“You are a feminist? Oh My God...why do you hate men?” That was the line thrown at me when I said I was a feminist. I was momentarily stunned into silence because I was wondering what on earth that person was saying. After coming to my senses, I asked her what she meant and thus my mind was opened to a concept I had no idea even existed. I was thrown into a world where apparently “feminism” was synonymous to male-hating, men-bashing, and female-superiority. This shocked me because it is not what feminism really means and it is a stark deviance from how feminism came into existence. Feminism does not support undermining men, it supports a world where both men and women receive equal opportunities. Misunderstanding this word had evidently caused many people--both men and women--to hate it and stir away from it.
By definition as provided by Oxford Dictionary, “Feminism is the advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of the equality of the sexes". From this, we can clearly see the core of feminism is how women should have equal rights and opportunities to that of men. Nowhere does it indicate women should be superior, or that women should hate men. It stands against societal norms and structures where men are considered above women. It does not support any kind of notion about how all men are the same or that they are all sexist. As for the ‘feminists’ who do hate men, they are better understood as ‘feminazis’.
Feminazis who claim women are better than men comprise the far extreme of feminism. During one of her interview with “Rad-fem Collective” website, Guardian writer Julie Bindel expressed that she advocated for women holding absolute power, and sending all men to concentration camps. To me, this is an example of a feminazi since the focus is on female supremacy rather than gender equality. Furthermore, Political activist and radical feminist Sally Miller Gearhart made a statement in her essay “The Future-If There is One-Is Female”, “The proportion of men must be reduced to and maintained at approximately 10% of the human race”. This is the extremist in feminism because feminism has never been about the demolition or dominion of men, rather it is about equal rights and opportunities given to people irrespective of their gender. To better understand what feminism truly stands for, it is necessary to look at where it all started.
First-wave feminism started during the nineteenth century in US and UK. The feminists of that time were focused on gaining voting rights and property rights for women. However, with the onset of World World I, feminism escalated into other spheres. With able-bodied men being sent to war, women who were previously limited to their homes began to join the workforce to earn money and keep the economy afloat. When the war came to an end, women were accustomed to their newfound freedom and refused to be sent back to the confines of being home-makers. Thus began the feminist revolution to gain economic independence and equality.
As the times changed so did the form of feminism. New ideologies were incorporated and feminism began to evolve. During this transition some misinterpretations gave it a whole new meaning and others intentionally gave it a bad name. So then what does feminism really mean? Does it mean women should hate men? No. Does it mean women want to dominate men? Hell No. I am a feminist and I feel as if my heart would stop any moment whenever I see pictures of David Beckham, why in the world would I hate men?
There are many examples of famous and popular women who have claimed they are not feminist because they love their family and men, they cannot call themselves feminist because they fear social backlash. Being a feminist does not mean you have to leave your husband or son(s) behind and become a solitary figure. It does not mean you are against the institution of marriage or that you don’t value giving birth. Feminism is not against women who want to become mothers, it is against society’s idea where women are regarded as nothing more than childbearing machines. For instance, we are all aware of how prevalent female feticide (the abortion of female fetuses) is in Nepal, both in urban and especially in rural areas. Even though it is illegal, many families compel women to abort when they find out she is pregnant with a girl. There are also numerous cases where women are forced to keep birthing children until and unless a male child is born to carry the family name. It is extreme cases like these where women have little value outside procreating that feminism opposes.
Another major misconception revolving around feminism is the the idea that men cannot be feminist. Why not? Many may view feminism merely as a “woman’s issue” and therefore something men are excluded from. Now, let me ask you a question: many people support animal rights, but does that mean they have to be animal to do so? The answer is obviously, no. In a similar way, you do not have to be a woman to support feminism-- you can be male, female, or any gender to advocate for women’s rights.
My dad, a Nepali male, is a feminist because he wants to see his daughter well educated so she can succeed in her career and never be dependent on anybody. There is no shame in accepting you are a feminist because you support gender equality. Many men believe it is not “manly” to be a feminist. Due to concepts like these, even when men support their mother, wife, daughters, or female friends, they maintain silence in fear of being emasculated, mocked, and outcasted. Worst of all, some men think giving women equal rights means having to give up their own rights, which is a far cry from the reality of the situation.
Feminism does not want anyone, no matter their gender, to have society dictate what they should and should not do based on gendered norms. If some men want to cry then feminism will support that, if some boys want to learn ballet feminism will support that and if someone transgender wants to fight to be Prime Minister, then feminism will support that too.
All we are asking for is our fair share of the rights we deserve. In no way does this mean we are want to strip men of their rights and be superior to them. We are still fighting hard to make our voice heard and to make our efforts seen. This is the reason why feminism was established in the nineteenth century and it is tragic that even after entering the twenty first century, we still need feminism to fight for our rights. The word “feminism” has been dragged through the mud and has been misunderstood by so many people the world over, but if we are to see greater strides in equality for all, it is necessary to address major misconceptions and include men, women, and all genders in our quest to attain true equality.