Once you declare yourself a feminist, there are certain stereotypes that you have to face.
1. Feminists are angry!
Yes, being a feminist does require you to be angry sometimes. You’re challenging deeply ingrained prejudices and social structures that have been designed to penalise 50% of the world’s population.
If you, man or woman, are not furious about the inequalities between people of different genders, races, or sexualities — then you are failing to be a decent human being. It’s that simple.
2. Feminists are frigid and hate sex!
Ha. Ha. Hahahahahahaha. I would go into graphic detail about how I know this one isn’t true but this is a family newspaper and my parents will disown me.
3. Feminists refuse to wear makeup or bras!
Eh... sometimes this is true but only because I’m lazy as hell and like scaring small children when I go outside.
4. Feminists refuse to shave their legs!
But the most common accusation that will be thrown at you is that you hate men.
The emails and Facebook comments have been coming fast and furious recently.
“Stop being sexist against men!”
(Which is impossible, by the way. A woman can be prejudiced against men but she cannot be sexist because that implies we hold institutional power which is a complete fallacy. Lecture over.)
The latest #NotAllMen email arrived this week.
“And what happened to you in your life to make you so bitter, Louise? You must have had terrible experiences with men.”
I complain about male entitlement a lot (there I go again!) but this bothered me.
This man felt he had a right to email me to point out my failings, to tell me where I was going wrong in life, to give me unsolicited advice about my career (I think I’m doing ok dude, thanks) and then to offer faux-sympathy on all the ‘tragic’ things that ‘bad’ men had done to me.
“But,” he continued, “I really don’t think you should let that colour your opinion of the rest of us.”
Bad men? I thought of all the men in my life.
From my father, the kindest man I have ever known, who read me stories every night before I went to bed as a child and told me I could be and do anything I wanted as long as I worked hard and believed in myself.
My grandfather, who would laugh when I poked his belly and asked if he was pregnant, and who pretended that he was just to amuse me.
The ex-boyfriend, who did his best to help me when I was in the throes of addiction and who was more generous to me than I deserved.
My four uncles who were like older brothers to me, my male friends who texted after reading Asking For It to tell me that it made them cry and how very, very proud they were of me.
My teenage cousins whom I want to see grow up in a world where they feel free to express themselves and not have to conform to a toxic ideal of hyper- masculinity.
I feel fortunate to be surrounded by such incredible men — indeed, I think it is almost miraculous that they are so incredible considering that they grew up in the same patriarchal environment that the rest of us did — but I also feel resentful that I have to justify myself in this way.
I dislike that I have to proclaim repeatedly that no, I don’t hate all men, and no, I don’t think all men are misogynists, and no, I don’t think that all men are rapists.
It can be frustrating when I visit girls’ schools and the first questions the students ask are “Do you ever get worried that men will be intimidated by your book?” and “don’t you think feminism alienates men? What can we do to make them feel included?”
My response to the first question is usually to paraphrase Chimananda Ngozi Adichie by saying that the type of man who is intimidated by me or my book is exactly the type of man that I would never be interested in.
The second question always makes me pause.
I believe that feminism should be totally inclusive. I want men to be part of the movement, to understand that it is feminism that will liberate them from the rigid gender stereotypes that the patriarchy insists we all perform. Feminism benefits everyone.
But I also don’t want to forget that feminism was born out of a very specific need.
It was created to empower the gender that had been silenced and subjugated and excluded from power for hundreds of years — women.
The fact that we still feel obliged to apologise for our feminism, to justify it in order to make men feel more comfortable, to explain how it benefits men as well is yet another example of why we do, in fact, still need feminism.
As Carrie Potter remarked “Instead of saying ‘we are dying, we are being beaten, we are being raped, we are not free’, we’re saying ‘no, no we don’t hate men, we swear!’
“It’s a tactic of the oppressor to force harmful definitions onto subversive movements. It derails by forcing activists onto the defensive.”
Well, I will not be put on the defensive. Feminism has enabled me to stop prioritising the male voice over the female and I find it fascinating that so many view that as akin to despising an entire gender.
I can hate a system without hating individual people within it and I will continue to criticise that system, a system that benefits men at our cost, until real change occurs.
And if you feel that means I’m constantly attacking men or that I’m tarring all men with the same brush then I’m sorry.
I’m sorry that I’m not making myself more clear.
But I’m going to do what I have to do.
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