Recently Indian actress Lisa Haydon , who plays a single mother in coming of age drama Queen, publicly disassociated from the word “feminism”. “One day I look forward to making dinner for my husband and children. I don’t want to be a career feminist,” she said in an interview.
Haydon is just one of many female public figures to express their concern at being linked to the word “feminist”. In Bollywood alone, Madhuri Dixit Katrina Kaif to Vidya Balan all took a similar stand whilst in the West, the likes of Susan Sarandon, who played feminist icon Louise in the box-office hit Thelma & Louse, have also refused the label.
It seems ironic that powerful and independent women, who arguably would not be in the position they are had it not been for feminism, are rejecting the very movement that contributed to who they are today. However, it is understandable in light of the image that the F word evokes in the mind of the lay person. Feminists are widely portrayed as aggressive, man-hating women who think they are the superior gender. Everyone involved in women rights know that this is not true.
What feminists advocate for is the end of patriarchal society, not the end of men. It is the elimination of male privilege not the implementation of female supremacy. Nobody, except a small and much-ridiculed minority, would argue that anti-racist movements think themselves superior to the white and yet the same assumption is done when it comes to the women’s struggle against sexism. So why does this happen?
First of all there are indeed people who hold extremists views in the feminist movement, as in any other movement. And it does not help that they are the ones who make the most noise. Or rather, they are the ones who are more often represented in the media, the ones that people hear about. But judging an entire movement by a small minority of its members is illogical and it only works with humans because we are irrational creatures. Just as with Islamophobia the violent acts of the few are used to generate hatred against a whole group of otherwise peaceful people.
This is a very dangerous attitude that needs to be challenged, especially if we want to bring men to the feminist cause. Many men are in favour of gender equality but they are not going to join a movement they feel is against them. Sadly, this is the case for a great number of them, as is clear from their reaction to some feminist campaigns. For, example, they felt under attack when a post on social media challenged rape culture by saying that the best way to prevent rape is for men not to do it. It was a provocative statement against victim blaming but they interpreted it if it was accusing all men of being rapists. In other words, they projected onto the feminist the same generalisation that is at the basis of their own thinking.
Another reason to reject feminism is that people are scared of change. To some, the system we have in place, however flawed, is preferable to one where we do not know what to expect. The idea that men and women have established roles in society is somehow reassuring even if it means that that the former dominate the latter. Defending this idea provides an excuse for some men to reinforce their privilege and a self-defence mechanism for women whose subjugated role will be easier to accept if they feel it is something that is out of their hands.
An argument we often hear is that men and women are biologically different and feminism is trying to turn women into men. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Given that we do not know how many of the supposedly biological differences are not actually the result of gender stereotyping, feminism is certainly not encouraging women to imitate men.
In fact, the only reason why some women do so is because we live in a patriarchal society where men make the rules and women are considered inferior. So becoming more like men, in a way, is like being a little less inferior, and playing by their rules is necessary to be successful. Take away male privilege and there will be no need to act like men to achieve anything in life so if anything, biological differences will be more openly embraced. At the same time, gender stereotyping will be eradicated so that both men and women will be free to follow their path without any pre-conditioning.
Unlike what Haydon suggested, a woman can be a feminist and a stay-at-home mum if she so chooses. The key word here is ‘choice’. Only when our choices as people are the result of what we really want and not what is expected of us for belonging to a certain gender can we truly lead a happy and fulfilling life.
In the end, men would benefit from an equal society too as gender stereotyping is just as damaging to them as it is to us. But as long as they believe a war between the sexes is going on and feminists are out to get them they will resist any movement for change. Here are some things you can do to change negative attitudes towards feminism:
- Do not be afraid to call yourself a feminist. You will likely be challenges, insulted and abused but you are stronger than your critics. This is particularly important if you are a public figure as you are being perceived by many as a role model.
- Try to devise campaigns that resonate with a male audience too. Possibly, get men involved as part of the solution not just the problem or show them to male friends to see how they perceive them.
- Do not try to define feminism based on what others perceive it to be, create your own definition based on your own values.
- Challenge anti-feminist comments but do not become aggressive. Always assume that they come from lack of knowledge rather than actual sexism.
- Remind the world of the achievements of the feminist movement. Very few people would openly argue that giving women the right to vote was not a good thing.
- Be a good Feminist. Be a good Human.