Why Feminist is a Dirty Word (and why I continue to identify as one)

Until recently, I never understood people’s reaction when I told them I was a feminist. It’s like you’ve just told them that Mr (or Mrs) Hyde could come out of you at any moment and start viciously attacking poor innocent men for no real reason. Truth is a lot of people associate the word ‘feminism’ with a very specific kind of feminist – the kind who slate men – whose discourse involves a lot of blame and an ‘us vs them’ mentality. To me, this isn’t feminism, this is sexism. Men aren’t bad. And feminism isn’t about women vs men, it’s about trying to work together towards equality. There are feminist organisations out there who do not allow men to be members. This makes no sense to me. It’s like saying: men can’t be feminists, or worse: feminism is a woman’s problem. It is not a woman’s problem.

Feminism is about equality – in it’s broadest sense, all it means to be a feminist is that you believe women and men are equal and should be treated as such. That’s it. But everyone has their own ways of interpreting that. For example, a big part of feminism for me is gender stereotypes. Boys don’t cry, for example, or mothers are better/more important parents than fathers. The former is obviously damaging to men. The latter is damaging to both sexes. In my view, gender stereotypes are as bad for men as they are for women – they’re a problem for all of us.

Another argument against feminism is that feminists are selfish. This relies on the assumption that all feminists are female, of course, which isn’t true but there you go. The idea is that there are bigger issues to worry about – that feminism has had its day, it’s done what it needed to do, we can work now, we have equal opportunities, so it’s time to shut up about it and start focusing on the real issues – poverty, genocide, child-soldiers, etc. I get this, I do, but being a feminist does not stop you from caring about any other problems in the world. It’s not like you can only care about one thing. Besides, what about sexism in the Middle East, for example – marital rape is still not illegal in certain countries – is it wrong to fight for justice on issues like this? Or is that being petty and selfish, too? Would you call someone from an ethnic minority selfish for being against racism?

Now, it’s true that some people use feminism in a petty way – they abuse it, if you will – but people abuse every kind of ideology. Atheism, for example – there are people who abuse atheism by turning that into some kind of war – into religion-hating. If you use an ideology to spread hate, you’re abusing that ideology. Not all atheists are like that, and neither are all feminists. But to identify as either does associate you with those that do. And if you identify as a feminist, people will make assumptions about you – that you see men as a problem, for example, and that you agree with all the views associated with that.

For example, when I took troll bait on twitter (yes, I’m stupid like that sometimes) and defended feminism, someone showed me this video:

Now, I  agree with some of what the narrator says, here, and from what he says about not training girls to be victims, he has what I would call a feminist perspective on this. Obviously, the Canadian Women’s Foundation are using shock-tactics to raise awareness about a significant problem, which is fine, it’s just why manipulate the statistic? Is abuse against men and boys not a problem? I think it’s a little far-fetched to assume that this video is making all men out to be predators, though, but I agree that seeing men as predatory is a problem for both men and women. No-one should live in fear and no-one should be treated like a monster just because of their gender. Problem is, the only way of solving this problem is to eliminate rape, which is as easy to do as eliminating murder.

So why do I identify as a feminist if I’m aware of what I’m associating with and what people will assume about me? Mainly, because I am a feminist, in that I believe in gender equality. But also because it’s an attempt to take the term back – to give it back it’s true meaning. I could say I believe in equality but ‘I’m not a feminist or anything’, thus using feminist to mean man-hating, etc, but then I’d only be adding to the problem. If the only people identifying as feminists are abusing the ideology then the ideology would take on that meaning. Arguably, it already has. But that’s not what it really means. I guess I just don’t want other people to be attacked for being a feminist because someone has the wrong idea of what that term means. Besides, if feminism means man-hating now, is that what it meant in the 1960s?


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