When you hear the word “Feminist,” what is the first image that comes to mind? Is it a woman, a man, or someone who’s gender-nonconforming? If it's a woman, is it one who hates her male counterparts? Is it a woman who refuses to shave?
These questions themselves are based on sexist stereotypes of what a feminist is. However, it isn't often that they are challenged in our media, academic settings, or in daily life. Simply put, a Feminist is a person who believes in and advocates for the equality and equitable treatment of all genders.
However for as long as I can remember the word “feminist” has had a negative connotation, in media and in my own life. Growing up the word was synonymous with man-hating, spinster-like, unattractive women.
Despite the fact that these associations at their very core are sexist, many still see them as the defining characteristics of feminism. This coupled with the fact that at the time, I hadn't yet heard of or saw Black feminists like Audre Lorde and Maya Angelou, I wasn't sure if there was a place for me in feminism. I think it's high time we discuss what feminism is and isn't.
1.) “Feminists don’t shave” - This myth is particularly funny. Regardless of gender, feminists are people! Some people shave and some don’t, and that’s okay!
2.) “Men can’t be feminists” - There is space for men in feminism! Just like in any movement there is always space for allies. The role of men in feminism is to challenge their biases and encourage their peers to do the same, making everyone better for it.
3.) “Feminists hate all men'' - Feminists don’t hate men! Feminists hate patriarchy: the system that values men and archaic notions of masculinity and femininity over actual women, which harms everyone in doing so. While it's true that some of the biggest adversaries of feminist movements have been men, a feminist’s purpose is a bridge gap between the genders both socially and economically.
4.) “I don’t need feminism, I have a boyfriend.” And I'm sure he’s great, feminism isn't about anyone man! It's about the state of masculinity that harms both men and women. It's completely possible to critique a system of toxic masculinity while still loving the men in your life.
5.) And lastly, “Feminists are hypocrites” - This one hurts. Many ask why feminists interact with men if they have so many issues with them. To this I say, when your house is burning you work to put the fire out before abandoning it.
Feminists believe in men, and the ability of masculinity to change for the better, if we didn’t why would we be striving so hard? As renowned second-wave feminist and magazine mogul Gloria Steinam once said, “If you are not feminist, male or female, you are seeing the world with one eye open.”