“Feminism is a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal, political, economic, and social rights for women.  In addition, feminism seeks to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment. A feminist is an advocate or supporter of the rights and equality of women.”

I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon lately – people (especially those of the male persuasion) seem to become very uncomfortable and/or recoil somewhat as soon as I mention that I am a feminist.

Usually it is brought up in a conversation about online blogging and the like – I mention this blog, I mention that it is a feminist blog, and the conversation very quickly dies or the topic is changed.  Men don’t seem to want to have a conversation with a self-proclaimed feminist.

I haven’t always thought of myself as such.  In fact, it was only within the past two years I began to consider myself a feminist.  I remember when I was an exchange student in Prague in 2010, my good friend Beth was discussing something from her Gender Studies class (which I sorely regret not taking now) and I said that I didn’t consider myself a feminist.  And, truth be told, in those years before 2010 I never was really exposed to obvious sexism and the sexism I was exposed to was cleverly disguised.  Tides have changed since then, of course, but I digress.  I said to my friend that I was supportive of equality between men and women, equal pay and the like, but did not see myself as feminist.

“Some people would say just wanting equal pay makes you a feminist,” Beth told me.  I know see, more than ever, how right she was.

However, that is not what I wanted to talk about today – I am simply curious what causes an aversion to that word.

It stands to reason that there are a lot of men who are decidedly not feminist (which is different than anti-feminist or masculinist, kind of, but more on that later). Reasons for this include 1. unbridled misogyny, 2. religious fundamentals that define traditional gender roles getting in the way and/or 3. apathy due to a lack of solidarity with women. These guys are somewhat beyond help. But what about the other men?

I know so many men who are pro-equal rights and support feminist ideas, but are in no way interested in calling themselves a feminist.  I wanted to know why.  So, I posted an innocent Facebook status asking my male friends why they don’t care to call themselves a feminist.  The responses were interesting and varied, such as “I do consider myself a feminist, but I am not jumping up and down to identify myself as anything” and “The radicals – the same reason I am pro-personal freedom but do not call myself a Libertarian.”  However, the one that seemed to really hit the nail on the head read as such; “Because not everyone wants to be associated with an overweight, sweaty women with armpit hair.”

Your first reaction is probably anger and offense, as mine certainly was.  But then, I realized, this person was not saying all feminists fall under this category, it’s just that people think they do.  I then realized the answer to my question, and it was simpler than I care to admit: People don’t want to call themselves feminist because of the stereotypes.  Okay, fair enough.  Now, where does this stereotype come from?

I decided to approach the question head-on and ran a simple Google search.  The very first finding was a Yahoo answers thread, which offered answers varying from “a few radical figures from the past” to “it’s a man’s concoction, just as a reaction to someone questioning them.”  Someone also offered this picture:

A cruel gesture, to use this woman as an example of something bad or unattractive, but the reality of the stereotype still holds.  If everyone sees a feminist as an unattractive and comical figure, of course no one wants to be her.  Similarly, a man may find it emasculating to associate with a group of angry women who want to be treated equally, regardless of how progressive he fancies himself.

Let me tell you all something right now:

1.  I shave my armpits and legs on a regular basis.  I wear deodorant and perfume.

2. I have a lot of male friends, and a boyfriend whom I love.

3. I do not hate men.

4. I am very female and wear makeup.  I do my hair every day.  I am not anti-femininity.

5. I do believe that equal custody for divorced parents is, in most desirable circumstances, the better option.

6. I do firmly believe that men and women are different and there’s nothing wrong with that – I also happen to see us as equals.

7. I do not burn bras.  Bras are expensive.

Your argument is invalid.

I understand that historically (limited to the USA) there are about three different waves of feminism.  The original gangsters, who started making noise in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, include figures such as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Sojourner Truth who advocated for equal rights and women’s suffrage.  The second wave is most likely where our feminist stereotypes come from and evidently started around the 1960’s, when a cultural revolution started, Vietnam and civil rights protests were abound, and the like.  The country was rife with hippies, which probably didn’t help the smelly/armpit hair idea of the feminist.  However, a Youtube video shared with me by The Upworthy challenges the reality of the bra-burning, insane feminazi.  Rollie Williams suggests that the stereotype was created by the media and nothing more.  The problem is, real or not, the stereotype stuck, making it harder for feminists today to be taken seriously.

The third wave of feminism, which is a bit post-modern and convoluted, started sort of around the 90’s consists mainly of women in power-suits putting on lipstick and becoming powerful CEOs, saying that sex appeal and beauty are not mutually exclusive with being a good feminist.  I think this brand of feminist is what persisted into 2011-2012, and then went under a change courtesy of the GOP War on Women.  This article here actually points out an interesting outcome of the GOP War on Women – a radical change to the feminist stereotype.

Women all over the country, Caucasian, ethnic and the like were all equally incensed by the GOP attempting to pass all the legislation we fought against.  This showed us that the reality of feminism is that it simply means a desire for equality, not a hatred for men or a rebellion against femininity itself.  Women from all walks of life were equally pissed off, and at least it brought us together.  I guess every cloud really does have a silver lining. Feminists are slowly on our way to being taken seriously, and our role in the 2012 election turnout definitely reinforced that with lawmakers. This new, or fourth wave of feminism, is also characterized by a new pithy and snarky attitudes towards sexism championed by figures such as Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, and found frequently on websites such as Jezebel. More on the sarcasm angle of feminism here.

However, it’s not an idyllic situation yet – we still have another issue to overcome.  With the stereotype of the feminist may be on its way out (for the most part), another problem has arisen with this new generation of feminists.  This is the reality of the anti-feminists or masculinists (I shit you not).  A lot of responses I’ve seen to campaigns and collaboratives to end sexism, domestic violence, and the like are met with a negative response from men because these groups do not advocate equally for men’s rights.  For example, “This is not an invitation to rape me,” a UK based campaign you can find on our links page, has a lot of comments from males who claim that the campaign is bigoted as it does not acknowledge that a man can be raped too.  Futhermore, this blogger explains here the number of anti-feminist spams she must filter through on a nearly daily basis because men don’t feel adequately represented.

She explains that on the basic level, she agrees with these men – she is against all forms of gender inequality.  But the truth is this; women are raped more often than men by an overwhelming majority, and the same goes for unequal pay, domestic violence, molestation, sexual harassment, and abuse by the media.  She also points out that very few men are attempting to correct this problem in a positive way, and they keep pestering writers such as herself to do it for them.  Futhermore, the idea of gender inequality wouldn’t exist without feminism, so true feminists cannot be sexist – it simply goes against the phenomenon itself (before you jump down my throat about man-hating feminazis, remember, they are outliers, not the mean, and far less common that you’d think).

In spite of all of our good intentions, this happened: So-Called “First International Antifeminism Meeting” Held in Switzerland

Evidently they are not anti-woman per se, but rather anti-feminazi.  They are quoted to have these ideals:

“Opposing the feminist hatred of men, valuing the nuclear family, believing in the child’s rights to both its parents after a divorce or a separation, looking at the individual and not judging people by their gender, and accepting that men and women are different and counting that as assets.” [Source: jezebel.com/5683282/so+called-first-international-antifeminism-meeting-held-in-switzerland]

What does this mean?  That the entire stereotype of the feminist is so widely believed that people are actually forming counter-cultures to fight against it.

I guess we are left with two options.  We either try to reclaim feminism, or we coin a new term for our dogma.

I, for one, have no desire to abandon “feminism” because it makes the men uncomfortable or because of a widely-perpetuated stereotype.  What we need to do is reclaim the word.  We need to let our male friends know that being a feminist does not emasculate them, but rather makes them more desirable to women (just look at Ryan Gosling).

But how to begin?

Here are some ideas to start:

1.  Don’t be a bitch.

What this means is we need to stop resembling the ball-busting, “feminazi” stereotype that turn people off to our cause.  Understand that if a guy holds the door open for you, he isn’t being sexist or suggesting you need his help, he’s trying to show respect for you as a woman in the only way he really knows how to – good, old-fashioned chivalry.  This is a good thing which should be met with warmth.  If he oversteps his bounds and begins cutting your meat for you, then gently but firmly let him know that you are perfectly capable and he need not parent you.  Don’t hate the men for being men, because (for the most part) they are trying their best.  Reserve your inner bitch for the political figures who keep trying to tell us what rape is, or for these people.  You will learn the appropriate combination of acid and sugar when addressing things such as men tossing around words like “slut” or “whore.”

2.  Get your Dogma straight.

What is it your really want out of people identifying as feminist?  Is it equal pay at work?  Respect amongst your peers at the sports bar?  The right to family planning until you finish your postdoc overseas?  Everything?  Okay.  Now, stick to ways that will accomplish these things for you and every other woman without wavering.  Don’t let yourself get sidetracked with spiderwebs of additional issues – arguing about something such as the fundamentals of Christianity, for example, isn’t going to fix anything. Working towards fair and equal representation in politics via petitions for the state ballot, for example, will. If it appears we haven’t figured out what we really want and how to get it, it looks as if we don’t even take ourselves seriously.  People sometimes do not register hints or subtleties, so we need to be clear, calm, and concise.

3. Agree to disagree in appropriate circumstances.

Say you work or go to school with someone who, for all intensive purposes, you normally get along with just fine.  Let’s say this person is extremely pro-life and anti-choice on religious grounds, or something.  Say your contradictory views come up in conversation one day and you’re at a standstill.  A level-headed person would understand that in this situation, one must call a cease-fire and respect the other person’s views so that way you both can have a liveable work or school environment.  Remain personable, use tact or avoid the topic (unless their beliefs get in the way of doing your job, of course, but that is fairly unlikely), and get through your day with relative ease.  If the other party involved cannot do this, then at least you are the bigger person and, as a feminist, not the asshole in the situation.

4. Keep your chin up.

There will always be people in your community and your life that disagree with you.  There will always be people who are quite outspoken about their bigotry and want to advertise this to the world, regardless of any offense taken on your part.  There will always be people who heartily believe your place should be at home, barefoot and pregnant. Remember who you are, what you want, why you want it, and don’t let them make you feel small or stupid.  Learn when to speak, when to chide, when to scream with your hands waving around above your head, and when to let it go.  There is absolutely no shame in being a feminist and don’t ever let some uneducated idiot tell you otherwise.  Don’t let the bastards grind you down.

“You wait, she said. They’ve been building up to this. It’s you and me up against the wall, baby.”

-Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale