant for them, how they would define it and what they thought of male feminists.

Some told me it was a movement trying to restrict and diminish men’s rights. Well, technically, it would be a way to establish equality between men and women… In that case, if we want to put men and women at the same level, we have three possibilities:

  • Lowering men’s position to the same level as women
  • Increasing women’s position to the same level as men
  • Bringing both positions to an average one

Feminism is for the second option. It is about giving women the same privileges men have, absolutely not depriving men from the said privileges.

Other people told me it was too focused on women. Indeed, when we think about the name itself, how can it be that the movement striving for equality between men and women is called feminism ? In that case, would it be better to replace feminism by egalitarianism? Feminism is called feminism for the same reasons gay rights are called gay rights instead of human rights. It aims at bringing the level of gay rights up to the level of standard human rights.

It is called feminism because females (I do not necessarily approve the use of this term but I like the comparison drawn between both thanks to the first three common letters. It is more relevant in French where women is translated by “femmes”) are those whose rights have to be raised to men’s standards.  Feminism makes females visible.

When you consider all the problems and situations women are dealing with, the least we can do is not bother them with such a basic and useless issue. I will quote Emma Watson’s speech one more time, since I consider it as key reference for anyone with  interests in women’s position in our society :   “[…] if you still hate the word, it is not the word that is important, it’s the idea and the ambition behind it.”

  • Elle Citoyenne
    Elle Citoyenne

    Citizen Media

    Elle Citoyenne is a bilingual (Fre-Eng) citizen media aiming at educating people on all things pertaining to citizen participation, giving the floor to citizens for them to voice out thoughts and propose solutions to problems experienced by their communities, and promoting citizens' actions for the welfare of their communities.

  • Show Comments (3)

  • humanadvocateblog

    To be honest I don’t know anything about Madeleine Albright, and I barely know the work of Gloria Steinem, but I would be interested in reading more about what you say. All I can tell is that feminism is a movement somewhere between social and political. There is no president or chief or feminism, just leaders of feminist associations or groups such as Femen. I think we have to distinguish feminist leaders and feminist celebrities.

    • Paula Kramer

      If the feminist leaders where you live create equality between women instead of inequality between women, you are lucky. I write blog dot speakingfromtriumph dot com. It includes a Feminist Leaders category. I use evidence for all of these blog posts to show that feminist leaders here are more interested in their own glory than in equality. As long as glory addict feminist leaders are in charge of feminist organizations, their own glory will be more important than equality for all women. I now call myself an equality advocate. I advocate for equality between men, between women, and between women and men.

  • Paula

    Since 1993, I’ve been documenting how feminist leaders create inequality between women. I don’t need feminist leaders who make equality impossible as long as they continue creating inequality between women. Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright just recently provided examples.

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