by Shanzeh Khurram
Man-hater. Fanatic. Extremist. These are the terms I usually hear when I tell people that I’m a radical feminist. It’s as if being a feminist has become synonymous with being someone who hates men and wants to establish matriarchy. Most people don’t understand what feminism stands for, and they don’t realize how important it is.
Feminism is about gaining equal rights and opportunities for women, and allowing women to have control over their lives and bodies. At a time when women are sexualized and objectified in so many cultures, feminism is also about empowering women and young girls.
While there are many different branches of feminism, the main aim of most of these strands is equality. For example, Marxist feminists, postmodern feminists, and liberal feminists may differ in their approach and domain, but their ultimate goals are freedom and equality for women. Feminists can be sex positive or anti-pornography. Feminists can be straight, bisexual, pansexual, asexual or gay. Feminists can also be men, since any person- male or female- who wants equal opportunities for both sexes is a feminist. Some feminists are tomboys, while others love to dress up and are ultra-feminine. There is no one stereotype that all feminists fit into.
Radical feminism is probably the most stereotyped and negatively viewed branch of feminism. While radical feminists are usually regarded as fanatics who hate men, that is not true. Yes, there are some extreme feminists who want matriarchy, and some who might have deep-seated resentment against men, but those people do not represent the majority of radical feminists. Rather, they are separatists, and are not in synch with the feminist cause. What radical feminists really want- put simply- is radical change: a complete restructuring of the society from that of a patriarchal one to an egalitarian one. Radical feminists want total equality with men, not equality at the expense of men. And while some radical feminists are transphobic, feminism in its true sense is pro-trans. Transfeminism is a prominent branch of third wave feminism which views gender as fluid and not being determined solely by biology.
Over time, feminism has gained a negative label, and it’s mostly due to ignorance. It is as if society makes out self-proclaimed feminists to be whining, complaining women who hate men. There is generally a lot of ignorance regarding the feminist cause, and feminism is misrepresented by common stereotypes. People often accuse feminists of being ugly, hairy women with hostile motives. When I tell others that I’m a feminist, I’m often met with remarks such as “why do you want to kill men?” Feminism isn’t about destroying men – it’s about eliminating patriarchy and sexism.
Some people question the need for feminism. Now that women in “industrialized” nations have the right to work and vote, many people believe that gender equality has already been established, and that it’s only the poor, developing countries that still have patriarchal structures. If only that were the case. I doubt that there is any country that has complete equality for both sexes. Even in America, double standards and gender inequality are prevalent. Women might be able to work, but there’s still the glass ceiling, the gender and racial pay gap, and sexual harassment in the workplace, amongst other things. In many parts of the world, females are subjected to honor killings, domestic abuse, and female infanticide, and governments do little to help these women.
What’s worse is that a lot of issues are not taken seriously, and so many of them are often misreported or under-represented. Rape crimes in some universities are termed as “misconduct” so as to save the reputation of the university, and sexual assault information is downplayed. A lot of times, the victim is blamed for the rape. Instead of reproaching the rapist, society often accuses women for dressing in a certain way or being drunk at the time of the rape. While some people can causally look past the gravity of such cases, feminists try to make sure that these crimes don’t go unreported. Feminism plays a major role in exposing certain issues that would otherwise be ignored.
Most feminists also support LGBT rights, and the two movements can be said to be connected. Feminists and LGBT activists oppose forcing traditional gender roles and male domination. In patriarchal societies, the LGBT community and women are often recipients of harassment, stereotyping, and prejudice. The concept of intersectionality is also important to feminism, as it examines how different forms of discrimination (racism and sexism, for example) are interrelated. In a way, feminism is about equality for all people, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, class, ability or race.
I actually wish that there were no need for feminism- not because feminism isn’t important, but because it shouldn’t HAVE to be necessary. In an ideal world, women would be treated as humans and not sex objects, and we wouldn’t have to fight for our rights like we do now. But until society actually reaches such a point, feminism is very much relevant and important.