Do Some Women Hate Feminism?

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Dec. 17 2012 3:32 PM

Do Some Women Hate Feminism?

gmcdowell

This question originally appeared on Quora.

Answer by Gayle Laakmann McDowell, founder and CEO of CareerCup, and the author of Cracking the Coding Interview and The Google Resume:

There are roughly three types of people who hate feminism:

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  • those who actually hate it.
  • those who think they do, but actually don't.
  • those who say they do but really just find it somewhat problematic.

The second and third groups are where most people who say they hate feminism fall.

What is feminism?
Wikipedia has a good definition of Feminism:

Feminism is a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women. This includes seeking to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment. A feminist is "an advocate or supporter of the rights and equality of women".


That doesn't sound that bad, does it? I'll bet most of us here are on board with that. Don't you support equal rights for woman? Then you, too, are a feminist. Almost every single person I know is a feminist. At least, I sure hope they are!

That's not just what the definition says. That's really what it is. Read a feminist blog like Feministing.com and you'll see stories like this:

  • The latest updates on a case about a girl who was raped by her religious leader
  • An article responding to a NY Times editorial that expressed concern about the plunging birth rate
  • An article about a "white student group" at a university
  • A 13 year old's push for gender neutral advertising (Easy Bake Ovens only portraying girls, etc)
  • An article about gun culture, in response to the murder-suicide involving a football player

Basically, if you read feminism websites, it's a mix of articles relating to "women's issues" (abortion rights, birth control rights, gender equality, rape / sexual assault, etc), and a number of others with related issues (racism, etc).

Sure, some of these issues may not be things that you are passionate about, and that's okay. But, you can hopefully understand why some rational, sane people do care.

Why some people think they hate feminism (but actually don't).
Unfortunately, feminism has a bad reputation among some people -- both women and men. Although feminism is really just about advocating for equality, some people think it's more than that.

Specifically, some people think that feminism involves:

  • A belief that women's rights are more important than men's rights. (It doesn't. It does advocate more for women's rights, but that's largely because women in fact have fewer rights in most -- but not all -- things.)
  • A belief that women are absolutely equal to men in all ways. (It doesn't. The vast majority of feminists believe, for example, that the average man is stronger than the average woman and that this is a genetic fact.)
  • A belief that men are bad, evil, or out to harm women. (It doesn't. Period.)

Yes, there are "radical feminists" who may believe some of these things. I've never met any of them, but I'm sure they exist. This is not a reason to hate feminism though. Do you hate Islam because there are "radical muslims" who commit terrorist actions? You can't judge a group as a whole based on the views of the extremists.

There's a lot of people who think they hate feminism because they hear about the extremists. Interestingly, they rarely actually hear from the extremists. They just hear rumors about what these extremists believe.

Why some people actually hate feminism.
Again, recall the definition of feminism. It's just about supporting equal rights for men and women. That's it.

If you hate feminism -- as a belief set -- you're saying that you don't support equal rights. And there are people who don't support equal rights for women. These often include:

  • Religious extremists, who believe that women are inherently inferior based on their religious texts.
  • People who benefit from women being inferior to men. This includes both men and women. For example, this could include women who want to be financially supported, and men who want to feel valued because of their financial support.
  • People who are opposed to abortion, sex before marriage, etc. You can be pro-life and a feminist. But, some people might be categorically opposed to feminism because the majority of feminist are pro-choice, pro-contraception, pro-sex worker rights, etc.


Why some people say they hate feminism, but really just find it problematic in certain ways.
I call myself a feminist, but I don't support everything that every feminist thinks and does in the name of feminism. Do you, as a member of the ________ religion / as an atheist / as an agnostic support everything that everyone else of that religious belief does in the name of it? Probably not.

It's okay to be a member of a group and not support everything that that group does. In fact, that's probably a sign of a healthy attitude and independent thinking.

The things that people find problematic about feminism include:

  • They think it divides men and women more.
    My response: It probably does, in some ways. Does advocating for black right divide blacks from whites and other non-black groups? To the extent that it focuses on one group's rights and not the others, or creates hostile feelings, it might divide groups in some ways. But, if it makes progress towards achieving its goals, it might also bring people together. No doubt, black people and white people are more unified now as a result of the civil rights movement.
  • They think it emphasizes women being victims.
    My response: It certainly does. It talks about specific times that women (and girls, and boys, and non-white people, etc) were victimized. There is cost to this, sure. But the benefits of talking about rape, abuse, sexual assault, abortion rights, conception rights, etc may outweigh the costs.
  • They are opposed to certain issues that feminists actually advocate. My response: I'm also opposed to some issues that feminists advocate. That doesn't mean I don't identify, by and all large, with the issues of feminism. It's okay to be a feminists and not support every belief that's theoretically "part of" feminism! You can be pro-life and a feminist. You can be okay with very gendered advertising (only showing girls in commercials for dolls) and be a feminist. That's okay! Feminism does not have a set of required beliefs.
  • They are frustrated that feminists don't advocate more for male rights.
    My response:
    (1) Yeah, this is partially valid. Feminists could probably do more to discuss issues like prison rape (which is a largely male issue). They do, however, discuss issues like men being discouraged from being stay at home parents. They could probably do this more though.
    (2) Feminists may not do it enough, but they may also do more than any other group to advocate for male rights.
    (3) Part of the reason, of course, why they don't do this more is that men do have more rights.
  • They think that there are "bigger problems in the world, like war and famine."
    My response:
    (1) Empathy is not a finite thing. Having empathy for one cause doesn't make it less likely that you'll have empathy for another. It makes it more likely.
    (2) Roughly 50% of the people in the world are female. Thus, differential rights / treatment / etc affects, to some degree, 50% of the people in this world. If you throw in there the male consequences of women's rights / treatment (unexpected pregnancies, the obligation to financially provide, being effectively prohibit from being the primary caretaker, the expectation that men should be "strong and unemotional"), it affects virtually everyone in the world. Even if you think the impact is minor for many of these people, it's still seems like a pretty huge issue.
  • They think that, in developed countries, women have it pretty good. So they think feminists need to "get over" the little issues.
    My response:
    (1) Feminism is also addressing the problems of women in Saudi Arabia, India, and other countries. It's not just concerned with the issues of Western women.
    (2) "Pretty good" compared to the past? Certainly. Things are getting better. But last I checked, a bunch of my friends have been raped or sexually assaulted, Mississippi's only abortion clinic is likely about to be shut down due to some anti-abortion legislation, large areas of the countries don't teach sex ed, and politicians are still advocating against the HPV vaccine that saves lives. So sure, things are good relative to the past. But they could still be a lot better.
    (3) Since when is "things are much better than they used to be" a reason to stop trying to make things even better? "Hey, Microsoft. Windows 7 is so much better than Windows ME. Why not just stop trying?"

Yes, there are valid reasons to think that feminism causes some problems. It does. Of course it does. So does religion -- and the lack of religion. So do democrats and republicans. So does everything. Every movement comes with benefits and costs.

One can find some parts problematic and still believe that the benefits of equal rights (and advocating / supporting this) outweighs the costs. That's all that it takes to be a feminist.

Notice how none of this response dealt with why women, specifically, hate feminism? Because there was no need to unnecessarily divide here. Women and men can hate feminism for the very same reasons!

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