Growing up a Feminist
Although being a feminist is a large part of my identity and has helped shape me as an individual, there were many years where I felt a strong sense of embarrassment being associated with the term. Growing up as a self-proclaimed feminist, I was often met with eye-rolls and snide remarks that insinuated feminism is a form of misandry or radicalism.
Feminists are often mischaracterized using negative stereotypes, including that they are angry, torch carrying, bra burning social justice warriors that hate men. This false narrative discourages individuals from supporting the feminist movement. However, this piece aims to provide clarity as to what feminism truly represents.
The Basics Principles of Feminism
Feminism is fundamentally anti-patriarchy, not anti-man. This is a common misconception associated with feminism, however, the aim of the movement is to create a more equitable society for everyone. The patriarchy refers to a societal system created by men, to benefit men. It is hierarchical in nature, ranking men above women and non-binary individuals, allowing for male domination. A patriarchal society places limitations on women and non-binary individuals, creating hurdles they must overcome solely because of their gender.
Understanding and Recognizing Male Privilege
This system perpetuates male privilege, as it is androcentric. Androcentrism is the act of placing men at the centre of society, as they are deemed the more superior and valuable gender. This is seen through the glass ceiling phenomenon that prohibits women and non-binary individuals from being in positions of power, such as executive positions in business or government occupations. The glass ceiling is a central driver of the feminist movement, as it proves that there are societal factors that continue to inhibit women’s participation in the public sphere. Women must overcome adversities to succeed in male-dominated careers, solely because of their gender. Feminism aims to provide women with equal opportunities. This can be accomplished through dismantling the patriarchy.
The Role of the Patriarchy
To dismantle this patriarchal system is to, as feminists describe it, “smash the patriarchy”. The term “smash the patriarchy” is a call to action. It expresses the urgency and severity of gender inequality. However, moving away from a patriarchal society not only benefits women and non-binary individuals, but men as well. This may seem contradictory, as up until this point I’ve stated all of the ways the patriarchy benefits men. However, a patriarchal society also limits men to gendered stereotypes. Common examples of this are that men must be strong, logical and assertive. This encourages toxic masculinity and has created the stigma that men cannot be vulnerable or emotional or other traits typically associated with women without being considered weak. Patriarchy forces all members of society to conform to a specific mould and act in accordance with harmful gender stereotypes. It hinders men, women and non-binary individuals from exploring and expressing their true selves.
What Constitutes a Feminist?
One of the core goals of feminism is to empower individuals to act in ways that align with their personal interests and identity. Another common misconception associated with feminism is that women who embrace traditional female characteristics are “fake feminists” or cannot be included in the movement. This can often lead to female advocates feeling a sense of imposter syndrome if they do not feel adequate enough to be considered a “true feminist”. Feminism is not exclusive. It includes women of various intersecting personal identities. Regardless of one’s race, class, sexuality or age, they all have a place in feminism. If a woman feels most empowered and accomplished being a stay-at-home mom or working in domestic jobs such as child-care, this is to be celebrated as much as a woman pursuing acareer in law or politics. Additionally, how a woman dresses, speaks, or acts does not make her more or less of a feminist. Feminism encourages all women to be themselves. The only qualification one needs to be a feminist is to uplift and empower other women.
The Importance of Intersectionality
It is important for everyone, regardless of how long one has been a part of the feminist movement, to continue educating oneself and listen to various perspectives. Personally, my experience as a white woman is very different from that of a woman of colour. Though all women are oppressed by the patriarchy, some women have more privileges than others. The term intersectionality, coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, perfectly encapsulates this concept. Intersectionality refers to the fact that one’s relationship with power is dependent on a multitude of intersecting factors. For example, a woman that is part of the LGBTQ+ community may experience oppression based on her gender and sexuality, whereas a woman of colour may experience oppression due to her gender and race. It is incredibly important to listen to all women and their stories, as each of our experiences are unique and provide valuable insight on the impacts of inequality and the steps required to achieve equity.
Sexism and Society
Sexism can be unintentional, as it is deeply ingrained into society. Everything from the beliefs taught to us as children, for example, little girls play with baby dolls and mimic motherhood while they are discouraged from playing sports out of fear of it being “too rough”. As girls grow up, we are reprimanded for wearing short skirts and told that our tank top straps are “too thin”, reaffirming the belief that women and their bodies exist for the purpose of sexualization and objectification. These are just a few of the everyday examples that reflect how sexism and gender stereotypes are ingrained into our society. And it goes far beyond this. All societal institutions including the education system, health care system, legal system, the family and so on operate in accordance with the patriarchy. This impacts everything from how young girls are socialized at school, to how they are sexualized in the workplace and the job opportunities they are denied, and the dismissal they receive from health care professionals as they are deemed as “irrational” or “dramatic” when voicing concerns about their health. Sexism and inequality are apparent in the daily interactions that girls and women experience, while simultaneously being wide-scale issues that are built into our society.
Changing the Narrative and Embracing Feminism
Feminist is not a “bad word”, nor is it an insult. Identifying as a feminist is something to be proud of. By joining the feminist movement, you are advocating for a more equitable society for all. Feminists envision a society that does not put members of society into constraining boxes, nor limit them based on their gender or presupposed assumptions. It highlights diversity, inclusivity and empowerment. Change begins with you, the reader. Educating ourselves is a continuous process that will contribute to moving away from androcentric beliefs and is the first step to a better society for all.
Written by Mackenzie Dent, second year Philosophy major