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Three Major Misconceptions About Feminists

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Apr. 25 2014, Published 8:06 a.m. ET

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People often misunderstand who feminists actually are and what they strive for.

Why aren’t more people feminists? And why are so many of them afraid to be labeled as feminists? These are some of the questions that were burning in me.

Writer for feminist sites, including Ms. Magazine, Dr. Natalie Wilson, shared with Her Agenda some of her horrifying experiences as a feminist blogger. She explained, “Men’s rights activists actively go to feminists blogs and post really horrible things, and I had to just stop reading them. It’s sad, because I miss the good comments, but the attacks were so strong; that happens all the time on feminist blogs.”

So first, what qualifies one as a feminist? Dr. Wilson deems a feminist as one who is “committed to a social justice that is based on equal opportunity, equal treatment, and valuing every other human on the planet as a human.” If you agree with this concept, then congratulations! You can probably identify as a feminist. Please, don’t cringe just yet.

Another key aspect about feminism- you don’t have to be a woman to be feminist! Yes, they may be few in number, but they are definitely out there. Anti-sexist educator, Jackson Katz, is one of many men who have led the way for others to take their place in the issue of violence against women. One of my favorite Ted Talks, “Violence against women—it’s a men’s issue,” is presented by Katz. Click here to check it out.

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So now that we know the true definition of a feminist, here are some common stereotypes that people believe feminists to be and how they are completely inaccurate:

The Lesbian Feminist

Many people believe that if you are a feminist, then you also must be lesbian. Of course, some women are lesbians, but this is only one group of individuals that makes up a larger pool of feminists. No one wants to be labeled as a sexual orientation that they are not, so to identify as a feminist and automatically be labeled as a lesbian can be a turnoff to many women.

In her essay, “Fear of Feminism: Why Young Women Get the Willies,” Lisa Maria Hogeland writes, “Allying across differences is difficult work, and is often thwarted by homophobia–by fears both of lesbians and of being named a lesbian by association. Feminism requires that we confront that homophobia constantly.”

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Remember, we’ve already established that a feminist is ANYONE who is committed to social justice and equality; this includes both men and women.

The Angry Male-Bashing Feminist

Dr. Wilson states, “People feel that feminists hate men, and therefore, there is this knee-jerk reaction of when you feel that somebody hates you, then you automatically want to hate them back.”

It is labels, such as feminists being called “man-haters,” that heavily influence women’s decision to not identify as feminists. Hogeland writes, “Once you have your “click!” moment, the world shifts, and it shifts in some terrifying ways…Women fear anger, change, and challenge–who doesn’t?” She then goes on to explain that many women fear that if they identify as feminists, then men will no longer like them. This is definitely an understandable fear.

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However, Dr. Wilson raises a good point- she explains that women aren’t unhappy with men; they are unhappy with patriarchy. Patriarchy encourages the idea of a male-dominated society, and women have been trying to break this way of life for a very long time. Dr. Wilson suggests that we rephrase the name  of “the angry feminist.” She states, “I think we’re passionate, not angry. Of course, there’s lots of things that we see wrong in the world, but our goal is to make them better.”

The Matriarchal Feminist

Just like Beyoncé’s song claims, Dr. Wilson shares with us, “There are some people who call themselves feminists and really do want women to take over the world. To me, that is not true feminism; feminism is about making it good for everybody, not just one particular group.”

Many people misread feminists’ use of the term “equality.” Again, we must remember that feminism calls for equality in terms of equal rights, equal opportunity, and equal access for everyone. Dr. Wilson closes with the statement,”When you say that feminists want equality, people ask, ‘Oh, so you want men and women to be the same?’ I don’t anybody to be the same! We’re all individuals.”

Ultimately, Dr. Wilson leads us to the conclusion that fear of feminism is really the fear of change; it calls us to live with a new sense of awareness and responsibility. Yes, identifying as a feminist calls for us to be more selective in who we choose to have relationship with, but it will also strengthen the level of respect in those relationships.

Much of today’s media and the world depicts feminists in ways which are not pretty, but we have the choice to look deeper and really understand who and what these feminists are really about.

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