Feminism is loosely defined as the belief and promotion of equal rights for women in social, political, and economic arenas. Formal feminism, also known as the Women’s Movement, began in Western society in the late 18th century and continues today. Without feminism, the daily lives of Western women would be very different. Yet feminism and feminists are given a bad reputation. So much so that mentioning the “F-Words”, or worse claiming to be an F-word, is enough to cause a person to be looked at with suspicion, disbelief, and disgust.
Most people, when asked, would never state that women shouldn’t have equal rights. Yet less than 30 percent of all American women consider themselves to be feminists, compared to an even smaller 25 percent of Western European women. This suggests that either women don’t truly believe they should be equal to men, or something about the word “feminist” causes women to shy away from claiming the title.
So why is feminist such a bad word? Researchers involved in a 2010 study claim that popular stereotypes are to blame for the bad image of feminists and feminism. The British survey asked women about their ideas on feminists and feminism. Their responses showed that they associated feminists with mostly negative stereotypes. But what’s more interesting is that most of these connotations have been shown to be false.
The survey showed that women believed feminist women were traditionally unfeminine in manner and appearance. They believed they were less likely to shave, more likely to wear men’s clothing, and have a generally “ugly” appearance.
This popular stereotype has not been supported by past surveys. Women who align with feminist principles or consider themselves feminist are not rated by others to be less feminine or appealing than non-feminist women. In fact, one study found that feminists are more likely to be in a relationship.
Women included in the survey believed that feminists dislike men and have issues with traditional masculinity. This is similar to results of surveys with men, who tend to also believe that feminists have issues with men.
However, in a study that was shocking to nearly everyone but feminists, feminist women were found less likely to be hostile toward men. Non-feminist women had a greater tendency to ambivalent and even hostile feelings towards men. Researchers say that the non-feminists’ belief and adherence to traditional gender roles leaves non-feminist women feeling frustrated and constrained, resulting in more hostile feelings towards the opposite sex than women who believe in equality.
Not only are feminist women not man-hating, but their relationships also tend to be healthier. In one study, their male partners report greater stability and more satisfaction in their relationships.
Non-feminists in the survey believed feminists were more likely to be non-heterosexual, and usually lesbian. They compared the image of a “regular”, non-feminist woman to that of a feminist, who was a manly, ugly lesbian.
Studies have resulted in mixed conclusions on this matter. Some report slightly higher levels of lesbianism among self-identified feminists, while most do not show any relationship between the two. Perhaps women who self-identify as feminists are more likely to be lesbians – of course many (heterosexual) women don’t identify as feminists despite believing in feminist principles.
And as previously mentioned, in a recent study, feminists were more likely to be in a heterosexual relationship than non-feminist women.
Seems like a few adjustments need to be made in perceptions of feminism.
Which of these (mostly false) stereotypes did you believe? And why else do you think feminism has a bad reputation?