The Big, Bad F Word — Feminism

feminist-movement-venus-symbolWhat comes to mind when you hear the word “feminism” or “feminist”?

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.

1. Unfeminine

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.

feminist-femininity2. Man-Hating

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.

3. Lesbian

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?

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22 thoughts on “The Big, Bad F Word — Feminism

  1. Hey Miss Alee,

    I did not know that they had done any studies like this. Thanks for getting the word out. These women can run their months about feminism all they want to, but if they were to wake up and the world had reverted back we would hear such wailing by these very women!

  2. Sherry,

    People love to study feminism so there are a bunch of studies on the topic. Probably because it’s such a “bad” thing.

    I don’t think women do realize the benefits that feminism has brought over the years. It just seems “normal” to them, so they’re allowed to take it for granted.

  3. I think 1st wave Feminism was a good thing (voting rights, and such) and 3rd wave Feminism was a cool thing (with the rock, DIY, and such) but 2nd wave Feminism (the most socio-politically dominant form that has entrenched itself as part of our society in everything from the legal system to the media) is more than a little intolerant and harmful.

    Honestly, I think people who’ve read my blog know my opinion(s) of Feminism/Feminisms. (And whatever else I may say, it is true that Feminism is not a monolithic, though it often operates that way.) For me, I’m more in support of Womanism (a la Alice Walker) because whereas Feminism has politically been exclusive — campaigning only for the rights and issues of women, despite the supposed commitment to equality — Womanism is politically inclusive, incorporating Women of Color and their communities into the collective as equal partners in obtaining equal rights for everyone. Yes, even men, LGBTQ.

    And I’m not the only one who thinks this either. Many people, of various colors, genders, and sexual-orientations have made similar criticisms of Feminism, particularly the type dominated by wealthy White women. (Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with being a rich White female, but I do notice how often they screw others over in pursuit of their own agenda.)

    Anyhoo, just my two cents. Spend it how you will!

    Good post =)

  4. zek,

    “I think people who’ve read my blog know my opinion(s) of Feminism”

    Indeed, we do. :)

    I give formal feminism its due, despite understanding the drawbacks it had and still has. Within most/all movements, there is going to be some element of exclusivity. And there may be drawbacks to womanism’s attempts to be so inclusive. I read a few womanist blogs and forums and it seems like they can spread themselves a little thin — handling many different issues across many different groups. The more focused effort of feminism has proved impactful. But I’m a fan of womanism as well.

  5. Q: how many feminists does it take to fix a lightbulb ?

    A: that’s not funny

    And such is why feminism has developed such a bad wrap. People discuss the topic in so very serious overly-earnest dialogue. There is no imagery associated with the notion of a “fun feminist”.

  6. Rob,

    Equality is serious business! ;)

    There are fun feminists though. The singer Pink is pretty funny/silly and she identifies as a feminist. I don’t know about you, but I found her song “U + Ur Hand” to be hil-arious. :D

  7. Yeah but pointing to an exception doesn’t really change the not-fun connotations of the “feminist” label. Just ask random people about the idea of sitting through a dinner party with a group of feminists …. Most will find such a description of such an event as having very promise of having a good time. You asked what the feminist label conjures up in your readers. In mine, it’s the no-fun no-laughter overly earnest dinner party Where I dare to make the lightbulb joke above only to be greeted by dead silence in the room.

  8. I think the word is loathed, not the actions. I do think many people, male and female, are feminists; they might not define it that way. Why is the word loathed? I guess it just has a bad reputation.

    Also, there’s a difference, I think, in believing in /supporting feminist principles and being a feminist. Supporting the principles (equality, etc.) is one thing, but I guess some people udnerstand “being a feminist” as some sort of identity. And the stereotypes you mentioned are what is believed to go with such an identity.

  9. Rob
    I’m so fun and I’m a feminist/womanist. So no exception here. Know tons of women like myself.
    Here’s what I think:
    A small segment of the feminist movement took hold, the media ran with it (sensational = more money) and men(mostly white: afterall, equality of the sexes was being fought in this part of our world) being the perfectly non-comprehending creatures they are, skewed the concept, and we women, well, we thinking we know/understand men, ran with it and today we have our fucked up Western society. BUT, I wouldn’t want to be borne anywhere else, eg, Yemen, or any part of the Arab world, India/Africa/Asia (some parts).
    So yeah, we’re constantly fighting here in our Western part of the world, but at least I KNOW any injustices towards my person as a female, irrespective of race, will be vehemently defended. BLOODY THANK YOU, feminists!. MWUAAAAAAAH!.

    PS: How many men/women does it take to fix a light bulb?.

  10. It’s pretty trendy to rag on the feminist movement these days, even though very few of us really want to live in pre-feminist times! Talk to your grandmother and see what she thinks about opportunities for women today versus “back then” — I don’t know about most of you, but it was always older women who were the main ones adamant about the fact that I should take advantage of all of the opportunities I had today as a woman and not get tied down so quickly with a man, blah blah blah.

    I dare say too that a lot of men should be thankful for the feminist movement… sexual “revolution” anyone? Expectations of a two-income household? ;)

    I do think that feminism has become a caricature of itself, as the most “extreme” types are the ones that get the most airtime these days, so the mental depiction of a feminist is a hairy, unattractive lesbian. (NTTAWWT), and like you said, most heterosexual women who shave and wear makeup probably DO identify with feminist principles!

    So I’m never quick to jump on the feminism = bad bandwagon because I don’t want to go back to the days BEFORE feminism.

  11. Rob,

    I didn’t think she was an exception! But if that’s what you believe, that’s fine. And you’re right, I asked for thoughts. So I’ll file that away for future use. :)

    [P.S. I didn't know being fun was so important! ;)]

    Mira,

    “I think the word is loathed, not the actions.”

    Interesting viewpoint. I think that would apply in many cases. In cases like zek’s, however, they loathe their actions.

    “I do think many people, male and female, are feminists; they might not define it that way.”

    I think this as well. I don’t know if I would say most people are feminists, though.

    ‘Also, there’s a difference, I think, in believing in /supporting feminist principles and being a feminist. Supporting the principles (equality, etc.) is one thing, but I guess some people understand “being a feminist” as some sort of identity.’

    True, it is seen as an identity. But my thoughts are that whether you label yourself as a feminist or not, if your thoughts and actions align with feminism, then you’re a feminist. I understand though, the need to not want to be labeled, especially if that label has negative connotations. I’m not too fond of labels either, but sometimes they are necessary.

  12. foosrock,

    “I’m so fun and I’m a feminist/womanist. So no exception here. Know tons of women like myself.”

    Same. I was thinking feminists were thought as kind of wild and crazy; more willing to push boundaries than other women? Many of the feminists I know are like that.

    But I guess it depends on which wave of feminism you think of you think “feminist”. If second wave feminism is what you think of, a la Gloria Steinem, I could totally understand someone seeing feminists as humorless and strict.

    “Here’s what I think:
    A small segment of the feminist movement took hold, the media ran with it (sensational = more money) and men(mostly white: afterall, equality of the sexes was being fought in this part of our world) being the perfectly non-comprehending creatures they are, skewed the concept, and we women, well, we thinking we know/understand men, ran with it and today we have our fucked up Western society.”

    That’s similar to another theory I’ve heard. Except in that one the men and the media purposely skewed depictions of feminists/feminism in order to discredit them and halt women’s rights (think of the bra burning that never actually occurred). They wanted to depict feminists as radical and irrational so people would see them as more problematic than helpful.

    “PS: How many men/women does it take to fix a light bulb?”

    I don’t know. (I guess there is a funny response to that? :) )

  13. Bunny,

    “It’s pretty trendy to rag on the feminist movement these days”

    Indeed. Feminist-trashing can bring people together, in an “enemy of my enemy is my friend” sort of way.

    ‘I dare say too that a lot of men should be thankful for the feminist movement… sexual “revolution” anyone? Expectations of a two-income household? ;)

    True, true. I have mixed feelings on the sexual revolution… I might cover that in the future. But I know few men who even think being the sole bread-winner is a “normal” thing — that shows how far we’ve come (of course there are still those men who want to be The Man and have their wife be a homemaker).

    “most heterosexual women who shave and wear makeup probably DO identify with feminist principles!”

    Yes, many do. I do. :)

    “I’m never quick to jump on the feminism = bad bandwagon because I don’t want to go back to the days BEFORE feminism.”

    Do you think black women might be more likely to be on the feminism = bad bandwagon?

    Because it was interesting, in a pretty revealing survey, black women were the least likely of all American women to identify as feminists — even much less than Asian women, Latino women, and far behind white women.

    I understand the history that might be behind this, but I think some could benefit from adopting feminist principles, even if they don’t identify as one.

  14. Do you think black women might be more likely to be on the feminism = bad bandwagon?

    Absolutely! And the crazy thing is, I don’t think a lot of black women have truly given a lot of thought to why they believe feminism is bad. What I used to hear frequently (and understand to some extent) was that feminism at its core was a movement led by white middle-class women and failed to address issues that affected black/Asian/Latina women. Particularly the idea that WW wanted to be “liberated” from staying at home, while BW never had that liberty, en masse, to be stay-at-home wives and mothers.

    The other issue I see, which makes me roll my eyes so hard they might get stuck, is the fact that many black women have jumped onto the whole, “feminism destroyed the black family and took black men out of the home” talking point. That one, I can’t even wrap my head around… but I know that many black men like to bring up this one and perhaps black women latch on to it as another way to bring black men “back home.”

    Feminism didn’t make black women suddenly become “dominant” out of nowhere… if we want to look at the breakdown of the black family, I think that the loss of manual unskilled labor jobs in the 60s (mostly in the factories, but also on farms) hurt black men’s earning power dramatically, and welfare policies that indirectly penalized women for having a non-working husband in the home combined for dramatic results.

    But feminism causing black women to push black men out of the home? Oh please. Spare me. I don’t know of any woman of any race that wants to push away a decent, hardworking and loving partner out of some desire to be “the boss.”

  15. Bunny,

    “I don’t think a lot of black women have truly given a lot of thought to why they believe feminism is bad.”

    Yes. I think that applies to a lot of women. It’s clear that many dismiss feminism outright based on stereotypes and hearsay.

    I understand the first reason given about feminism not addressing certain groups’ needs. But I think it’s incomplete.

  16. To be honest, I’ve never heard of womanism before I started frequenting “race” blogs. I do understand the need

    However, it’s not like “feminism” (as the opposite of womanism) works for all white women. You could argue it can hardly be applied to women in my part of the world (well, some aspects of it), and yet, they are whites. Which only means the definition was wrong (too narrow, perhaps?)

    I do support feminist (womanist) principles, but I don’t identify myself as a feminist. Why? I guess it’s just something I’ve taken for granted (feminist principles); I see them as a normal thing, and not a big deal (in a way that you should identify with it). I guess I just assumed gender equality was something normal (or something that should be a normal state of thing), and I’ve never seen myself as “speshul” for supporting those principles.

  17. I love when I don’t finish the sentence.

    I meant to say: I understand the idea behind womanism, but I don’t know much about it, or the way it’s different than feminism (other than the fact it targets different groups of women).

  18. Oh goodie, I live in the country with the most ball-busting feminists in the world.

    And it shows. Not to long ago, we had the first feminist political party ever in the world dedicated to womens fixings inequality. But it kinda broke up because the gays thought they were more focused on females issues and not so much on LGBT issues.

    I think these Swedish ladies takes it to far sometimes though, Insinuating that all men are rapists and sex buyers (about the worst thing you can do here is buy sex, its ridicules I know). So I don’t know. Maybe they do hate men more. I love it how some of them emasculate their men and then complains that they ain’t manly enough and then go for some Arab that treat them like shit.

    Oh well, I got sisters and cousins in South Africa that is more than willing to pick up good and family oriented men.

  19. Mira,

    Womanism is a lot like feminism, except it is broader and encompasses isssues about race, disability, religion, etc. Combine feminism with race activism with general activism and you’ll have a good portrait of womanism. :)

    ‘However, it’s not like “feminism” (as the opposite of womanism) works for all white women…Which only means the definition was wrong (too narrow, perhaps?)’

    Feminism is supposed to be for the equality of all women, everywhere. So it’s probably too broad of a definition.

    “guess it’s just something I’ve taken for granted (feminist principles); I see them as a normal thing, and not a big deal”

    Nowadays, yes, I guess you could see it as normal (at least in theory… some people support feminist principles in theory, but not in action). But in many places it still isn’t.

  20. Nkosazana,

    “I live in the country with the most ball-busting feminists in the world.”

    Do you? ;)

    “So I don’t know. Maybe they do hate men more.”

    Well, the study wasn’t done in Sweden. So maybe the outcome would have been different if the studies focused on Sweden vs. the U.S. and Britain.

    But I hesitate to scold Swedish feminists. They must be doing something right, since Sweden is one of the most egalitarian societies in the world.

  21. They must be. I never seen a bunch of women getting angry quicker at sexist ads and stuff like that in my life.

    Oh boy, if black men tried to do the same thing they do to us to these Swedish Women in the media, Seriously there would be politicians speaking out against it.

    It’s sometimes very hard to balance the values of women in Sweden with the values that of my culture..

  22. Nkosazana,

    Those Swedish feminists sound great. We need some of them in the U.S.

    :D

    “It’s sometimes very hard to balance the values of women in Sweden with the values that of my culture..”

    That would be a great balance. Not too extreme on either end.

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