According to a new study at the Huffington Post there is a major disparity between people that believe in equality “between the sexes” and identify as feminist. The study found that only 20% of Americans identify as feminist whereas 82% believe that “men and women should be social, political, and economic equals.” Equality between men and women is the most commonly accepted, mainstream definition of feminism (though there are many more out there than work in involve those not in the gender binary, and other problems not brought up in mainstream feminism). Personally I think the biggest reason behind this disparity between Americans believing in equality and labeling themselves as feminists is mainly due to our societies’ main image of feminists.
This image is, of course, that feminists are man haters, and “the vast majority of teenage girls just aren’t going to sign up to a movement if their perception is that it involves hating men”.
Well of course they’re not. As we grow up, women learn that we need to please men. We must seek validation from men by being constantly attractive, by laughing at their jokes, by shutting up and listening when they speak, by getting their attention in whatever way we can. This is further complicated by the fact that many women are sexually attracted to men and want to have relationships with them. And if getting the man you fancy means putting up with sexism rather than challenging male privilege, feminism is not initially going to seem like a very attractive option.
Feminists have always been accused of hating men because it is a very effective way of silencing a very threatening movement. In a society where women’s value is based on our ability to please men, and where men hold almost all the cards, the worst possible thing we can do is hate them. So when feminists point out and object to the oppression, abuse and discrimination perpetuated by men against women, this is framed as man hating in an attempt to silence us, in an attempt to ensure that we are vilified and ignored by the rest of society, so that male oppression of women and male privilege can continue unchecked.
Other factors not helping the feminist movement are growing movements (particularly online) that claim “matriarchy” and the “end of men” are both on the rise. Both of these phrases have been attributed to the trend of women gaining more in both the work and societal settings. In her article about this so called ‘end of men’, (“The Rise of Women Does Not Mean the End of Men”), Stephanie Coontz writes that:
“The increase in unemployment and fall in real wages for the bottom 70 percent of men since the 1970s is not the result of women’s ascent from the artificially low wages and limited job access that prevailed during the era of legal discrimination. It is a product of growing socioeconomic inequality, outsourcing of traditional male jobs, attacks on unions, and decreasing investment in infrastructure.
It is true that many men (as well as a significant though smaller subset of women) have had difficulty adjusting to these changes. Some men remain so invested in their breadwinner identity that they go into crisis if their wife earns more than they do. Others, hoping someday the old order will return and they will recover their masculine privileges, fritter away their chances for self-improvement.”
No matter how we frame our arguments and no matter what kind of image we seek to project, as long as we highlight, object to and fight misogyny, feminists are going to be called man haters.
Instead, I’m going to continue to highlight, object and fight, and trust that once younger generations come into contact with feminists and feminist thinking, they will be able to recognize for themselves that there is a clear difference between hating misogyny, oppression and inequality and hating half the human race.
Although, feminism isn’t in a must of crisis as it may seem. In the last decade, a wealth of new feminist groups and organizations have sprung up all over the country as a mass of new activists have discovered feminism, very often online. It’s true that we still have a lot of work to do – so let’s focus on that work, and let’s not allow our debates and our activism to be molded by patriarchal propaganda.
Feminism doesn’t have an image problem; society has a misogyny problem. The idea that we feminists hate all men is just a distraction.