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Feminism myths: the pretty, the ugly, and the bra burning.


Often times when I approach the subject of feminism, particularly with male friends, I am greeted with an eye roll and the response that I’m not a real feminist. Considering these people aren’t feminists themselves, I wonder what qualifies them to judge my beliefs and what makes a ‘real feminist.’

Many people would say that to be a ‘real feminist’ you have to be hormonal, hostile toward men, and have an affinity for lighting lingerie on fire. But feminism is so much more than that. Feminism is, in the simplest of terms, equality for women. So why must there be all of these negative connotations about feminists? Do you fall prey to these stereotypes? Are your eyes rolling right now?

As a woman (girl?) who has been angry at the injustice in our society, I’ve started rolling my eyes back. If you want me to be angry, I will be. I’m angry that media showed sympathy for the rapists in the Steubenville case. I’m angry that in literature, men and boys are treated as complex and layered characters, while women are placed as pretty plot devices. I’m angry because feminists never burned their bras. This myth was compiled by chauvinists who wanted to demonize feminists to the public.

But that doesn’t mean I am hostile or man-hating. I believe that men are rational beings – they can tell the difference between yes and no, they know right from wrong, and they know the proper way to treat others. Men, as authors and artists, have enough creativity to develop characters that break the strict gender roles society has set up for women.

Obviously these examples are one out of the thousands of ways women are restricted by their gender, but I want to know what you think. So to all of you eye-rollers, I say this with no arrogance – how can you not be a feminist? If it sounds as though I am trying to start an argument, I assure you that’s not what I want. I want to provoke thought and learn more about topics I am interested in. I hope we share these common goals and I also hope that we can have a discussion about this topic. If you are a feminist: explain why you are a feminist and if you are a specific kind, please share.


9 Responses to “Feminism myths: the pretty, the ugly, and the bra burning.”

  1. Most people are feminists. They’re just afraid of or too hip (they think) to use the “label.”

  2. I think being a male, and seeing women who say they’re feminists usually like to start arguments. I am all for equality, but I wish there were more women who were proud of themselves enough to take a stance on this issue. Luckily we’re moving in that direction with women getting degrees more than men. The glass ceiling is very thin and we’re getting closer to breaking through it.

  3. Thanks for your comments, guys! Leslie, I completely agree, I didn’t want this piece to be so much about feminism as much as a discussion about the term ‘feminist’ and the way people react to it. Brendan, I appreciate your input and I’m happy to hear that you support equality. By supporting equality for all, you are well on your way to ‘qualifying’ as a feminist yourself! Here’s a couple of articles I’d recommend to further your knowledge on the glass ceiling:


    You’ll see that both articles are from the same source (proving credibility) and yet the highest paid man (Tim Cook) banked $377,996,537 in 2011, while the highest paid woman (Safra A. Catz) earned $51,695,742. Again, not trying to start an argument, just more food for thought! Thank you both so much for sharing.

  4. Do you support chivalry – giving women preferential treatment then? Men holding doors open for women? Men being expected to pay for some things, just because they are men? What about maternity leave? What about women drafted into the army? What about female teachers having sex with male students and given much lighter punishments and isolation from society? Should they be expected to do the same amount of physical work a man can do in the same amount of time? Men are more attractive to employers, simply because in most cases they posses physical attributes required for labor. Of course in the past, some women were treated very cruelly and no doubt needed feminism, however things aren’t the same anymore. To me, modern feminism isn’t about equality, but rather anti-man. You point out the “thousands of ways women are restricted by their gender”, but what about the thousands of benefits women hold over men? We live in a gender divided society, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing.

  5. Zachary, thanks for taking the time to comment. I’d like to be thorough in my answer, so please bear with me as this comment might get rather long. Chivalry (and the many examples you provided) don’t really cross my mind when it comes to feminism, because feminism, to me, is a subject much more serious than trivial things like picking up the bill and holding doors open. Personally, on dates, I pay for myself and offer to pay for my date and in terms of door holding, I hold doors open for everyone and I hope that others do the same. I support maternity leave and paternity leave, but seeing as how the woman would be carrying the child, maternity leave is not preferential treatment, but biologically necessary. Sure men are generally physically stronger than women but that’s not the type of workplace inequality that feminists are trying to remedy. It’s the workplace inequality where in a nation with half the population being female, there has never once been a female president. That women in positions of power (CEOs, political power, etc) are completely under represented. Take a look at the links I posted to the articles of the highest paid men and women. We don’t live in a gender divided society, we live in a patriarchy. Feminists in the 70’s and 80’s tried to pass the equal rights amendment (ERA) and it almost passed. However, it was shot down by conservatives who felt that it would keep women from being mothers and wives. The gist of what I am getting is that you feel that there is no need for modern feminism as it is anti-man. But it isn’t, it is much more about humanism. I’d like to quote artist Rebecca Cohen “I believe men are rational human beings, not mindless beasts enslaved by their own sex drives. I believe men are emotionally mature and compassionate enough to treat all people with respect. I also know for a fact that men are intelligent, and can recognize the benefits of gender equality for society as a whole. In short, I’m a feminist.” Feminism is not about hating the man, it’s about becoming equal to men in a patriarchal system that favors them. Thanks again for commenting, I’d love to hear anything else you have to say on the matter!

  6. Keila – Yeah of course, I enjoy a little stimulating conversation and I don’t mind the length of your comment, get ready for my long response ;).

    The “trivial” acts men are expected to perform aren’t as important as the reason why women naturally expect them. For a truly equal society, aka the supposed goal of feminism this shouldn’t and can’t exist. How different would society be if women and men were STRICTLY equal in every sense of the word? The word equality is used and is almost always thought a good thing. However is it possible that we as humans aren’t biologically wired to favor an equal society? Sex characteristics separate men from women. Our brains are wired to think differently, have different desires and goals. Without the differences our sex characteristics give us we would all behave the same and there would be nothing to signal to males that a woman would be a great mother or a man would be a protector and the species would stagnate and eventually die off.
    Consider that all throughout human history typical women have been child rears and men have been hunters, breadwinners. Why? I think the different chemistry of their respective brains wire women to expect men to live up to a standard as a hunter or modern breadwinner and women to care for children and home. And if the changes feminism wish to produce in society ignore the past hundred thousand years of human trends in living and human behavior and even our very complex brain chemistry than is it good for civilization?

    In short, men and women aren’t equal beings. Sexual differences literally encourage the growth of population. If men and women aren’t equal chemically, behaviorally or physically then why force ourselves into unnatural society structures of total equality?

  7. I appreciate your enthusiasm for conversation!

    What I meant by trivial is that they fail in comparison to the actual goals of feminism and equality. Chivalry is the last thing on a feminist’s mind because it doesn’t oppress women. In terms of equality, chivalry just isn’t an important topic compared to workplace inequality, rape culture, and putting an end to the gender roles of men and women in modern day society. Obviously there are differences between men and women. Feminism isn’t trying to refute that. But the movement does push toward being treated equally by the government and society. I want to ask how you, as a man, are qualified to say that women are wired to believe in standards for each gender, is my wiring dysfunctional because I don’t believe in these standards? Do you believe I am betraying my own brain chemistry by choosing to not have children? And if population growth were that important to society, then what to do with infertile men or women? Are they less than you or I? I’m not saying men and women shouldn’t have children, but they shouldn’t feel forced to. These arguments you bring up don’t have much relevance to the actual goals of feminism. Men and women are equal beings. We must progress toward a more equal society because women (and men!) are being hurt by this patriarchy. Women are berated in courts for dressing provocatively or drinking too much, when they are the ones pressing charges for being assaulted. More women have been killed husbands or boyfriends than the amount of troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan combined (Federal Bureau of Investigation). This is not a coincidence or a small flaw in a perfect society that has no need for feminism. I’m not saying men are never assaulted, but when they are, no one asks what they were wearing and while 25% of women have reported rape or attempted rape, 7.6% of men have reported their own assaults (ABA). And I’m not saying men aren’t hurt by women every year, but the American Bar Association reports: “Most perpetrators of sexual violence are men. Among acts of sexual violence committed against women since the age of 18, 100% of rapes, 92% of physical assaults, and 97% of stalking acts were perpetrated by men. Sexual violence against men is also mainly male violence: 70% of rapes, 86% of physical assaults, and 65% of stalking acts were perpetrated by men.” Why must we try to attain an ‘unnatural’ equal society? Because the one that we are currently living in is hurting far too many.

  8. This is a great discussion! The question of equality and what it means is fascinating, both historically and now. “Equality,” however, is a social and legal construct – as Zachary notes, it’s not a biological truth. That’s empowering, because it means people can think innovatively about how to get closer to equality not by ERASING difference, but by dealing with what legal scholar Martha Minow calls the “difference dilemma.” If people have different bodies (and that goes for people with disabilities, age, race, etc.), how can we ensure respect and equal treatment in spite of those differences? This is an ongoing challenge. The fact is that what’s good for women is usually good for men, too – maternity leave is good, and so is paternity leave, and “family leave” – time off to care for any family member. That’s why most industrialized nations (and a lot of developing nations) have far better maternity and paternity leave policies than ours. The problem that Keila is getting at is not that differences should go away, but that they are problematic because feminine traits (whether exhibited by a man or woman) are held in higher esteem and gain more power for the holder than “feminine” ones. You get more respect for dying at war than dying in childbirth. You get more respect and power for wage work than for childcare at home. You get more respect and power from building a table than making dinner each night for your family. You get more respect for holding a door than having it held for you. The other issue is that of course women are just as patriarchal as men. Many women believe that their value lies in sexual attractiveness to men and participate in judging other women that way. Patriarchy is a social system, and takes a lot of people to uphold it. Women are often just as unwilling to give up their behaviors as men are – they’ll take the free dinner. The difference is that participating in this system means that those who exhibit masculine traits – and these are more likely to be men (men who don’t act masculine are also put down by the system) – will get more out of the system as whole than a free dinner.

  9. I thought this was going to be an ETU play! Glad to see you’re blogging, and great discussion on this post.

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