Why feminism has a negative image, and why it shouldn’t

“Feminism is not a dirty word. It does not mean you hate men, it does not mean you hate girls that have nice legs and a tan, and it does not mean you are a bitch or a dyke. It means you believe in equality.” 

Kate Nash managed to sum up brilliantly the bias many people have on feminism in just 3 sentences.

I have recently witnessed a wave of anti-feminist reactions and would like to shed light on this in a context of  #Balancetonporc, #MeToo and Weinstein scandals. I insist on the terminology in this case, because in my personal experience, those men weren’t misogynists or sexist. They simply misunderstood the feminist fight.

I know that the theme is quite well covered, yet I decided to address 2 reactions I witnessed:

  1. An Indian friend of mine (freshly arrived in France) who believed gender equality did not need to be questioned anymore in Europe.
  2. Many friends would automatically refuse to get into any “gender-based talk” because they were tired of having to justify themselves for the actions of others.

Women frustration towards a lack of response (not to say concern) of society in such a context is perfectly understandable… But accusing all men of sexism for not realizing the unfair social codes women have to comply with is opening the door to a negative bias towards feminism. Anti-feminism was born in this double-edged situation. To mention one only, manspreading is a movement that encourages men to reject a “dominating feminist culture” by voluntarily taking excessive place in public transports.

But should we blame men for not feeling feminist enough when the root of the word itself refers to females only? At the risk of being judged wrongly, I believe that women should also recognize that it is extremely challenging for men to open their eyes, admit being unfairly advantaged and choose to fight for a struggle they can’t really identify themselves to? They never were, and probably will never be a woman. In many cases, voicing concerns about an unfair but widely accepted situation may even complicate one’s current position.

#BalanceTonPorc proved the ubiquity of sexual harassment, it gave a voice to many women. Yet unless accompanied by legal actions, the actual change this movement could bring is quite limited.

I personally believe that the only true answer lays in information and communication. We need to tell our brothers, fathers, boyfriends, friends, sons, colleagues why we believe that feminism is necessary. Men and women have to realize that feminism does not only concern women, everyone should try to identify weak links and be aware of the alternatives we have.

Rather than attacking them for not understanding, explain what you believe is wrong about catcalling, the menstruation taboo, the “oh come on, give me a smile” remarks at work, about educating boys to be strong and girls to be pretty, about expecting women to take care of chores and children more than men. We need to make people understand that we realize the biological differences, but refuse to cope with the social bias associated with them. We must also put ourselves in the shoes of the other gender and work together towards a better model, rather than simply condemning excessive or unfair reactions. The objective isn’t to create a victim/persecutor scheme but for people to open their eyes to the fact that the fight for equal rights is not over, even in Europe.

If you still have doubt about the legitimacy of this and believe that women should be satisfied with what they currently have, you can have a quick look at some of the indicators of the World Bank on gender data. Female genital mutilation, pay gap, domestic violence, education… Statistics don’t lie.

Finally, the documentary  The Mask You Live In, available on Netflix, shows in a very simple and yet striking way that men too, suffer from gender bias. I have to admit that after watching it, I actually felt lucky for being a woman. Because expressing my emotions, crying or refusing the use of violence doesn’t immediately create a doubt on my sexual orientation or gender identity, like it would for men.

To me, feminism is simply about a matter of freedom of choice, equality, and respect. No one has the right to condemn a girl for rejecting rules she never agreed to. A basic example? Shaving: If a woman decides not to shave, it should be her very own decision. On the other hand, if a woman does feel like shaving, while being distant enough from the “hair diktat”; if this choice is as natural for her as changing her hair color, then why on earth would feminism keep her from shaving?

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