TW: Mentions of sexual assault and suicide.
Feminism: the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. But how has this little word with a simple meaning become a dirty term to describe “nasty women”? People across the gender spectrum have tried distancing themselves from the label, even if they fundamentally agree with the concept. But the thing is, we should ALL be feminists, even cisgendered heterosexual men. So, what is it that makes people cringe and cower at the word “feminism?”
A simple misunderstanding
One of the most common reasons I hear for cis-het men not identifying as feminist is because “feminists hate men”, which is definitionally incorrect. Hating men isn’t a quality of feminism because by definition feminism stands for the “equality of ALL sexes.” Hating men is misandry. Much like misogyny, which is the dislike, hatred, or contempt of women, misandry is the dislike, hatred, or contempt of men. Any feminist would likely tell you that.
This confusion likely stems from the “fem” in feminism. Many people think that because of the “fem”, feminism only stands for rights for women. But much like mankind means all of humanity, feminism is for all people, not just women.
“All men are trash?”
In all of my conversations surrounding feminism, the “I hate all men” and “all men are trash” are the most common arguments I hear. And honestly— that’s fair. It’s difficult to ask people to support a movement if all you hear from that movement is how much they hate you. It’s an argument that I often hear in regards to white people and racism. “I hate all white people” isn’t a particularly good selling point in getting people to commit to dismantling the white supremacy that permeates our daily lives. The same thing is true of feminism. However, I like to raise the counter question— why is your decision to fight against oppression dependent on whether or not the people in question like you? Are you a feminist because you actually believe that we, as women deserve fundamental human rights, or because you think it’s a good thing to say to “get girls” or “not seem like a bad person”? If your loyalty to a movement is dependent on whether or not they like you, there’s a good chance you’re not in it for the right reasons.
While that isn’t really comforting to hear, it helps if you really stop and investigate why people are saying that in the first place. If someone wearing a blue shirt steps on your toe a hundred times, the next time you see a person in a blue shirt there’s a good chance you’ll flinch, avoid them, you might even feel some resentment towards them, even though they did nothing to you specifically. The same concept applies here. Women know that it’s not all men, but every woman knows a woman, or is a woman, who has experienced sexism and misogyny in her life. So, unless the plan is that all the “good” men wear giant pins labelling themselves accordingly, that anger and fear will be spread out against all men, because it’s not every man but it could be any man, and we, as women are none the wiser.
So, the next time you hear an exasperated woman who takes pepper spray whenever she leaves the house say “Gosh I hate men”, remember that it has nothing to do with the individual and everything to do with the group. And if you really want that anger to stop, your job is to fight with women to end oppression, instead of opting out of the fight because your feelings are hurt.
Silence is violence
There is no neutral stance when it comes to dealing with oppression. Either you’re fighting against it, or like a stick in a river, you’re going with the current. Even if you think you haven’t done anything wrong, if you’re not doing something about it you’re almost as bad as the person doing it. Because you know, and did nothing; and as a result of your complacency the system continues to benefit you and harm women. There is no neutral option, no opportunity to be “Switzerland.” Your complacency might not impact you alone, but it will impact every woman.
We’re all in this together
Cue the HSM music, because when fighting gender based oppression and violence, it will take everybody working together. There could of course, be an opportunity for the oppressed (in this instance women, non-binary folks and trans-men and women) to rise up in some sort of rebellion against the oppressor (that would be cis men in this case) but those tend to be violent, messy, and don’t always lead to an effective or long term solution. Feminism is a way to liberation for all involved in a way that won’t lead to global rebellion and chaos. That’s not to say that feminism doesn’t have its setbacks. In fact, one of the biggest and most common struggles that feminism faces is its lack of unifying goals and identity. There are tons of different “types” of feminism. I, personally identify as a womanist and not necessarily a feminist, because I focus on an intersectional and Black woman centric lens. However, I also think that this is one of the strengths of feminism, because oppression is so broad and wide reaching it’s going to take different lenses to get everything done. The lens also needs to include something that is so often overlooked— the needs of men.
Feminism is for you
For every three feminists, there’s at least one “meninist.” You know, the guys who say things like “well what about men being oppressed? I can’t get free drinks at the bar, and I’m expected to pay for everything! What about MEN’S oppression?” (Overlooking the fact that both of those things are rooted in the patriarchy as well. You can look that up on your own, or check out my TikTok) they do have a point. Men’s mental and emotional health are often overlooked, leading to higher male suicide rates, and we almost never talk about sexual assault when it comes to men because of the way we have been are conditioned to think about men and sex.
But the thing is, we don’t need meninism to talk about the support that men need, because feminism already does that.
When we talk about the fight for equality, we mean for ALL. This includes men. This includes you. And oftentimes, the very things that are holding men back are also rooted in the patriarchy, because oppression and inequity strips all involved of a portion of their humanity. For example, we are socialised to think that men are emotionless, apathetic, unwilling and unable to show any emotion besides anger. As a result, men often don’t talk about their feelings, either because they lack the emotional outlet or because they’ve been taught that expressing those feelings is weak. This, coupled with the fact that men have noticeably higher suicide rates than women do, goes to show that even if you’re on the “winning” side of oppression, it’s still a lose-lose situation.
Feminism is for everyone
Asking people to start questioning everything that they’ve been socialised to think can feel a lot like swimming upstream. It takes a lot of work and it’s exhausting— I get it. But at the end of the day, there are two options. Either you give up now, follow the water, and we all continue living in a world where absolutely nobody wins. Or, you keep swimming. If you swim long enough, you’ll catch other people swimming upstream, and you’ll swim together, until eventually you’ll reach the top. At the end of the day, your liberation is linked to everyone else’s. So buckle up, and start swimming with us so one day we can all one day reach the finish line.