Monday, July 14, 2014

Why Women and Men Need Feminism

Recently I've seen a meme going around on facebook that I find to be quite disturbing and misinformed.  This meme, published on, features pictures of 15 women holding up signs explaining why they don't need feminism.  I don't deny that the women in the pictures are sincere in their beliefs, and they are of course entitled to hold those beliefs.  However, their beliefs are based on a complete misunderstanding and ignorance of what contemporary feminism is all about.  Most of the ideas expressed in these pictures have many common themes.  There are three themes in particular that appear in some or all of these signs. They are:

  1. Women are not victims of anything
  2. Feminists demonize men.
  3. Men have issues too.
Each of these themes expresses the mainstream of the conservative understanding of feminism, and they bear little resemblance to reality.  Each idea listed above is based on a caricature of feminism, not the reality of feminism.  The caricature painted by these photos presents feminists as women who hate men and want to overthrow patriarchy and monopolize power for themselves.  Additionally these 'feminists' want all women to have indiscriminate sex all of the time, to revel in and enjoy having abortions, to eschew motherhood and femininity, and make sure that all women view themselves as helpless victims who are entitled to unearned government subsidies. Fortunately for all of us this is not actually what contemporary feminism is all about.  I can anticipate many readers saying "I know that this isn't how all feminists think, but there are some like that."  Okay, this may be true, but in all of my reading of feminist literature, in all of my time spent with feminists, I've never once encountered such attitudes.  Sure, maybe this mythic man hating, power hungry, abortion loving, man raping bull-dyke exists, but if she does then she has absolutely no influence over feminist thought and philosophy nor standing in feminists circles.  Period.  So, without further delay, let's address each of the themes above one by one so we can come to an understanding of what feminism actually is and is not, and how it benefits both women and men.

Women are not the victims of anything
This is just wrong and a denial of reality.  One in five adult women and one in seventy one adult men report having experienced rape at some point in their lives.  A national survey of high school students conducted in 2011 found that 11.8% of girls, and 4.5% of boys in grades 9-12 reported that they had been forced into sexual intercourse at least once in their lives.  Keep in mind, this is based on what people have reported. Given that many rapes and sexual assaults go unreported the numbers are surely higher.  Lest you worry that I'm getting these statistics from some sort of biased feminist organization I didn't.  These numbers come from the Centers for Disease Control.  Anecdotally I can report that no less than three women in my life whom I know very well have each experienced rape and sexual assault.  I was the perpetrator in at least one of those instances of sexual assault (see the twelfth point here).  Feminists do not seek to make all women believe that they are victims.  What feminists seek is for society to recognize both women and men who have been victimized by sexism and patriarchy.  Feminists want us all to recognize that there are victims of sexual violence and that they deserve justice just the same as anyone else who has been the victim of violence.  We want people to not fear coming out about their experience and working through the difficult and debilitating emotions that come along with having been victimized.  Feminists do not seek to create victims, we seek to recognize victims, bring their perpetrators to justice, and fight to keep others from being victimized.  

Feminists Demonize All Men
Again, this is just plainly wrong.  Feminists do not seek to demonize men, but they do seek to highlight and point out male privilege.  This is not demonizing men, it's recognizing reality.  Similarly, pointing out male privilege is not attack on the person with the privilege, it is a critique of the social system which confers certain privileges on some while denying them to others for purely arbitrary reasons.  The idea is not that women should take these privileges and deny them to men, it is that both men and women should have these privileges.  Furthermore it is actually the anti-feminists out there that demonize men and belittle women.  Anti-feminists would have you believe that women who are raped or sexually assaulted deserve it because they must have been dressed provocatively or behaved indecently.  Such an attitude implies 1) that men are beasts incapable of controlling their primal sexual urges to rape anything with a vulva; and 2) that women need to have their dress and demeanor policed lest they entice one of these beastly, uncontrollable men to rape them. Personally, as a man, I find this to be highly offensive.  I've been guilty of sexual assault and harassment.  I knew better.  The women involved were not necessarily dressed proactively nor 'acting slutty.'  They did nothing to cause me to do that.  What did cause me to do those things was a sense of entitlement that I felt to their bodies.  That's my problem to figure out, not theirs.  Golda Meir put it best when she was asked about the possibility of imposing curfews on women in Israel after a series of rapes had occurred.  She responded, "But it is the men who are attacking the women.  If there is to be a curfew, let the men stay at home."  

Men Have Issues Too
This is true.  Men do have issues as well, and many of these issues are tied up in sexism and patriarchy.  Men are oppressed by patriarchy as well, but in different ways.  Feminists do not deny this fact.  Feminist thought in the current moment is very cognizant of the issues that hurt men and recognizes the links between men's issues and women's issues.  They are in fact the same issues.  They are human issues.  Patriarchy hurts everyone involved. For example, the policing of sexuality is an issue that affects both men and women negatively.  Patriarchy dictates that women not to be sexual. We know how this oppresses women, but this same patriarchal view of sexuality dictates men should always be virile and horny. Any woman who is sexual, or any man who isn't, faces disapprobation.  Even the men who dominate society are too oppressed by patriarchy.  Men who digress from prescribed gender roles are marginalized, mocked, and ridiculed.   Unlike women though we at least have the ability to hide those aspects of ourselves, although this is still very damaging.  Take myself for example.  I break gender norms in that I love to cook, I do much of the cleaning in my home, I write poetry, I cry, and I have a rich emotional life.  I've taken a lot of shit for these things over the years.  My masculinity and sexuality are constantly questioned.  I've spent years of my life downplaying, hiding, or denying these aspects of myself.  Only now am I just beginning to understand myself as a person.  Only took THIRTY FUCKING YEARS!  Sexism and our society has repeatedly denied, invalidated, and belittled who I am as a man.  I am a man, and I cry, and fuck you if you can't take handle that.  The feminists in my life accept and respect me for who I am, not for who they think I should be.  My issues are not denied by women and feminists, they are embraced, highlighted, and recognized.  I would not have understood these issues without feminist thought.  

The goal of feminism is not to overthrow patriarchy and replace it with a matriarchy in which women monopolize power and oppress men.  The goal of feminism is to overthrow an inequitable, oppressive, and patriarchal system and replace it with an equitable, egalitarian, system in which all people share power and work collaboratively towards addressing and solving the problems facing humanity.  In other words, feminism is humanism.  

One last thing to note for all of the men out there reading this and saying to yourself "Y'know, this guy's got a good point," keep in mind that the women in your life have already told you these things.  You just didn't listen because, y'know . . .


  1. I did finish reading it. First of all I do admire your courage, yes... we all make mistakes in our past but it takes a lot of courage to admit and own up to them, so I respect you and admire that. Second of all, I really did enjoy reading this, a lot of people do not get what feminism is about and what us, as feminists are all about. Thank you for writing this!

    1. You're welcome :) And thanks for your kind praise.

  2. I didn't read through all of it. Several reasons. The main? The last paragraph. Thank you for pointing out how thick, blind and deaf we are. Hail male Feminist Messiag.

    Men are privileged? Yeah, sure. Want to tell me more fairy tales? Because I could counter most of them with simple facts.

    1. See Ray B's comments, pretty much sums up how I would've responded. Thanks Ray!

  3. So Anonymous, you are unable to come up with facts to counter "male privilege", but stand ready to counter "more fairy tales" ?
    Well, the author linked to some of those privileges (a 46 bulleted list to be exact) in his article, but seeing as you couldn't be bothered to click through (may have something to do with your inability to maintain focus), here's a few for you to "counter with facts"

    My odds of being hired for a job, when competing against female applicants, are probably skewed in my favor. The more prestigious the job, the larger the odds are skewed.

    As a child, I could choose from an almost infinite variety of children’s media featuring positive, active, non-stereotyped heroes of my own sex. I never had to look for it; male protagonists were (and are) the default.

    Every major religion in the world is led primarily by people of my own sex. Even God, in most major religions, is pictured as male.

    exual harassment on the street virtually never happens to me. I do not need to plot my movements through public space in order to avoid being sexually harassed, or to mitigate sexual harassment.

    Patiently waiting for your debunking "facts" (not really, don't expect you to ever see this)

    1. Well Ray B., you said it better than I would have, thanks!