Growing up, feminism meant nothing more than fighting for equality. I was never taught, trained, indoctrinated, nor forced to follow some sort of feminist doctrine. I wasn’t made to read the S.C.U.M. Manifesto. No one told me I had to study feminist theory. I was told that feminism meant working towards equality for all sexes, and that feminists could be men or women.
We fought for men’s rights as well as women’s rights. We spoke out against the double standards that existed in family court. We spoke up for male victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. We fought to ensure that a woman’s right to bodily autonomy remained a right. We fought against the puritanical culture that has infiltrated today’s society. We spoke out against religious violence around the world. We fought for the rights of people around the world, regardless of their sex and gender.
It wasn’t until recently that I became aware of the many branches of feminism. I hadn’t been aware of the “sex wars” within feminism, or the branching into sex+ and sex- feminism. I knew nothing of TERFs and SWERFs. I just knew about feminism. To say that it was a bit of a shock to learn all of this would be an understatement. I’m still trying to figure it all out.
I also came to discover the catch 22 that surrounds feminists like myself.
When we talk about issues that women face in the western world, we are told we are only concerned about first world problems. When we talk about issues that women around the world face, we are told we don’t care about the issues men face. When we talk about men’s issues…we’re told we’re not feminists.
No matter what, we can’t do/say anything right to our supposed opponents.
Even within our own movement we have people who would rather attack us than let us work towards helping others. Feminists like myself are looked down upon by anti-feminists and feminists alike, and we can’t win for losing some days. If we wind up finding someone from the other side who agrees with us, we can quickly wind up as the token feminist, the poster child for how a feminist should act and be…so long as we continue to say things that they agree with. If we reach across the divide to try to find common ground, we wind up with certain groups of feminists calling us FINOs (Feminist In Name Only), gender traitors, Uncle Tom’s (or female alternative), or worse.
We have to spend far too much of our time proving to those who look down on feminism that we’re good people. We are compared to the outliers of the movement, those on the fringes who are far from being the norm. We have to sit there and provide evidence that we aren’t like those on the fringe. Instead of sitting down and working towards a solution to an agreed upon problem, we’re having to spend time showing that we’re a decent human being worthy of respect and attention.
If we have a bad day, or say something that doesn’t fit a person’s already decided upon narrative, we suddenly become the bad guy again. We have to constantly walk on egg shells for fear that we will suddenly become the next target for those who need only the slightest provocation to launch an attack.
For the longest time I didn’t feel the need to identify as a feminist. If you fought for human rights, you were considered a feminist. Men and women alike were considered feminists (or meninists). Yes, there were some who were rather um…out there when it came to their ideas, but they weren’t the norm, they were a person on the fringe. We seemed to be making steps towards the positive, we were working towards ensuring that everyone got the rights they should be granted, we were working to fix the problems that were in our society (family court, sexist sentencing, etc) that were harming both men and women.
One of the biggest things to remember is that many of the laws that are viewed as biased towards women or harmful towards men were written and signed off on by men.
The family court biases (alimony, child support, custody) came from the belief that women were too weak to hold down their own source of employment. Women were only strong enough to take care of the household and the children, so if a couple got a divorce, the man needed to pay money in the form of an allowance to the woman so that she could continue to take care of the children and herself. The stereotypical view of men being the ones who were the “bread winners” and women were merely “mothers” also helped towards this bias becoming cemented in our laws and history. The rise of feminism and both the women’s and men’s liberation movements in the 60s and 70s began to call these stereotypes into question. While we still have a long way to go when it comes to equality in the family courts, we are slowly making progress. Yes, women still are more likely to be granted custody of the children during a divorce hearing, but please remember that most disputes regarding custody are solved in mediation and never go before a judge. This means that it was the decision of both the mother and the father for the mother to get custody. When it does go before a judge, and the man is wishing for sole custody, he gets it about 50% of the time.
“Despite continuous efforts from the feminist and fathers’ rights movements to modify these stereotypical images, they still persist today.” – Cynthia A. McNeely
Sexist and patriarchal beliefs are also the reason why women are more likely to get a lighter sentence than men. Due to the stereotypes out there, many people to this day still believe that women aren’t as capable as men when it comes to committing horrible crimes. There are many reasons as to why women are given lesser sentences, and most of them are just as sexist as you could imagine. If you’re interested, check out this study by Proff. Starr regarding the sentencing gap. The cause behind this is the chivalry hypothesis or chivalry principle, where women are viewed as “not knowing any better” and needing to be protected from themselves and others.
Yet when feminists try to bring up these things, or that they are fighting to fix these problems, they are often called liars or that they aren’t really feminists. When feminists fight against things that were put in place by men (“The Patriarchy” is often used to describe the system of laws, viewpoints, and ideas that were put into effect by men that harm both men and women), that are harming men, they are viewed as in the wrong or that they aren’t feminists. They are blamed for the systems and laws that were put in place by men, as if they were villains standing in the background twirling cartoon mustaches, even though they are fighting against those systems and laws.
When a feminist speaks out about domestic abuse, they often find themselves becoming the target of people who only care about the abuse against one sex (yes, there is a HUGE problem in how domestic abuse is discussed and viewed, I can already hear you typing your rant) and often have to stop what they are doing to either justify their point over and over, or change their statement to “fit” with their opponents want. The problem with this is that it winds up derailing the conversation, and often times the discussion of male victims of domestic abuse pops up during the discussion of female victims instead of being its own conversation.
If you only care about male victims when you hear someone talking about female victims, you’re a piece of scum.
The fact that I even have to say that makes me want to slam my head against my desk. And when a feminist speaks out about male victims of domestic violence or male rape victims, it is often met with disinterest (“They’re a feminist, they don’t really care!”) or claims that they are pandering to people for views. I personally have been lucky to have received a mostly positive response while talking about these topics, but I’m also a transman, so it’s sort of expected I talk about male issues apparently?
Feminists have to not only fight against the systems set up against them and others, but they also have to take time out for arguments that are nothing more than derailing tactics. If a feminist is focusing on a specific topic, such as FGM, they often get people railing on about them not caring about MGM and circumcision. They then have to stop and take time to try to assure these people that they care about both topics, but they are focusing on one at the moment. Which then leads to accusations of them not caring about men or other lies. If a feminist tries to focus on a topic about men, such as male victims of domestic violence, they get told they’re not really a feminist (Yes I have been told this), or they’re an MRA (again, been told this), or they’re a FINO (yep…also told this) because of this weird strawman notion that feminists only care about women because the start of the word is FEM.
We’re told we should just drop the term feminist and take up a new label, even though our current label works just fine. The vilification of the word feminism has been happening for many, MANY years, and those who fall under its label are bearing the brunt of these attacks. Remember, feminism is working towards equality for everyone, with a focus more on women than on men because women are still the ones more likely to be without rights or to be struggling to retain their rights in the modern world. Just because a movement is focused more on one thing than the other doesn’t mean it doesn’t care about anything else. It’s like walking and chewing gum at the same time, you can do more than one thing at a time…not that hard really. (Unless you’re my middle daughter, she likes giving floors and walls hugs)
If we fight for equality, we’re told we’re not feminists.
If we fight for women’s rights (such as the current battle for abortion rights), we’re told we hate men.
If we fight for men’s rights, we’re told we’re not really feminists.
Feminism has become the Catch-22 of today’s society, and it’s getting old REALLY fucking fast.
PS: To keep this short, there will be a separate article about the fact that rights on paper =/= in real life.