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Feminism misrepresented by common stereotypes

By Lydia Melby
Posted on February 27, 2009 | Columns | Comments Off on Feminism misrepresented by common stereotypes

By Lydia Melby, Arts Editor

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For years, I was what I like to call a ‘closet-feminist.’ Up until a year or two ago, I would preface anything I wanted to say about women’s rights in the church or equal pay for equal work with the disclaimer, “I’m not a feminist or anything, but.”

Eventually, I grew up and realized that identifying with the feminist movement doesn’t mean I need to stop shaving my legs or quit dating, but rather identified me with a passionate, yet rational group. The term ‘feminist’ has a horrible connotation, especially on our conservative campus. It shouldn’t be this way, so for the enlightenment of the masses, I’m going to go over some popular myths about those scary, liberal, sharp-toothed, family-eating monsters you call feminists.

Myth: Feminists are all bra-burning revolutionaries.

Nope. This myth comes from a story circulated in 1968. In an effort to compare the women’s protest to the draft card-burning protest of the Vietnam War, a group of feminists protested the Miss America pageant by picketing, ceremonially crowning a pet sheep and then dumping ‘feminine articles,’ including high-heeled shoes, cosmetics and brassieres, into a “freedom trash can.”

Also, we (feminists) are not all revolutionaries. While most, if not all, feminists believe aspects of our society do need changing, we also participate in the established government and political systems that already are in place. Most feminists are not interested in creating a completely new system of operation for our society, but rather just want equal rights and opportunities within that system.

Myth: Women can’t be feminine and be a feminist at the same time.

Honestly – do I even need to address this one? Let us just all have a good laugh at the people who think this.

Myth: Feminism only liberates women at the expense of men, and all feminists are just out to emasculate the men in their society and take over the world.

For many people, the term feminism has a negative connotation. People imagine a stereotypical image of an angry, man-hating, unattractive woman with hairy armpits, screaming irrationally about imagined insults and leading other ‘closet-feminists’ to voice their opinions without identifying with the cause.

This is a shame because our philosophy has much to offer both men and women. Feminism does not just liberate women; it also liberates men by breaking down the standards which society has put in place for both sexes. Socially constructed rules cause everyone to be socially confined, not just women.

Feminists also are an incredibly diverse group and are not limited to only being lesbian or angry, or even female for that matter. We all have our own concerns and causes, but most feminists are not out to take over society or even wrench all forms of autonomy or power from males. I’m sorry if a male feels emasculated because he is used to having power just based on what sex he was born as, but frankly, this is not our fault, and it might help him understand what it is like growing up on ‘the other side.’

Myth: Feminists don’t respect women who choose their families over their career.

Feminism is principally about choice. Most feminists not only respect stay-at-home moms for making the choice they felt was right for them, but they also respect stay-at-home dads, career women and career men, all for doing the same thing – making their own choice.

The point is, just because you don’t believe the same way or you are frightened by a stereotype you feel threatens you and your way of life, that does not justify the demonization of a group whose cause is just as valid and important as something like racism or age-discrimination. Feminism is not about wresting power away from anyone just because they are a certain gender; it is about giving everyone the ability to make the choices that affect their lives. The freedom to choose and the freedom to live unobstructed lives are ideals that our American Constitution upholds, and I believe if people would just take the time to unmask those who are different from them and see them as fellow human beings, then change could really begin to take place.

Meghan Clark
posted 3/02/09 @ 2:07 PM CST

Thank you for a rational and well-thought analysis of the feminist position. I have been proud to be a feminist for the better part of six years, for precisely the reasons you describe. After years of defending myself to those who are ignorant or simply fearful, I am truly grateful to see a level-headed approach to this extremely touchy subject–especially on our rather conservative campus. Please…keep spreading the word!!

Joyce Haley
posted 3/03/09 @ 7:53 PM CST

On behalf of myself, my husband and the many Christ-centered feminists I am privileged to know, thank you for doing a terrific job of defining “feminism.” To your description I would add that ensuring freedom of choice for all provides the opportunity for people to be who they were created to be, rather than what a culture’s norms and values dictate they must be.

Zack Cunningham
posted 3/06/09 @ 1:13 AM CST

A snide and ‘told-ya-so’ attitude asserting that the general conservative populace at ACU needs ‘enlightment’ into the ‘real-side’ of feminism, isn’t the most productive way to go about affirming your argument.

To your credit, you use reason sporadically throughout the article, starting with the whole point of trying to clear the air about what the movement really represents.

However, I take issue with the following double-standard:

“The term ‘feminist’ has a horrible connotation, especially on our conservative campus.”

“The point is, just because you don’t believe the same way or you are frightened by a stereotype you feel threatens you and your way of life, that does not justify the demonization of a group whose cause is just as valid and important as something like racism or age-discrimination.”

Your portrayal of the ‘conservative’ aspect of ACU’s campus hardly seems fair and it seems that you’re throwing quite a few people under the bus in your ‘defense’ of their purported assault on feminism.

There are also some haughty assertions made in that paragraph. ‘Threatening you and your way of life’? I understand your point of people wallowing in ill-informed and unfair misconceptions about a group, but you’re not talking about misconceptions for all groups like feminism; you’re talking about feminism alone.

Another thing: the reason people form these ‘skewed’ or ‘negative’ opinions about feminism is because they actually have valid reason to do so. Consider groups like Planned Parenthood and NOW.

NOW, not so much, but PP is a consistent destroyer of infant lives, both minorities and majorities and is run by radical feminists. Granted, not ALL feminists may share their exact viewpoints, but to conveniently exclude them from your cozy, fuzzy portrayal of the feminist movement is equally ignorant and irresponsible on your part.

Pray tell, why do they believe what they believe? Why do they do what they do and still call themselves feminists? There is a tie-in there whether you like it or not and it deserves to be explained because they put themselves in the same category as the ‘peaceful’ feminists do, that you’re describing. It would appear that all feminists are not, in fact, equal in their doctrine, yet you do little in your piece to establish the difference between those at PP and those at ACU, if such a difference exists. Which according to you may just be another ‘societal misunderstanding.’

Besides, it hardly seems like your defending feminism by itself anyways. Seems more like an attack on the ‘unenlightened’ masses who need to learn to ‘think for themselves.’

If you’re going to drag the Constitution into this, that’s a separate issue altogether. But please forbid the ‘unwashed masses’ who actually take a stance and hold to it that might not be as tolerant or ‘enlightened’ as you wish it to be.

Kristin Wood
posted 3/06/09 @ 6:29 PM CST

Two thing to add to the discussion:

Zack, Abilene is most certainly a conservative town. Look at how the area votes for an example of this.

Secondly, sure Planned Parenthood is run by feminists, but why is that a bad thing? Many young women and young couples (and young men, for that matter) go to PP for health care that is, unlike the majority of clinics, totally free. Birth Control in and of itself is not an evil thing, and Planned Parenthood is intended to preserve the well-being of both unborn children and to families of all ages. They provide screenings for various cancers, pregnancy tests, and surgical options for birth control, besides, yes, providing the option for abortion.

As a Christian, do I care about people? Of course. If I were running Planned Parenthood, I would do it in EXACTLY the same way. One of the key issues I take with conservativism is that it seems to foster the thought that there is ONLY one way to go through life. Whether or not you like it, offering options to young women and men in distress is giving them free will. Yes, just as God himself grants us as Christians.

I’m gonna go ahead and say that many feminists (and probably many more conservative females) would say that they support Planned Parenthood and applaud its idea that healthcare should be free, or inexpensive, and should come without judgment. Where is the wrong in that?

Cole Bennett
posted 3/13/09 @ 8:58 AM CST

Planned Parenthood is intended to preserve the well-being of both unborn children and to families of all ages. They provide screenings for various cancers, pregnancy tests, and surgical options for birth control, besides, yes, providing the option for abortion.

So, I guess the well-being of the unborn child is, after all, NOT PP’s goal. You will say that a mass of protoplasm is not yet a child; I know the argument. But let’s just go ahead and get out on the table that PP’s goal is to offer the “couple in distress” first dibs at convenience.

I’m gonna go ahead and say that many feminists … would say that they support Planned Parenthood and applaud its idea that healthcare should be free, or inexpensive, and should come without judgment. Where is the wrong in that?

What’s wrong is that “free healthcare” as a concept is not free. It’s paid for by others. That’s a subject for another article, but please don’t call it “free.”

Kristin Wood
posted 3/21/09 @ 7:39 PM CST

Cole —
I think you’re making unnecessary generalizations. To assume that every couple that uses Planned Parenthood is doing so purely for “first dibs at convenience” is veering into a dangerously generalized territory. I happen to know several couples who have used Planned Parenthood because they were making a conscious decision to not become pregnant. I’m actually not a “EVERYONE should be able to have abortions!!” person, either. In fact, I think the instances in which an abortion isn’t morally questionable are few and far between.

I do understand that the healthcare that PP provides is not purely free. However, I do support their role in providing options. Not just to “couples in distress” as you mentioned, but also to families who are unable to afford the ridiculously inflated cost of health care, and have no other way, for example, to afford contraception. I’m not talking about emergency contraception, or abortions…I am talking about families or couples who choose to carefully plan to *not* get pregnant. I don’t see the downside of this. For example, either a lower-income (or young, for that matter) family goes to Planned Parenthood –and delays having children because they know they can’t afford them– via use of birth control pills or an IUD or whatever they choose, or they have children they can’t afford and may be at the mercy of the welfare system. Personally, I have no problems with my tax dollars funding responsibility. I don’t think abortion is always a good idea, but I also don’t think I can try to place myself in the shoes of every woman who’s had one, so I won’t try.

I’ve tried to clarify my feelings on abortion, but the point I really want to make is that not every feminist is rampantly pro-choice. I am pro-responsible decisions, if you get my meaning.

Zack Cunningham
posted 3/06/09 @ 11:45 PM CST

Worshiping your free will above God Himself would seem to be debatable in my mind.

I’m not going to waste time on the Planned Parenthood issue anymore because I know where I stand on it. I’m a compassionate person, Kristin, and I know we know very little about the other, specifically, but I’m not trying to be abrasive in quickly denouncing them.

If you’d handle it in exactly the same way if you ran the organization, then that’s obviously your choice. A lot of the attitude in this article and in a lot of opinion pieces seem to share this same sentiment that someone is always trying to rob you of your “choices” in life.

Maybe that’s not always the case. Maybe society around you and those you disagree with aren’t specifically attacking YOU. It seems quite plausible to me, for example, that they are simply standing up for their beliefs which yours may come into conflict with. Who are you to tell them to keep silent or ‘not to judge’ if it conflicts with their viewpoints?

This debate about abortion could stretch for weeks. We can talk about the rights of pregnant women until we’re blue in the face, but at the same time, in the spirit of fairness for argument’s sake, at minimum, the rights of the unborn would need to be taken into account, too.

Genocide may be an ugly word to use in this context, but I don’t know what else you’d call 11 million black infant deaths at the hands of PP in the last decade or so.

Where did I ever say birth control was evil? I may have taken a shot at PP, but don’t put words into my mouth (or post, in this case) that I didn’t say.

On a final note, is the epitome of being a Christian really being fluid enough in your ‘belief system’ and exhibiting the ‘nature of God’ to let people just do whatever they want because it’s not your place to tell them otherwise?

Kristin Wood
posted 3/11/09 @ 2:03 AM CST

Worshipping free will and worshipping a God who gives us free will are clearly two different things. I think we can both agree that without free will, Christianity would be needless. We’d all be Jewish. And everyone would love the same God.

I didn’t mean to imply that you are attacking “my” beliefs (and I don’t know if this segment of your comment was directed at me or not), but I think it’s important that everyone (yes, even you, though we may disagree and hypothetically argue for weeks) be able to voice their own opinions.

I wasn’t meaning to put words in your mouth, but many religious conservatives do find any form of birth control to be reprehensible, which I find confusing at best. No abortion — fine, I can see the reasoning. But no Planned Parenthood, period would rob many of their ability to get proper, basic health care at low cost, or for free.

I certainly don’t think the best way to represent your Christianity is to shove your beliefs down an abortion candidate’s throat and tell them they’re going to hell or that they’re murderers (which I have read reports of, courtesy of Fox News). I think compassion and understanding are just as key to Christianity. Christ himself didn’t judge prostitutes, adulterers, and various sinner — instead, he gently corrected them and helped them the best he could. I think that is the epitome of Christianity. Not being prematurely judgmental, but accepting and understanding people’s situations that may be unlike anything we could ever know.

avatar Posted by Lydia Melby on Feb 27th, 2009 and filed under Columns. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.  - This post has been viewed 28414 times.

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